Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Lyndhurst v South Wonston Swifts

Hampshire Premier League Division One champions 2018/19, Lyndhurst FC.
Some leagues go on and on in to mid-May, or even June (see certain Spanish leagues), others finish in March. The Hampshire Premier Football League Division One is one of the latter. It's been a mild winter with few postponements, so some teams in this division finished their 21 games weeks ago. The final match of the season was on Saturday, where leaders Lyndhurst entertained second-placed South Wonston Swifts. With just a single point separating the two sides, it was winner takes all at the end of the match (a draw would have meant Lyndhurst won the league). Where to go on Saturday? It could only have been here.

"Here" is the attractive Wellands Road home of Lyndhurst FC in the heart of the New Forest. Wellands Road has all you need for a club at this level. There's a car park for around 30 cars. On the left as you enter is a wooden hut for the changing rooms, and then another for the tea bar. The pitch is mostly surrounded by railings (there's a few missing on the far side), and there are two unroofed dugouts made of wood (they may be half-built, awaiting a roof, I'm not sure).

So far, so typical of this level of football. This being the New Forest, the ground is surrounded on three sides by tall mature deciduous trees, with the other side adjacent to several back gardens with 2019's colourful Spring foliage just beginning to appear after the winter break. The pitch itself has a slope in the shape of a bell curve, but drifting downhill quite drastically away from the car park end. If you see some of my photos and think I should have straightened them up a little, well, that's the genuine angle of the pitch!

With the sun shining, Lyndhurst was definitely the place to be.

The home side kicked downhill in the first half, which turned out to be a wise decision. Duarte Martins was played through the middle to open the scoring after 10 minutes, sweeping the ball low past the Swifts keeper in to the far corner. The second goal came ten minutes later when Benni Cook was tripped when cutting back from the byline. Martins dispatched the resulting penalty in to the same corner that he'd already scored in earlier.

Goal number three arrived just two minutes later. The ball wasn't cleared from a corner and Cook smashed it in on the half-volley from 12 yards. The initial phase was quite one-sided. Swifts did hit the bar, but this was from a back-header from a defender. Their first real chance came just before half-time, but Yannick de Mezieres made a spectacular save, fingertipping the ball over the bar from a fierce shot.

The slope helped Swifts in the second-half as they came more in to the game, but a series of blocks and clearances off the line, plus another worldie save low down to his left by Yannick kept them at bay. They deserved at least one goal, but it wasn't to be their day.

The celebrations started as soon as the full-time whistle blew - the subs and other club members running on to the pitch, champagne and cans of Fosters spraying rainbows in the sunshine. Lyndhurst then posed for a couple of celebratory team groups before the medal ceremony, then it all went haywire again with more champagne showers and much leaping around.

I don't know, there may just have been some sore heads on Sunday morning!

Action in front of the tea hut.
Lyndhurst FC (3) 3 v 0 (0) South Wonston Swifts FC
Saturday 30th March 2019
Hampshire Premier Football League Division One
Attendance: About 50
Admission: None
Programme: None
Colours: Green and black stripes / black / green v White and black stripes / white / white
National Grid reference: SU3008

The twin spires of Our Lady's Church and St Michael and All Angels Church look on as Swifts defend in the second half.
There was a short match report in this week's Hampshire Premier League newsletter, which you can read here if you're quick enough.

There will be more photos from the game on the HAH Facebook page shortly. Because of the location and the lighting conditions, they are some of my favourite pictures of the season. It was hard to choose only 40 or so to publish.

I'm hoping to do one more report on HAH this season. This will be on Saturday April 13th. See you then!

League top scorer Duarte Martins scores his first of the day and his 31st league goal of the season.
Benni Cook just about to go down for Lyndhurst's penalty.
A big crowd for the big day.
Flying the flag for the village team.
Emerging for the second half, slightly the worse for wear.
Lyndhurst attacking up the considerable slope (no, my photo isn't wonky, I promise...)
Gary Rogers had his champagne ready as soon as the ref blew the final whistle!
The team group from picture 1 bursts forward.
The celebratory champagne-spraying commences.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Thatcham Town v Blackfield & Langley

The Way In to Waterside Park, avoiding the turnstiles.
The Watersiders visit Waterside Park...

The top of the Southern League Division One South is fascinating this season, as at least three Hampshire clubs could be involved in the play-offs in a few weeks. One of them may even be promoted automatically.

The clubs in question are Moneyfields, Winchester City and Blackfield & Langley (we'll leave AFC Totton out of the argument for the time being, as they've probably left themselves too much to do, being seven points adrift of the final play-off position with seven games to go).

