Monday, 26 March 2018

Overton United v Paulsgrove

Respect before kick-off.
You know that game Consequences where you're in a group and you take it in turns to write down names and places and what people said on a piece of paper and you fold the paper over and over so that everything is hidden and then you open it up at the end and the consequence is always the same because nobody can think of anything funnier - "they got married, had three children and lived happily ever after"? (He was called... She was called... They met at...blah blah know the one). Well, if Consequences was real life recently it would go something like... "He was called Andy...The match he was going to was XXX v YYY at ZZZ Recreation Ground...and come Saturday, the consequence was - it rained overnight, the pitch was waterlogged and the match was off".

Over and over again.

Whatever has it been like recently? Every Friday and Saturday it tips it down with rain or snow or cats and dogs and frogs or whatever else is up there in the sky above us.

Until this Saturday. At last!

Overton United's clubhouse and changing room facility.
Overton United FC (0) 0 v 2 (2) Paulsgrove FC
Saturday 24th March 2018
New Forest Care Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Attendance: About 40 standing around the pitch, plus a few more watching from the bar.
Admission: By donation (a box was brought round)
Programme: No, but there is a monthly club newsletter called Touchline.
Colours: Blue and white stripes / white / blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU5149

I've featured both Overton and Paulsgrove previously this season - Overton in the Hampshire Intermediate Cup at Bishop's Waltham, and The Grove at home to Stockbridge. During Overton's match, I got chatting to joint-manager Gary Savory and said I'd pop along and see them before the end of the season. So I did.

Overton appears to be a prosperous village. Situated around four miles west of Basingstoke, I would guess it's a perfectly pleasant place to live. There's quite a few thatched cottages near the village centre, with plenty of newer houses radiating out from there. The first shop I saw was selling guns (for the sporting community, presumably). I seem to remember when I first visited neighbouring Whitchurch, the first person I saw was carrying a gun - I suppose he bought it from here. He must have been going out to hunt rabbits or pheasants or clay pigeons.

St Mary's Church.
I too was hunting on Saturday, as I often am. I was hunting for new beers to add to my Untappd beer list app. I noticed before I set off that The White Hart had a beer from the Upham Brewery that I'd not tried before, so I popped in pre-match for a cheeky half. That'll be nearly 200 unique types of beer since I signed up 6 months ago then...I'm not obsessed, honest.

Another phone app I've had since Christmas is the Groundhopper app, which some of you might know about. On here, you record all the matches you go to and the grounds that the matches are played on. Not every club or ground is on there - so, Overton's ground is on there (so users can record their visits to Overton Recreation Centre), but Overton United FC are not (I don't know why).

Amongst all the other stats it produces, it ranks its users as "Top Fans" for each club. Apparently, I'm "Top Fan" of several local clubs (because I've seen them play more than anybody else using the app - obviously the number of app users are tiny compared to the number of fans out there, so it's just a bit of fun). Along with the likes of Romsey Town and AFC Stoneham, I'm Paulsgrove's top fan, having seen them play, ahem, five times (like I say, I'm clearly not their top fan in real life - their proper fans have better things to do than record their every movement on phone apps).

Smiles for the winded defender, Jake Warlow, after he was accidentally nutted by his keeper.
So I was out hunting for new beer and a new football ground, as I'd never been to Overton United before. What's it like?

As with most grounds in the Hampshire League, the pitch is situated on a recreation ground. There are tennis courts in one corner and a cricket square in the middle. The pitch is placed next to the Bridge Street Pavilion, which contains the changing rooms and an upstairs members' bar. I would guess this was built in the 1970s, but I could be wrong.

Behind the bottom end of the pitch runs a mill race. This shallow water feature was full of chattering ducks. Throughout the match, I could hear alarmed quacking as a gaggle of over-excited male mallards chased a single female mallard, presumably in the hope of mating with her and passing on their genes to the next generation of ducklings. I wonder if they record the number of ducklings produced from their loins on a phone app?

Where there's water near a football pitch, there needs to be a method of retrieving stray balls from that water, so there was a fishing net sat ready on a bench for that purpose.

As you can see from the pictures here, the main feature at Overton United, and what makes it a particularly attractive ground, is St Mary's Church, positioned on higher ground above the pitch to the north. There must have been a children's party going on when I arrived, as mums and dads and small boys and girls came traipsing past during the first half carrying helium balloons on sticks. One child asked "Daddy, is that a rugby match?"

