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.