I followed Blackfield & Langley to Thatcham Town's Waterside Park on Saturday to inspect their promotion credentials. They travelled to Berkshire as league leaders, albeit only a point ahead of Yate Town. Thatcham were in mid-table with no chance of going up or down at the end of April. You might have expected them to take it easy from now on in...

However, Thatcham Town are a proud club. They are current holders of the FA Vase, having beaten Northern League Stockton Town at Wembley last May. They also won the Hellenic League to be promoted to the Southern League. Of course, Blackfield are current Wessex League champions.

Thatcham was once in Wessex League territory before it shifted south and west. They won the league in 1995/96. They have an ex-Wessex League manager in Danny Robinson, who has taken charge of Alresford Town and Winchester City in the past, so he knew all about his opponents.

Blackfield's main threat in the first half came from long throws and corners, with the powerful duo of Connor Doe and Sam Poole both coming close to scoring - Doe's goal was disallowed for a push, whilst Poole's header from a corner smashed against the bar. The closest Thatcham came to taking the lead was from a long-distance lob by Kyle Tooze over the advancing keeper, Lewis Noice.

Where Blackfield shaded the first half, the home side were slightly the better team in the second. They scored the only goal of the game when Tooze bundled his way down the left before pulling the ball back from the byline for Jack Alexander to sidefoot in to the far corner from six yards.

It was a tough-tackling game with no quarters asked or given, as they say (sorry for the cliches). Blackfield were obviously frustrated about losing. They lost top spot to Yate Town, who beat Paulton Rovers. However, Moneys failed to make up their four point gap, as they went down 2-0 at Street. Elsewhere, Winchester sneaked in to the final play-off spot with a victory at Larkhall Athletic.

It's going to be an interesting few weeks...

The calm before the stormy game.
Thatcham Town FC (0) 1 v 0 (0) Blackfield & Langley FC
Saturday 23rd March 2019
Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South
Attendance: 187
Admission: £8
Programme: £1
Colours: Blue and white stripes / blue / blue v All green
National Grid reference: SU5265

Splendid save by AFC Bournemouth loanee Calum Ward.
There is text and video coverage of the game on Thatcham Town's website here and here.

There will be another 40 or so photos from Thatcham on Facebook later this evening.

Next Saturday, I shall be heading to a title decider in the New Forest!

The home fans gather behind the near goal.
The chase is on!
Tough tackling in greyscale monochrome.
The tea bar at Thatcham Town.
Thatcham celebrate the winning (only) goal.
Flying the flag for the FA Vase holders.
The Way In is now the Way Out.
A gathering of directors under the stand at the end of the match.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Unity 101 v Forest Home

Unity 101 FC. One gold star so far.
I'm a middle-aged English white guy. I have my problems, just like anyone else. But being the subject of racist abuse isn't one of them.

I was never a footballer beyond school age, but I did play hockey for a while. I've always worn glasses, so playing as a hockey goalkeeper was ideal, what with the scary mask keeping my eyes safe. And hockey is just like football with sticks and a ridiculously hard ball. It was second-best, but sometimes you have to accept that second-best is good enough.

I played for a team with some older white men. I was a bit intimidated by them, to be honest. They all had cars and jobs and talked very loud. I had a rusty bicycle, thick spectacles, spots and no money. Obviously, I listened to The Smiths. Morrissey understood me.

There was a Sikh on my team. He was a decent player, but I never heard him speak. The problem was, the older white men were constantly horrible to him. Not just banter, but sheer nastiness, all the time, with absolutely no let-up. To them, he had different coloured skin, therefore he was subhuman. It was the first time I had witnessed racism in action and I didn't like it. Nowadays, I'd like to think I would stand up to them and call them out, but as an awkward teenager with little self-confidence, I couldn't do it. I just walked out and never went back.

Unity 101's home pitch at Cantell School. School alumni include Coldplay's drummer, Will Champion.
Unity 101 FC (3) 7 v 0 (0) Forest Home FC (can't find any link for them, sorry)
Sunday 10th February 2019
City of Southampton Sunday Football League Junior Division 3
Attendance: One man and his dog (literally!)
Admission: Through reception at Cantell School and out the other side and down the path.
Programme: No
Colours: Yellow / black / black v Orange / black / orange
National Grid reference: SU4215

Tom Gilham, docker during the week, 'baller on a Sunday, controls the ball on his chest. In monochrome for no particular reason.
I wonder what those vile men would think of Unity 101 FC? This is a team that play at the fourth level of Sunday football in Southampton (Junior Division 3). They play their home matches on the artificial pitch at Cantell School in Highfield.