Daddy said it wasn't.

Corner for Overton.
It certainly wasn't a rugby match, because if it was, I'd have turned around and driven away. I really don't understand that game. Football is so much simpler. Get a round ball, pass it around a bit with your feet and/or head until your team nears the opposition target, then try to get the ball in to that target more times than the other team to win. That's basically it.

And that's what Paulsgrove did twice. Their first goal came after 16 minutes as Tommy Woodward was played through the centre. He chipped the ball over the advancing Sean O'Brien in Overton's goal, under the bar, between the posts, nestling in the net.

Grove could have argued that O'Brien shouldn't have been on the pitch, as he'd handled outside the area after just three minutes. However, referee Chloe-Ann Anderson deemed that there were enough covering defenders to have made it not a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Anderson was busy again just after the opening goal, when a spot of handbags broke out by the clubhouse. Paulsgrove defender Craig Ralph moved his head towards an opponent. There was no contact, but enough intent was shown to warrant a red card. So the away side were down to ten men with 70 minutes still to play.

Celebrating Paulsgrove's second goal.
When the going gets rough, the players get tough. Grove doubled down, determined not to let Overton through. It really wasn't noticeable that Paulsgrove had one less player as they fought for every ball. After all, they're in a great position to win the league - if their season had been fizzling out, maybe Overton would have had a better chance, but tackle after tackle went in and there was no way through for the home team.

There was more controversy after 31 minutes as Paulsgrove thought they'd scored a second, but it was ruled out by the club linesman for offside. The Grove swore he was wrong. I couldn't work out why as I was too far away, but there may have been someone on the goal line playing their player onside? I don't know.

They did get their second, and what proved to be the final goal of the game, after 41 minutes, Danny Lane thumping in a header from close range. The shirt-over-the-head celebration followed, as you can see above.

There were few chances for either team in the second half. Paulsgrove defended their two-goal advantage well. Overton could never quite break through, as I'm sure they would have done against a less resilient side.

Oh, and it rained. I wondered where the rain had gone...

Aw, can I play?
The result leaves Paulsgrove in a strong position. Their biggest problem in the run-in is that they still have 13 matches to play before 28th April, whereas their main rivals for the title, Bush Hill and Infinity "only" have ten to go each. All three have to play each other in the last month, so these "mini-league within a league" games will be crucial. However, they must also avoid slipping up against their other opponents, which is surprisingly something Infinity didn't do at the weekend at Colden Common.

Overton United will finish in mid-table this time out, although I can see no reason why they shouldn't be challenging for a top five position next season.

Thank you to Overton for the friendly welcome.There will be more pictures from the game posted on the HAH Facebook page later this evening.

I'm not going to speculate on where I'll be reporting from next. Wherever it is, could the sun come out just for a few minutes? Please! And could there be a beer I've not recorded before in a nearby pub? Pretty please!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Michelmersh & Timsbury v Lyndhurst

"Football on Junction Box with Michelmersh & Timsbury FC Club Crest"
There's a word for it, probably taken straight from the original German, but I can't for the life of me think what that word is.

It's when you've spent your entire life dreaming about a city, imagining it's the most exquisite place in the world, where everything is perfect all the time - where all the houses are designed by Gauguin and Matisse; where all the men are rugged and handsome and sophisticated and all the women are clever and funny and have hourglass figures to die for; where the cafes and bars are full of these incredible, beautiful people who are all interested in you and your life and the beers are all perfectly golden and come with a frothing head and taste amazing. It's your own personal Utopia.

It could be anywhere, but let's just say you're a Japanese tourist visiting Europe for the first time, and the city you've always dreamt of is Paris. You get there and it's raining. The streets are filthy, the inhabitants are rude. The only people who want to know you are only nice to you because they want your money.

You realise that your personal Utopia doesn't exist and you go crazy, locking yourself in your Kyoto apartment for the next fifty years, only venturing out to stock up on supermarket sushi and cheap rice wine.

It's a bit of a trek from the changing rooms to the pitch.
Michelmersh & Timsbury FC (0) 0 v 7 (6) Lyndhurst FC
Saturday 17th February 2018
New Forest Care Hampshire Premier Football League Division One
Attendance: 7
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: Amber and black quarters / black / black and amber v Green and black hoops / black / green
National Grid reference: SU3425

The match carries on regardless as smoke billows from a garden on Mannyngham Way.
The same sort of situation could occur with football grounds. You've been to watch your own team at their own ground hundreds of times. You stand or sit with your friends, chewing the fat and swapping yarns every couple of weeks. You join in with the chants. You attempt to make up new songs, trying to rhyme your hard-tackling defensive midfielder's surname with your favourite cereals to the tune of Tom Hark. You clap the lads off the pitch after a narrow defeat despite the worthy performance against the league leaders. They clap you back. It's like your second home and you (mostly) enjoy your Saturdays with your football friends.

