Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Story So Far

Cold snacks only in this corner of Havant & Waterlooville's Westleigh Park.
The Story So Far is not only the name of one of my favourite albums (by the Mo-Dettes), but it's also a perfectly adequate title to use for a piece to sum up the first year of this blog. So I shall indeed use it as a title and hang the consequences.

I didn't really know what I was doing when I started HAH last January. I just copied over a couple of match reports from my other blog, Pleasure City Avenue, and wrote a short introductory piece. I had a vague idea that I would like to visit all the football grounds at Level 10 and above in Hampshire and write about them. So I just got on with it, without knowing if anyone else would be interested.

Thus was the beginning of the "runaway success" that is the current incarnation of Hopping Around Hampshire (up from virtually no page views per day to the present-day average of 20 or more, overtaking my older blog on Boxing Day).

The big stand at Basingstoke Town. Babies R Us just visible to the left.
By checking the stats, I soon realised that people were arriving at the site almost exclusively via Google image searches, so I upped the number of photos. The trouble is, initially I didn't take many very good ones, so firstly I had to learn how to use a camera (it's not just point and click - you have to get your subject in focus too!), and then how to edit photos to make them stand out on the electronic page. A severe crop, followed by turning up the contrast and brightness, then saturating the colour until a cartoon-like effect is achieved tends to work quite well on the screen. I now take around 20 photos at each match I attend, and use the best eight or nine.

A severe crop and contrast at Horndean v Hythe & Dibden. Sounds like a rad haircut.
I also realised before I started that intricately detailed match reports might be a bit dull for the neutral - they're perfectly fine for the immediacy of the Non-League Paper and match programmes, but people come to see blog pieces weeks and months after the event, so the writing has to be slightly more entertaining (Dub Steps is an excellent example). I admit I cross the line into pretentiousness occasionally (see AFC Portchester), but in my defence, it's pretty difficult knowing what to write about some clubs when there is so little information about them elsewhere on the 'web. Thus, like a proper journalist, I have to occasionally pad out articles with inconsequential fripperies.

Dugouts at AFC Portchester.
So, mildly entertaining/pretentious writing plus cartoon-like photography makes this blog what it is. But how many visitors has each club-based piece achieved to date? The answer to that question is below, in the form of a chart, in order of popularity:

The most-visited piece over 2011 has been...

*drum roll*

1. Hartley Wintney! With 122 page views to date!

There may be no standing allowed in front of Hartley Wintney's stand, but that hasn't stopped them from taking the coveted number one spot in the end of year HAH popularity chart!
2. AFC Totton (120 page views)
3. Horndean (102)
4. Brockenhurst (80)
5. Romsey Town (66)
6=. Stockbridge (57)

Along the touchline at Stockbridge.

6=. Fleet Town (57)
8. Fareham Town (56)
9. Basingstoke Town (45)
10. Andover New Street (40)
11. Whitchurch United (39)

Enjoying the big cup match against Gloucester City at Whitchurch United.
12. Moneyfields (38)
13. Havant & Waterlooville (32)
14. Cove (31)

The pay booth at Cove FC.
15=. AFC Portchester (17)
15=. Lymington Town (17)
17. Eastleigh (13)

Totton near the top is no surprise: the overall most-popular page thus far is a page dedicated to photos of theirs and Totton & Eling's new grounds (123 views); a photo diary of their promotion celebrations at Gosport in April has also been metaphorically well-thumbed (97 views). Arguably Hampshire's club of the year for 2011 after their promotion and FA Cup run.

More surprising is the inclusion of Hartley Wintney and Horndean at the top, and Eastleigh at the bottom. The former can be explained by having a link on the forum of their excellent unofficial website, the latter by the lack of photos in the article. Horndean's popularity is harder to explain, although I'm sure they'll be pleased. They borrowed some of my photos for their new website. If they'd like the new photo that's featured in this article too, they're welcome to copy it (the same goes for any other club website or programme editors - just let me know by leaving a comment, as I like seeing them used).

So, onwards into 2012. Barring illness or bad weather, I intend to visit two new clubs per month for the rest of the season, and then the remaining 16 in 2012/13. Enough looking back for now. It's time to look forwards. Roll on, roll on.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers

Hartley Wintney
I've been taking photos of rusty old groundsmen's equipment on my travels and saving them up for a festive treat for the many connoisseurs of that sort of thing. And so, with all those sinister-looking rubber Santas trying to break in to upstairs bedrooms wherever you look, I think it's finally time to post them!

I posted a photo of an excellent specimen in the Cove v AFC Portchester report at the start of the season. However, I've spotted several others as I've moved around the county: for example, this nice large one, safely tidied away behind some barriers at Hartley Wintney's spick and span stadium - nobody will be tripping over that!