They're a team that prides themselves on inclusivity. Whatever your skin colour, wherever you're from, you'll be accepted in to the fold for who you are (and before anyone says that they discriminate against white men - they don't - literally everyone is welcome).

The same is true of the radio station whose name they share (which has been broadcasting for 13 years now). Tune in at any given time, and you might hear Punjabi folk music or some jolly tabla music from Afghanistan, a Polish music and chat show or an hour-long programme from the students of Richard Taunton College. All the communities that make up the city of Southampton are represented, with all the rich variety of languages that can be heard throughout the city. You can tune in live, or listen to a programme of your choice here.

Some players play for Unity 101 FC because they've heard about them on the radio, others will come because they have friends who play for them. Others will just turn up for training sessions to keep fit and make friends. It's like many other clubs in that respect.

There's an excellent film made about Unity 101 FC by Gurpreet Singh. You can see it here (with a longer film to follow). Some of the players that featured on Sunday are shown at home and at work. Gurpreet revealed the people behind the players. Not just 11 men in yellow shirts, they're all living, breathing human beings with different back stories who come together to enjoy their hobby on a Sunday. Yes, just like every other team, but you don't see this sort of thing very often. Highly recommended (there's also a link on the HAH Facebook group page if you scroll down far enough).

Bale-esque skills from Taylor Brown.
Not featured in the film, but starring on the pitch on Sunday was Taylor Brown. I was told he was on the books of MK Dons and is currently studying at uni in Southampton. He was one of the standout players on Sunday, scoring the first two goals with a pair of penalties and setting up the third goal, headed in by Shazur Rahman at the back post. It had been an even start, with Forest Home hitting the bar in the first minute, but after Unity took the lead there was no looking back as they led 3-0 at half-time.

Forest Home (who play their home games in Blackfield) had the perfect chance to get back in the game just after half-time, but they hit the bar for a second time, this time from a penalty. From then on, they weren't seen again as an attacking force, as Rahman scored a superb fourth as he slalomed down the left touchline evading any opponent who got near hime before sliding the ball just inside the post.

Then it was the turn of Ugandan under-23 international Imran Mpaata to make an impact from the bench (yes, Unity 101 have an international playing for them!). Two brilliant solo goals and a 25 yard thunderbolt free-kick which hit the post. Not bad for a 30 minute cameo! Imran has an interesting story. You can read about how his mother set up a footballing academy in Mombasa for the local children and how it has grown here. Her son may well have a decent future in the game. If any scouts read this blog, you could do worse than pop along and watch Imran play for Unity or his university team at Solent.

With ten minutes to play, manager Naz Azram brought himself on. He scored the seventh and final goal on 90 minutes with a cheeky flick with the outside of his left boot. Still got it! The sun then made its only appearance of the day as the ref blew his whistle on a good-tempered Sunday morning contest. Unity 101 will be pleased with their day's work - they played with verve and vigour to entertain the one man and his dog who came to watch (and to entertain themselves). Forest Home will have better days. Maybe next Sunday?

Goalkeeper Shah Kamal keeps warm on a nippy day.
The hockey-playing Sikh guy could have done with a team like Unity to play for back in the day. They would have been a safe space for him - somewhere where he could have made friends instead of being on the end of a constant barrage of crap. I like to think that things have changed for the better in the last 30 years and that most sports clubs are welcoming to everyone, whatever their background, but as a middle-aged white guy, I honestly don't know.

Thank you to Unity 101 FC for inviting me along to take photos. Good luck for the rest of the season to them. And thank you also to Testlands for a similar warm welcome the day before for part one of my double-header weekend.

You will find another 40 or so pictures from Unity 101 v Forest Home on the HAH Facebook page.

I'm busy again on Saturdays for a while now. The next featured game may well be a random midweeker! I'll see what's on in either the Southern or Wessex Leagues over the next couple of weeks and pop along somewhere and take some pictures.

Taylor Brown slots home his second penalty.
Shazur Rahman slides home his second goal of the game.
Imran Mpaata rounds the keeper for his first goal.
One man and his dog watching from the car park.
Player-manager Naz Azram shows off his skills. Still got it!
Friendly handshakes after the final whistle.
Man of the Match Meelad Aslami poses for his post-match photoshoot. At least, he told me he was MoM ;-)

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Testlands v Botley Village

The banner on the wall of the hub overlooking the football pitches.
It's double-header weekend!