But you've always dreamed of that faraway ground, where firecrackers are not only allowed, but positively encouraged; where the tifosi make their own banners, unfurling them before kick-off where they cover the entire Curva Nord (if you made a banner for your team, it would be made out of an old bedsheet, just enough to cover you and your mates at the Tea Hut End).

So when your team are knocked out of the cup and have a blank Saturday, you get on a plane and fly off to Spain, to Barcelona, Bilbao or Betis, hoping for that ultimate football experience.

Kabir Brethen of Michelmersh and Gary Rogers of Lyndhurst battle over possession of the ball.
And then the Spanish TV company moves your game to 11 o'clock in the morning when nobody in the crowd is properly awake, it's raining for the first time in three years (there's no roof over your seat), and the ultras just couldn't be bothered with a pyrotechnic display this week, thank you very much.

You go home, cry, and lock yourself in your bedroom for the next fifty years.

A consoling pat on the back for Michelmersh's overworked keeper.
Groundhoppers are used to this scenario. They hear about "a little gem of a ground" in deepest Flanders, they save up for months for the trip, and they get there only to find the classic old stand has been knocked down.

Now, I'm a bit of a groundhopper when I'm not watching the teams that I actively follow. Long-time readers will know that over the years, I've featured all of the clubs in Hampshire down to Step 6 (Wessex League Division One), plus the rest of the Wessex League in Dorset and Wiltshire. I like to think that I've given you an interesting photographic record of football in the county since 2011 (plus some slightly odd articles on rusty rollers).

But once I've featured all of the clubs at their home grounds at least once (and I've featured many clubs two or three times on their own patch), where do I go next? The answer is to delve deeper, to go lower down the pyramid. Hence, I've been ticking off grounds in the Hampshire Premier Football League over the past couple of seasons. I realised the other day that I only have another eleven grounds to go until I've completed the whole league.

Michelmersh & Timsbury was one of those places.

My cunning plan is to show you the home grounds of Colden Common, QK Southampton, Hedge End Rangers, Infinity, Overton United, AFC Petersfield, Four Marks, Lyndhurst, Headley United and South Wonston Swifts by the end of next season (assuming the clubs all survive - not a given).

No idea what's going on here. I hope everyone involved is okay now.
I have no illusions about what any of these grounds will be like. I know full well that there won't be any ultras lobbing fireworks - there won't even be anywhere to keep dry if it rains, so I'm not going to go home and cry if I find myself in a roped off field. I don't mind, so long as there's a bit of fresh air and some entertainment.

I'd not seen any photos of Michelmersh & Timsbury's home before I went there on Saturday, but what I found was not unexpected. There's a small car park which was full when I arrived 15 minutes before kick-off, but there's plenty of space to park on Mannyngham Way. Next to the car park is a wooden building which houses the dressing rooms. There's a verandah with an overhang there, so you could keep dry whilst watching the football. However, there is a practice pitch and a cricket pitch between the dressing rooms and the roped off main pitch, so you'd need binoculars to watch the match from there.

On the south side of the main pitch are tall trees separating it from more council pitches at Hunts Farm (not in use on Saturday). On the west are some bushes which prevent stray shots from landing on the main road beyond (there's also a tall net here for the same purpose). There are large houses to the north, whose residents would no doubt complain if Michelmersh & Timsbury ever wanted to erect floodlights.

There are two large rusty rollers lying around, who may well feature in a far-fetched story at the end of the season.

Invasion of the spaniels!
I don't want to embarrass the home side by writing about the match too much. I knew it was going to be Bottom v Top, but they had played each other recently and the game had ended up 6-3 to Lyndhurst, so I was hoping for more of the same on Saturday. However, it was never close at any point during the game, as the visitors took the lead after two minutes through Paul Abrahams, and then added four more goals at roughly ten minute intervals, with the sixth coming quickly after the fifth just before half-time.

Michelmersh improved after the break and looked as though they would draw the half 0-0 until Lyndhurst scored their seventh via a Josh Bench header seven minutes from the end.