Lymington Town
Then there was a smaller Dibben brand roller at Lymington last week, presumably used to keep the cricket square flat.

Whitchurch United
Whitchurch's roller was safely laid down away from the pitch behind some grass clippings.

Moneyfields was a rusty roller-lover's wet dream! Not only was there the previously-posted mystery equipment, but nearby was this small roller, covered in blackberry brambles, not dissimilar in style to the one at Lymington.

Then, next to Moneyfields' second pitch was this long, thin roller, looking like an old rusty hot dog...

...whilst just a few yards away was this old trailer - ideal for making a giant welly boot-throwing machine on Scrapheap Challenge.

Basingstoke Town
There was some dangerous-looking machinery behind this Ultra Spreader at Basingstoke. I never did get to take a proper snap of it, as both the times I sidled up to it, camera at the ready, there were people standing in front of it. I feel weird enough already taking photos of these things, without people thinking I'm randomly capturing them on film, thus I had to make do with the Ultra Spreader only (and that from outside the ground, post-match).

I spied a roller behind the main stand at Havant, but couldn't get a decent photo of it, and Portchester teased me by covering something big and heavy over with a tarpaulin that may have been interesting, so as I have nothing from either of those trips, for my final illustration, it's back to last season and a picture of Brockenhurst's Tabitha Tractor - which, along with the aerating roller at Stockbridge, was my favourite piece of groundsman's equipment of 2011!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

17. Lymington Town FC

The welcome sign at the entrance to Lymington Town FC's Sports Ground.
There is a sweet little toy shop in Lymington's High Street called H.E. Figgures where you can buy Sylvanian Families. For those not in the know (and that would be anyone who is not, or has never been, an eight-year-old girl!), Sylvanians are cute animal families that tend to live in canal boats or windmills in the imaginary land of Sylvania. The larger families consist of grandparents, a mum and dad, boy and girl children, and possibly a baby. You can own families of squirrels, badgers, penguins, cats, dogs, etc. All delightful, with hours of fun for young girls.

But what if the mums and dads of the beaver and duck families got divorced and remarried to a member of the other species? Would Mummy Beaver and Daddy Duck be able to have children in their second marriage? Unlikely, unless a satanic big brother "helped out" his sister by ripping the head off of one of the ducklings and stuck it on to the neck of a decapitated beaver (I am definitely NOT advocating that anybody try this, by the way). Some things just aren't meant to be.

On the other hand, various cat mummies could have new babies with other cat daddies, because they are the same species. This could potentially work out well.

Spying the main stand through a hole in the away dugout.
Lymington Town FC (0) 1 v 5 (1) New Milton Town FC
Saturday December 3rd 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 80-90
Entrance: £5
Programme: £1
Club shop: No
Colours: Red / white / black v Orange / white / orange
National Grid reference: SZ3195 / SZ3295

The back of the home dugout.
And just where is this rambling and seemingly pointless Sylvanian story leading, you may ask? Well, it's meant to be an analogy of the joining together of neighbouring football clubs, some of which work out for the best, e.g., Havant & Waterlooville (that would be the cat example); whereas others just don't work well at all. However hard you try to successfully attach a duck's head to a beaver's body, it's just not going to happen.

Beyond the dugouts, beyond the cricket sight screens, it's the Church of St Thomas.
And now for a long-forgotten fairytale: Once upon a time there were two low-key football clubs in neighbouring towns in south-west Hampshire. Lymington FC and New Milton FC played quite happily in the Hampshire League for several decades without any real desire to move onwards and upwards to the Southern League. To be honest, even if they wanted to move on, they were never good enough on the pitch, with very few trophies won between them.

There were other clubs in both towns: New Milton had Bashley as rivals; Lymington had Wellworthy Athletic. In the mid-1980s, Bashley started becoming successful, and were promoted to the Southern League from the newly-formed Wessex League. New Milton were left well behind in the third division of the Hampshire League.

Four miles to the east, Lymington and Wellworthy both became founder members of the Wessex League. The latter club were a works team that played less than a mile from Lymington's Sports Ground. When they were denied the use of their own ground in 1988, they had no choice but to merge with Lymington FC. The new club became AFC Lymington.

I know at least one cat who would love to climb up that fireman's tower!
AFC Lymington were very successful (the cat + cat example), winning the Wessex League three times in the Britpop era - an oasis of fruitful football on the edge of the New Forest, pulping all opposition. However, as you may be able to tell from the photos, their ground wasn't up to Southern League standard, so they were denied promotion. They had hit the proverbial glass ceiling and it was giving them a headache.

