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.