I occasionally get asked to take photos at local clubs. If I have time to do so, I'll probably say yes (although I have been a meanie in the past and said no. I was too busy at the time). AFC Station were one of the clubs that put in a request, and I (eventually - possibly six months later...) turned up at Wide Lane to feature them on here. This was in November. I wrote about the crisis enveloping the adult men's game on a Saturday, with more and more clubs folding. I wrote about how enjoyable it is to play with your mates, out in the fresh air on a Saturday afternoon, kicking a ball about, getting involved - you're only young and fit enough to play for a few years, after all - there's plenty of time to sit around doing not very much when you're old. And so on.

This was the most popular piece I've written for quite some time, receiving over 400 hits (the average is around half that), so I guess it struck a chord. AFC Station's opponents that afternoon in the Southampton Saturday League Junior Division 2 (effectively the league's 4th division) were bucking the trend as a relatively new club, Testlands FC. After the game, Eddie McCaffery from the club asked me to pop along and take some photos one day. So, I did. Eventually.

Who are Testlands FC? They are the men's adult team of the Testlands Youth Football Club, based at the Testlands Hub (formerly Millbrook School) on the west side of Southampton. They're newly formed (well, in 2016), as it was felt that the boys who were playing in the youth teams had nowhere to go once they'd reached the top age group. Sure, they could go off and find another club (the likes of Bush Hill and QK Southampton are nearby and play at a reasonable standard in the Hampshire League). But what if they wanted to keep playing with their friends and with familiar coaches in an environment that they are happy in? The adult team gives them the chance to do that.

It's not all lads from the youth team though - the club is open to anybody. I'm sure they'd welcome anyone who can play at Junior 2 standard and who is committed to playing most Saturdays throughout the season. The club's ambitions are to go as far as they can go. They've seen nearby Bush Hill rise up through the leagues. They'd like to at least emulate them and maybe surpass them, reaching the Wessex League one day.

As a new club, they have a long way to go, but everyone has to start somewhere. They play on a well-drained pitch at the back of the Hub. You have to go through reception and out the back to reach the pitch, a bit like you used to have to at Fawley. The only structures beside the pitch are a pair of handmade dugouts, salvaged from some old bicycle shelters. Clever, spacious and practical.

On the pitch, Testlands were facing Botley Village, a former Hampshire League club whose adult men's team have been sliding down the pyramid over the last few years, and may not have stopped sliding yet as they propped up the table going in to this fixture. The hosts were in fourth place, but probably too far behind league leaders Whiteley Wanderers to win the division this season.

It looked like it was going to be a rout as the hosts raced in to a two goal lead within 9 minutes, Sean Haines blasting the first in from 12 yards (see the two pics below), then being played through and sliding the ball past the keeper to give Testlands a quickfire 2-0 lead. I don't know if Testlands sat back a bit then, or if Botley just woke up, as the rest of the first half was more even. The away side got a goal back after 19 minutes after a defensive mix-up, their number 12 taking advantage, walking the ball in to the net (sorry, I don't have names for the Botley scorers). 2-1 at half-time was probably about right on the balance of play.

There were to be five more goals in the second half. Haines completed his hat-trick on 55 minutes, blasting past Botley's nervous goalie from 10 yards. The away side got a goal back five minutes later, as their composed number 5 was played through, sliding the ball low to the Testlands' keeper's left.

It still could have gone either way at this stage, although Testlands were gradually stamping their authority on the game. What proved to be the killer goal came after 73 minutes when there was a shove in the box and the ref awarded a penalty to Testlands. Bertie New kept his nerve to slot home.

Botley Village got the score back to 4-3 with a minute of normal time to play. A free-kick was awarded just outside the box (it could easily have been a penalty - according to my photographic evidence, the foul was right on the line...). Their impressive captain curled the ball in and there were three men unmarked and onside at the back post, three yards out. One of them side-foot volleyed in and they still had a small amount of hope...

...which was squashed within 90 seconds as Luca Cordeddu tucked away the fifth goal for Testlands.

Testlands FC 2018/19.
Testlands FC (2) 5 v 3 (1) Botley Village FC
Saturday 9th February 2019
Southampton FA Saturday Football League Junior Division 2
Admission: Free
Programme: Of course not!
Attendance: A few friends, family members and non-playing squad players
Colours: White / red / red v Green / green / red
National Grid reference: SU3815

The first goal for Testlands (you can just see the ball behind number 17).
There will be more photos from Testlands on the HAH Facebook page shortly.