The match could have been abandoned after 89 minutes as there were no balls left - there were only two or three to start with, and at least one was flat, so when the last remaining ball got stuck up a tree, there was a minor panic for a few minutes until one of the lost balls was retrieved from the bushes, where it had lain forgotten about for half the match.

In the time remaining, Michelmersh did score a consolation, but Hassan Felah was flagged offside. So Lyndhurst improved their goal difference by seven, and Chris Pye, who scored a hat-trick, went top of the divisional scoring charts (James Attwood and Josh Daley were their other scorers).

End of match handshakes outside the wooden changing rooms.
I wish I could have visited Michelmersh & Timsbury on a day when they hadn't been beaten so heavily, but there's always another day, another match when they can go again and hope for better.

I shall upload more photos from the game on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page on Monday evening. I hope I've got everybody's names right on here, but if I haven't, please forgive me - I do it all the time, but not intentionally.

The next HAH will be in three weeks (March 10th). It will feature another Hampshire League match. Having looked at the fixtures, four of my unvisited clubs are at home, so it will be one from either Hedge End Rangers, Infinity, Overton United or Four Marks (although the latter are playing Lyndhurst!). Perhaps one of these places will resemble my own personal Utopia? I can only dream...

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Windsor v Hamble Club

The working turnstiles at Windsor Football Club.
If you've ever been in a position, at work or elsewhere, where you have to give someone some bad news, you'll know the drill - you start with a positive, then you drop the badness bomb (gently), and then you end up with another positive to soften the blow.

Let's start with the positives for Hamble Club. Always start with the positives.

They did enormously well to reach the Fifth Round Proper of the national competition for clubs at this level, the FA Vase. They won six times to get this far, starting way back in September last year:

  • Bemerton Heath Harlequins (h) 3-1
  • Petersfield Town (h) 5-0
  • Romsey Town (a) 3-2
  • Brockenhurst (h) 5-4 aet
  • Horndean (h) 2-1
  • Westfields (a) 4-1
22 goals scored and 9 conceded in reaching the last 16 (over 400 clubs played in the Vase this year). And all this at their first attempt, as they'd never entered the competition before.

A view of Stag Meadow under grey skies from Windsor Great Park.
Windsor FC (1) 2 v 0 (0) Hamble Club FC
Saturday 3rd February 2018
Buildbase FA Vase 5th Round Proper
Attendance: 625
Admission: £7
Programme: Free with admission
Colours: Red with green and white Union flag / red / white v White / white / yellow
National Grid reference: SU9575

Windsor's old stand with Windsor Cemetery Chapel behind.
The negatives? Move on to the negatives after the initial positives, but do it nicely...

This was one game too far. There was no lack of effort, but the home side were just too good on the day, with the scorer of the second goal for Windsor, Jack Denton, being particularly impressive.

And then the positives again. There's definitely more of those for the Monks.

Hamble Club went further in the Vase than anybody else from the Wessex League this season. They were the final club standing out of 41. Next year, they will receive byes in the first three rounds and enter at the Second Round Proper stage, so they have a good chance of repeating their efforts in 2018/19.

Stud inspection.
I travelled to Windsor by train. Arriving at Windsor & Eton Central, the first thing you see is a replica of an old royal steam engine, nicknamed "The Queen", trapped on a rail between buffers and a restaurant, with no way out. It's the sort of thing that would happen in a Thomas the Tank Engine story to an engine that disobeyed the Fat Controller, except it's happened in real-life in Windsor. Any trains pulling in to the terminus would see "The Queen" and know they should behave themselves on the six minute journey to and from Slough...or else!

You move on from the trapped engine and start walking through a shopping mall. If you're looking for vapes or a cheeky tattoo, then the arcade which you walk through on the way out of the terminus is not for you. Windsor is not Shirley, shall we put it that way?

Beyond the arcade, you see Windsor Castle looming up out of the drizzle. It's big. I didn't realise how far back it stretches until Saturday. I guess it's the ideal size for the Queen and her growing family when they need a few days away from Buckingham Palace.

There were lots of tourists.

Hamble Club attack through the middle...
From the castle, it's a two mile walk to Stag Meadow, the home of Windsor Football Club. Situated on the edge of Windsor Great Park (aka Liz's back garden, which stretches off towards the horizon in every direction), the club has played here since 1911. When I say "the club", I mean the current incarnation and their immediate predecessors, Windsor & Eton FC, who collapsed and went out of business in 2011, just after pipping AFC Totton to the Southern League Division One South & West title.

