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.

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