Monday, 19 November 2018

AFC Station v Testlands

AFC Station line up for their team photo.
People think I'm mad enough anyway for watching any type of football outside the Premier League, but when I go and watch a match in a roped off field in the Hampshire League (levels 11 and 12 in the English football pyramid), they think I'm beyond insane.

On Saturday, I went four levels lower, down to the fourth division of the Southampton Saturday Football League (known as Junior 2). Is that 16 promotions away from the Premier League? It's a big number, that's for sure. I'll be long retired before either of these sides get there, if they ever do. Realistically, they never will, of course, but that's not the point.

The point at this level is to get out on a Saturday afternoon in the fresh air and have an organised kickabout with your mates, with a proper pitch and a referee. There are leagues and cups to win, and you'll try hard to win them, but it's really secondary to the social aspect. You make friends for life and there will be moments that you'll always remember - an amazing goal, a brilliant save, or a crazy night out drinking after the game.

AFC Station asked me to come along and take some pictures. They were formed in 2009 as a team of friends based at The Station pub in Bitterne. They played at Riverside Park until the pitches there were no longer maintained by the council. They now play their home games at Wide Lane in Eastleigh, on whichever pitch is available on the day. They've had the same nucleus of players since they started, with additions arriving as and when required.

Opponents Testlands are new to the league this season. They're based at the Testlands Sports Hub in Millbrook.

The game looked like it could be close on paper, as the two sides were neck and neck in the league. It proved to be close on the day, with just the one goal separating them. There appeared to be little danger as Testlands' Ryan Phillips poked over a low cross from an acute angle on the right. However, the ball evaded his team mates, AFC Station's defence, and their goalkeeper, who was guarding his near post. Somehow, the ball squeezed just inside the far post for what proved to be the winner just 18 minutes in to the match. If he meant it, it was brilliant...

If there had been an Opta statistician there, he would have recorded roughly equal amounts of possession, approximately equal chances on goal (not that many) and quite a lot of crunching tackles. The best piece of action came right at the end, as an AFC Station player curled in a free-kick from 25 yards which was sneaking in to the top corner, but the Testlands keeper made a superb save to win the game for his team.

If you're of football-playing age and you live in either Bitterne or Millbrook, I'm sure both of these clubs would love to hear from you. The game at this level is slowly dying, with more and more clubs and players dropping out every season. It's a great way to keep fit, and a good way to make new friends. And who knows, you could be the goalscoring hero occasionally, just like your idols in the Premier League. It might be a little odd to watch football at Wide Lane on a Saturday afternoon (I'll admit that), but it's completely normal to want to play.

The view from behind the goal.
AFC Station (0) 0 v 1 (1) Testlands FC
Saturday 17th November 2018
Southampton Saturday Football League Junior Division 2
Attendance: Family, friends, one photographer and the guy with the baby
Admission: No!
Programme: Of course not
Colours: All red v Green / red
National Grid reference: SU4417

Autumn in Eastleigh.
That was a good game to photograph. The sun was out, the autumn colours were vibrant, there was plenty going on. I'm tempted to come back another day and spend 15 minutes taking pictures of each match at the complex, a sort of "Day in the Life of Wide Lane" if you like.

There are another 40 or so pictures on the HAH Facebook page. Good luck to both teams for the rest of the season. Keep enjoying what you do and I hope you like some of the pics.

I'm not sure when HAH will be back. My life looks quite busy over the next few weeks. I'll try and feature at least one game during December, perhaps in the Hampshire League, weather permitting.

One of many tough tackles.
Meanwhile, on the adjacent pitch, it's AFC Hiltingbury Vets v Gosport Vets.
The guy with the baby stops to watch the footy.
Jostling for position.
Meanwhile, on the other adjacent pitch, it's scrum time!
Excuse me sir, I believe that ball should be mine...
Thumbs up for Saturday Junior football!

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