The original club reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase in 1981. This season's last 16 appearance is the reformed Hellenic League club's best run so far in their short existence.

...and down the left.
Windsor FC play at Stag Meadow, which is a much-loved ground. Many groundhoppers rate it amongst their favourites. And yes, it's an agreeable ground in an attractive setting, so I can see their point. Dotted around outside the ground are stubby oak trees wearing overcoats of ivy to keep the chill out. Making themselves at home in these trees, and flittering between them every few minutes, are a flock of chittering parakeets. They are constantly calling to each other in high-pitched, irritating screeches, sounding just like *insert your two least favourite minor celebrities, probably from Essex, here* having a pointless argument about whose turn it is to peel the potatoes.

The focal point of Stag Meadow is its old stand, erected in 1948. It's about the same height as the one at Cowes Sports, but not quite as wide. The original wooden stand was burnt down in 1943, twenty years after it was built. At the time, it was said that it had been the victim of enemy action, but the truth is that it was probably an arsonist that had done for it. The "new" stand is still in good condition and now has red plastic seats. It was full on Saturday, apart from a few seats with restricted views towards the edges.

Joy at the final whistle...
There is terracing of between three and six steps around the rest of Stag Meadow, with the far side having cover. However, both ends are open to the drizzle and any other elements that might be out and about.

The other thing that might be of interest to groundhoppers is that there is a small hut selling old programmes right next to the entrance. Talking of programmes, the club give the match programme away upon entry, and it's a good one. Saturday's issue had two wordsearches. I always check these for inadvertent rude words - the closest I came to any filth in this issue were the words DOGS and SWINDON.

...and dejection.
I'm not avoiding writing about the match, but I know my main audience is Hampshire football followers, and it was only disappointment for the club's fans and a few local floating fans that I recognised. Nathan Lynch was as effective in the air as he always is (he wins more headers than he has any right to); Nick Watts worked his magic on the right wing...

But generally, Hamble's forward play was snuffed out by Windsor's well-marshalled defence before it became too dangerous. The official match statistics showed that Hamble only had three efforts on goal, and that none of them were on target. By way of comparison, Windsor had 14 shots, eight of which were on target. The two that really mattered came after 29 and 50 minutes.

The first goal was set up via a surging run down the right by Jack Denton, who crossed low and hard across the six-yard line, where Riccardo Cannon cleverly flicked the ball over Rory Anderson in Hamble's goal with the outside of his heel.

The killer second goal, and one that would have graced the turf at Wembley, was by Denton. He picked up the ball from a throw out by the home keeper, and he just ran with it. It was like the Winter Olympics had already started and he was practicing the slalom as he bypassed the entire Hamble team. As he reached the edge of the area, he let fly, and that was that.

Noisy so-and-so.
Windsor's reward for beating Hamble Club is a journey to the north-east to face Stockton of the Northern League Division One. Now, that will be a tough tie.

Highlights from Saturday's game can be found on South Coast Journalism's website. Both goals are worth seeing. There are also match reports here and here. More of my photos from the game will be published on the HAH Facebook page when I get around to it.

That's it from the FA Vase this season for Hampshire clubs. I'll be back in two weeks with a game from the Hampshire League, if the weather is kind.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Paulsgrove v Stockbridge

A muddy football at Paulsgrove FC.
Reader's voice (in bold): Hey Andy, may I be so BOLD as to ask why you were revisiting Paulsgrove on Saturday so soon after your last visit in February 2017? I thought you were covering 60+ clubs in Hampshire...

HAH (me): I know, I know, I try to spread the love, and there's around ten Hampshire League grounds that I haven't yet featured, but this one looked too good to miss. Top versus third, both on excellent runs. It looked like a potentially colossal match-up on paper. Also, I'd effectively promised Stockbridge that I'd feature them in the second half of the season after drawing them out of a Quality Street tin over Christmas when I'd asked the members of the HAH Facebook group and my Twitter followers who they'd like to see on the blog (the other club that I pulled out were Fareham Town, so you'll be able to read about them as well at some point between now and April).

I'd also enjoyed my last visit to Paulsgrove. The other clubs in the Hampshire League can wait - I'll feature them all eventually.