I'm happy to take requests for photos from other local clubs. My main rule is that there has to be at least one club from Hampshire involved in the game. I'm a season ticket holder at Havant & Waterlooville, so I'm unlikely to visit when they're at home, and I'm also busy on other weekends sometimes, but if I can fit you in, I will.

I said it was a double-header this weekend - I'll be writing about a Sunday League club next. To follow later in the week!

The ball hits the net despite the goalie's best efforts to stop it.
It's Millbrook Towers again! (See also QK Southampton, Bush Hill and Team Solent!)
Basically the same picture, but in the second half and in greyscale monochrome.
Testlands on the attack. Homemade dugouts in the background.
Botley Village squad members in the away dugout.
Pampas grass!
Testlands subs look on during a tense period of play in the second half.
Botley Village score in the 89th minute to trail 3-4.
Arty shot of a corner flag to finish off.

Monday, 21 January 2019

QK Southampton v Infinity

The welcome sign at QK.
Star Date 2019, and HAH is still going, eight years on. And where was I this week? At the nearest ground to my home that I've not previously featured, QK Southampton. QK were formed in the Queen's Keep building in central Southampton in 1972 by my ex-union rep at my workplace, and he's been there ever since. They used to play at the old Civil Service ground in Shirley, but moved to their current ground in Lordshill when the Civil Service buildings shut down around twenty years ago (Boo! No more cheap beer for the hard-working civil servants of Southampton and their special guests!).

QK's ground was quite isolated until recently. There are a few old houses nearby in the area known as Hillyfields, but over the last couple of years, two to three hundred new houses have been built over the road on a new estate. Nearly finished now - you can see the concrete silos and unfinished roofs behind the changing rooms. As part of the deal to build on the fields where the local travellers and their horses used to dwell, Bloor Homes were to help QK upgrade their ground.

It's looking a lot smarter now than it did a few years ago. The highly-graffitied equipment container has been painted; another container has been placed next to it for the ref's changing room; the teams' changing rooms and cafe are also made out of containers in a U-shape on the halfway line; then there is a small new toilet block, painted bottle green like the ref's changing room.

A new entrance with a car park is currently being built. Unfortunately, a dump truck was left there overnight recently, and had disappeared by the next morning. Like a lot of clubs, QK suffer from the fact that some local people have no respect for others' property and will try to ruin all their hard work.

Talking of ruining hard work, the club erected a homemade stand during 2017, but the council didn't like it, so they had to take it down again. The concrete base is still there, so they might try again if planning permission is granted.

The competition on Saturday was the Southampton Divisional FA Intermediate Cup, which is open to clubs in the area which compete at Hampshire League level, plus the two senior divisions of the Southampton Saturday League. QK are struggling in the Hampshire Premier this season, although their form had been reasonable going in to the match against one of the Hampshire League's "Big Three", Infinity, who were clear favourites to win.

And so it proved. QK's young team conceded from a corner after just two minutes, as Mitch Fear rose highest at the back post to nod past Mike Adams in QK's goal. The experienced players of Infinity (most of whom have played at higher levels) controlled the game from that moment on, scoring three more before half-time. Danny Phillips ran QK's defence ragged, setting up two for Jamie White (ex-Salisbury and Blackfield & Langley), with Wayne Boud scoring the other from a tight angle.

At the break, Infinity looked like they could score an infinite number of goals, but QK improved as the game went on. They couldn't quite manage to get a consolation, but they'll be pleased to have kept a clean sheet for the second 45. 4-0 to Infinity, who progressed to the quarter-finals.

You can see the changing rooms and cafe on the right.
QK Southampton FC (0) 0 v 4 (4) Infinity FC
Saturday 19th January 2019
Southampton Divisional FA Intermediate Cup Second Round
Attendance: c30
Admission: None, but I bought a 50/50 ticket for £1 (failed to win, as usual)
Programme: No
Colours: Yellow / black / yellow v Dark blue & red / dark blue / dark blue
National Grid reference: SU3715

The view from the cafe entrance.
There's a match report from Infinity's perspective on their website here. I'm hoping to be back with another report in two weeks. In the meantime, there will be another 40 or so photos from Saturday's game on the HAH Facebook page.

The homemade stand in 2017 before it was forcibly taken down.
Mitch Fear (number 5) opens the scoring after two minutes.
QK's management team and subs look on as their full-back wins this tackle.
Goal by Infinity's number 21, Jamie White.
Concrete silos across the road on the new estate.
The new toilet block.
QK improved in the second half on this gloomy January day in Lordshill.
Millbrook Towers (in the background) is also visible from nearby Bush Hill and Team Solent.
Infinity's subs following the game from inside their dugout.