A slightly less muddy football.
Paulsgrove FC (1) 1 v 2 (1) Stockbridge FC
Saturday 20th January 2017
New Forest Care Homes Hampshire Premier League Senior Division
Attendance: 45-50
Admission: Nothing, just donations for the half-time cuppa required.
Programme: No
Colours: All dark blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU6305

Stockbridge attack with the motorway junction signs not too far away.
Has anything changed at Paulsgrove since last year?

Very little, other than the usual turnover of players. The clubhouse is still well-protected from vandalism, as I'm afraid it needs to be around here. Inside, the 40 or 50 spectators mix with the players and club officials at half-time to help themselves to tea, coffee or Bovril in exchange for a donation. The pitch is surrounded by railings, smartly painted in club colours, with the two dugouts the only other "furniture" at the ground. It's possible that in the future that they might add seating or covered standing, but there's nothing there at the moment. To keep dry on Saturday, it was either bring your own umbrella or stand under a tree.

The Away dugout at half-time.
You predicted that Paulsgrove would win the league this year, didn't you?

I did indeed when I ran a pre-season preview on the Facebook group page. I said words to the effect that anybody who finished above Bush Hill would win the league, and I predicted that Paulsgrove would be that club. I was impressed with them when I saw them twice last season and I had a strong hunch that their chairman, Rich Bessey, would improve them even further. They finished fourth last time out, and this season, they'd won 12 out of 14 going in to this match. Their main rivals, Bush Hill and Infinity, are both a few places behind, but both have games in hand. It should be an exciting second half of the season in this league.

Penalty save!
Do the winners of the Hampshire League get automatic promotion to the Wessex League?

No, they do not. Anybody who wants to move up has to apply to the FA Leagues Committee by the end of the calendar year. The FALC will then inspect the applicants' facilities to make sure they comply with the various rules and regulations, e.g., they have to have certain size dressing rooms, floodlights, covered seating, amongst other things. If they don't comply, or can't show that they will comply by a certain date, their application will be rejected. Applicants also have to finish in the top five of their league at the end of a "normal" season. However, this is not a "normal" season, as a new league is being created in the Midlands, and to accommodate this, more clubs from step 7 (equivalent leagues to the Hampshire League) will be needed to backfill the spaces vacated by clubs being promoted or transferred to this new Midland league. Thus, clubs that finish outside the top five may be promoted this year.

Paulsgrove shoot! This one went just wide.
Have Paulsgrove applied for promotion?

No, they have not. I'm sure that they're well aware that their facilities would fall short of the FALC's requirements. However, opponents Stockbridge have applied, along with Infinity and Sway from the Hampshire League, as have Swanage Town & Herston and Shrewton United, from Dorset and Wiltshire respectively, all of whom fall within the Wessex League's footprint. As a former Wessex League club, Stockbridge should certainly pass the inspectors' exams. I don't know about Infinity or Sway - it will probably depend if they have concrete plans for floodlights and the other things necessary to pass.

If Paulsgrove want to move on up to play at the higher level, they would probably have to move if the council don't allow them to develop Marsden Road to the required standard.

Sensible spectators with umbrellas.
Did the match live up to expectations?

It certainly did! The pitch passed an inspection a couple of hours before kick-off, but the rain hadn't stopped falling all morning, so it was wet and muddy at the start, and it only got worse as the game went on, players losing their footing and sliding hither and thither over the surface. It was like being transported back to the 1970s when matches were regularly played in these sort of conditions.

Stockbridge started the brightest as the home side found it tricky adapting to the conditions. Rory Hunter-Brown hit the bar from 25 yards in the second minute with the home keeper beaten. Stocky kept up the pressure and deservedly took the lead after 21 minutes when Callum Buck struck a long-distance shot which Adam Walker couldn't hold. The ball rebounded in to the path of the oncoming Liam Dufall who side-footed in to the unguarded net.

Their lead only lasted two minutes as the Grove struck back almost immediately. A shot from the right was blocked, but fell to Danny Lane with his back to goal. Instead of turning or passing, he decided to surprise the away side's keeper, Pete Roberts, by backheeling the ball into the net from six yards.

Stockbridge nearly retook the lead in the 39th minute as Buck tried his luck from distance again. Another one against the bar.

This was turning in to a great game. I don't know if the players were enjoying themselves (probably not!), but the gathering of 50 or so spectators were being hugely entertained on a miserable rainy afternoon. The home fans nearly had a goal to cheer straight from kick-off in the second half as a Stockbridge defender made an error, letting Alex Miroy through one-on-one with Roberts. Miroy aimed to his left, but Roberts pulled off a terrific save, parrying the ball away for a corner. From this corner, the Grove players were convinced that the ball had crossed the line, echoing a controversial decision the last time I was here, when they scored the winner against Colden Common when the visitors were convinced that their keeper had stopped the ball crossing the line. It wasn't to be this time as the ref waved play on.

Pulsating stuff.

Buck was played through on 50 minutes, but was tripped in the area. Penalty to Stockbridge! Steven Lace stepped up, and...well, you can see what happened in the photo...saved by Walker!

And so it went on. Stockbridge on top for 20 minutes. Paulsgrove with the majority of the play for the last 20 minutes and the most likely to score a winner in that time. But there was a twist in the 93rd minute. Stockbridge substitute Lewis Price-Lloyd was in the right place at the right time to score the winner with a diving header, causing pandemonium amongst his team-mates as they all slid in to congratulate him on what was a most unexpected victory.

Stockbridge celebrate a famous victory!
Sounds great! I wish I'd been there!

You should have been! There weren't many matches on locally, so I believe there were a few local floating fans at Marsden Road, including one groundhopper who spoke to me near the end as he saw me taking photos. I should have asked him how far he'd travelled, but I was preoccupied with trying to keep my camera dry (which I failed to do...). If you're at a loose end on a Saturday between now and the end of the season, I'd recommend you go along and see either of these two sides - they're both playing well, and you never know, you might be watching the league champions-elect (Paulsgrove, despite Saturday's defeat) or a club which may be promoted to the Wessex League come the end of April.

Where are you going next Andy?

HAH is having a week off next Saturday. I'll probably be at Follands v Romsey Town if the weather is kind. I'll be writing and taking photos again in a fortnight, when I'll be following one of our local clubs on a right royal day out in a national cup competition. I'll leave you to work that one out...

There will be more photos from this game on the HAH Facebook page when I get round to uploading them. There won't be as many as usual for reasons that I won't bore you with, but hey, some is better than none!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Bush Hill v Sway

Bush Hill walk out on to the pitch in front of Southampton's ex-tallest building, Millbrook Towers.
Has anyone escaped the Christmas and New Year lurgy this year? I don't know anyone who hasn't been sneezing, sniffling or barking up phlegm over the past fortnight. At the height (or should that be the depths?) of my own affliction, I was flat on my back, watching the ceiling bounce up and then jounce down again very very slowly as if it was on a length of elastic. I was hallucinating, seeing faces in the artex.

Up there above my sweating torso was Joe Root, explaining how beastly the Aussies were being to his cricket team, but not in his usual voice - it was deep, gravelly and distorted, like a badass buckled foghorn. And then there was Leon Osman, Everton stalwart and now BBC football pundit, with his trademark cheeky smile. But his mouth was getting wider and wider until it extended from one side of the ceiling to the other, bent out of shape so that it looked more like a conger eel than a human mouth.

Bush Hill celebrate their first goal in front of the shorter, four-storey flats at the lower end of the pitch.
Bush Hill FC (1) 5 v 2 (0) Sway FC
Saturday 6th January 2018
New Forest Care Homes Hampshire Premier League Senior Division
Attendance: c50
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: Red and black / black / red and white v Yellow / blue / yellow
National Grid reference: SU3714

Stripy dressing room containers.
When I eventually did fall asleep, my sleep-dreams were just as weird as my waking hallucinations. At one point, I'd grown an extra pair of legs which had sprouted through my eye sockets and I was scootling around a football pitch. But I was tiny - blades of grass were arching over me, keeping me hidden from the view of those above. And there were plenty of people there - there was a match going on way above me.

But I had more to worry about than being trodden on by a pair of Adidas size nines. Spiders were closing in on me from all sides, fangs bared, their multiple eyes all pointing my way, dribbling venom from their fangs. There was no way out...

But of course there was a way out. All I had to do was wake up and Leon Osman would save me with his conger eel mouth.

But that's enough about me. How was your Christmas break?

She's behind you! Wasn't she in one of my hallucinations?!
I was missing my football whilst lying there, sweating and worrying. So it was good to get back on Saturday. My first choice was to travel on the coach to Westfields in Hereford for Hamble Club's FA Vase match (which they won 4-1 to reach the last 16). However, I didn't feel quite well enough yet to travel such a long way, so I decided to stay local for the first HAH of 2018.

For me, it doesn't get any more local than Bush Hill, who play on Mansel Park on the Millbrook estate in Southampton. I don't know what you consider to be walking distance, but for me, with Bush Hill being 25 minutes from my house, that counts as within walking distance of where I live. Add on another five minutes, and I could have been at Test Park, home of Team Solent, or another 10 minutes, and I could be at QK Southampton FC - all of which I consider to be within walking distance for me. Another half an hour would take me to the two Totton grounds, which is fine if the weather is reasonable.

No! More! Handbags!
The Millbrook estate was built in the early 1960s as a council estate. Thousands of people have lived in the area over the years. Millbrook Towers, which overlooks Mansel Park, was Southampton's tallest building for over 50 years, only losing that honour in 2014, when Moresby Tower was constructed in Ocean Village. Apparently, several more skyscraping buildings are to be built over the next few years, which will give Southampton the new nickname of Singapore-on-The-Solent (probably).

You'd think that a football pitch on a public park on an old council estate wouldn't be very photogenic, but the opposite is true. Everywhere the camera points, there is something of interest in the background. Behind the red and black stripy containers which house the dressing rooms, a kitchen area and spectator toilets, you can see The Saints pub. At night, this pub has searchlights switched on which swivel around searching for Nazi bombers.

Blue buses and red buses stop outside the pub, picking up the locals to take them to Shirley and the city centre, bringing them back again later with bags full of shopping.

Creeping up the hill to the right of the pub, there are stark-looking concrete flats. To their right is Millbrook Towers, which is encircled by a curious mural with a pair of giant tits* looking down upon a fox and a badger who guard one of the entrances along with an enormous hedgehog. Around the corner from them is a young woman in a purple top, whose eyes follow you wherever you go in the park. I'm sure she lives in my ceiling as well.

There are the types of trees that you associate with bogland over the other side of the park - indeed, a lot of Mansel Park was ankle deep in water and mud as I walked across it towards the railed off pitch before the match. The people who look after the pitch have done wonders since the club moved here in 2013, as they had loads of matches called off due to waterlogging at first. That's now a rare occurrence.

All Saints Church, a couple of playgrounds and some brown-brick flats complete the surroundings.

*The feathered type, obviously.

Sway attacking down the left.
Bush Hill have existed since 2002, when two local clubs, AFC Maybush and Lordshill SAS, merged. With their combined resources, they were able to win the Southampton Saturday League five times in a row before moving up to the Hampshire League. This is now their fifth season at county level.

Dressed in Saints shorts and stockings, and playing next to the Saints Pub, Bush Hill can only come from one city.

They are current champions of the Hampshire Premier Football League, whereas their opponents on Saturday, Sway, from the New Forest, are playing at this level for the first time after being promoted last season. The home side sat in mid-table, but with only one defeat all season and several games in hand, they are well-placed to move up in the second half of the season. They took the lead after 6 minutes when a corner fell at the feet of Sean Haines 10 yards from goal. He confidently slotted the ball home.

And so it stayed until the 50th minute, with Sway holding their own in an entertaining tussle. Nathan Gray broke forward on the right and crossed for Cain Prentice, unmarked 6 yards out to poke the ball underneath Sway's keeper to put Bush Hill two up.

Ten minutes later, Prentice ran at Sway's defence and crossed for Ben Addams to score a similar goal  to make it 3-0. The goals were coming at 10 minute intervals now, as Prentice made it 4-0 with a low drive from outside the box after 70 minutes.

With the result no longer in doubt, Sway's number 10 scored a consolation after 75 minutes with a daisy cutter from 25 yards. The same player pulled the score back to 4-2 after 79 minutes, much to the frustration of Bush Hill's manager, who accused his players of "switching off". If Sway had scored again, there might have been panic in the Bush Hill ranks, but it wasn't to be, as the final goal came just before the final whistle, with Prentice completing his hat-trick from close range.

Saints shorts, Saints stockings, Saints pub. It can only be Bush Hill FC.
I mentioned that Mansel Park makes for some interesting photographs. Once I've uploaded them, you will be able to see more from the match on the HAH Facebook page here. I intend to feature more Hampshire League teams throughout the rest of the season. Look out for the next one in two weeks.

I wasn't aware of his presence at the time, but another groundhopping blogger (who had travelled down from Manchester) was also at the match. You wait all season for one blogger, then you get two at the same match... You can read his report here.

I've been doing this for exactly seven years now. Thanks to everybody who has ever looked in and enjoyed what I've done. There's been over 200,000 page views since January 2011, which isn't too bad.