In the meantime, New Milton Town had moved in to a smart new ground. Members of each committee decided it would be wise to amalgamate the two clubs, so that Lymington's good team could play in a good ground and have a better chance of promotion. So they did. The new club became Lymington & New Milton FC in 1998, and they did eventually move on up. Unfortunately, the appetite for football at a higher level in the area was already satiated by the more established Bashley, and the new club struggled to gain enough fans to sustain them (beaver + duck).

Lymington's fans that didn't agree with the merger stayed at the Sports Ground and started Lymington Town again from scratch. They've gradually climbed their way back in to the Wessex League, where they now regularly face New Milton Town (the new name for Lymington & New Milton!). Both clubs claim the original Lymington FC's history. I think we need Pete Frame to create a football-themed Rock Family Tree especially for these two.

Floodlights shimmering like 100,000 fireflies in the early evening sky.
Regular followers of the Wessex League could be forgiven for believing that New Milton have changed their name yet again - this time to "New Milton Town Nil" (oh well, it's nearly that time of year when we all love to groan at cracker jokes...). Both sides were on a poor run of results going in to this match, with Lymington in mid-table and New Milton next to bottom. I was told on the gate that it could be a feisty affair, but in the event, it transpired that people around these parts are too polite to be feisty.

It was certainly a well-contested game between two evenly-matched sides. New Milton took the lead early on through the outstanding player on the pitch, Alex Baldacchino (who went on to score four of New Milton's five goals) - where others were unable to lose their markers, Baldacchino was clever enough to find space in the box and was also quick enough to shoot accurately before he was closed down. No surprise to see him near the top of the Wessex League's goalscoring charts.

Along the benches of Lymington Town's stand post-match.
And so to the half-time refreshments. Lymington's clubhouse was burnt down during the summer, but it's gradually being rebuilt. You can have a glass of lemonade on the patio whilst watching cricket during the summer months - very nice!

The visitors went 2-0 up within a minute of the restart, but within another minute, the home side had pulled one back, so the second half promised much. Then Lymington had their best chance of equalising when what sounded like the crack of willow on leather (but was actually football boot on attacker's shin within the penalty area) sounded out across the ground. Unfortunately for them, penalty saved. Two minutes later, the home side walloped the woodwork, but after that, it was all New Milton.

Floodlights sparkling in the darkness at Lymington.
The third goal was a Samir Nasri-style free-kick - 30 yards out, hopeful punt into the box, bounces past all the outfield players, goalie flummoxed, and sneaks in to the bottom corner...

With confidence visibly percolating out of their bright orange kit as night-time's chilly fingers stretched out over Hampshire, New Milton added two more goals in the last five minutes (the last of which was described as "Playstation football" by one of their delighted players - and who am I to disagree?).

They would be dancing on the streets of New Milton when the result was announced in the town. But before then, the grumbling, mumbling and head-shaking of the Lymington Town fans as they headed for the exits made this neutral sad. "You work hard all week, and then they serve up this on a Saturday!" The reactions in defeat are the same for the fan of the small club as it is for the game's giants.

I bet they never feel like that in Sylvania.

The sun goes down and the world plays football.
For more detail on the histories of these two clubs, see Dave Twydell's Gone But Not Forgotten Part 34.

I have now reached halfway in my quest for this season (the eighth match out of the planned sixteen). Who knows where I shall report from next?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

16. AFC Portchester

A friendly welcome sign for visitors.
Various times: The Past.

Imagine the scene. Nearly 1,700 years ago, there is a small group of heavily-bearded men dressed in dirty sackcloth, squashed together in a roughly-hewn five-man coracle in Portsmouth Harbour. They look like members of Fleet Foxes and they smell of rancid crabs. They're supposed to be fishing for their families' supper, but the loudest of the men is more interested in whinging about the sophisticated guys up at the castle just a few hundred yards from where they're bobbing about.

"So, what have the Romans ever done for us? Eh?"

The quieter men in the boat fidget nervously, staring at their filthy fingernails, and come up with a few hesitant answers, "They've brought us roads...sanitation...fresh water...concrete..."

Flummoxed, the loudest man flounders, "Yes, yes, they've brought us roads, sanitation, fresh water, concrete...but apart from those things, just what have the Romans ever done for us?"

The soldiers on the ramparts of Portchester Castle look on, bored and indifferent. The women in the native village below carry on collecting wood, grinding corn, feeding babies...

Pompey weren't playing today.
AFC Portchester (1) 4 v 5 (2) Team Solent (no up-to-date website for the students)
Saturday November 12th 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 60-70
Entrance: £4
Programme: £1
Club shop: No
Colours: Tangerine / Black / Tangerine v Yellow / Black / Yellow
National Grid reference: SU5905 / SU6005

Portchy waiting for their student opponents at 2:55.
Various times: The Future.

Now, imagine this scene. November 2051, and there are a group of men sat in a large football stand overlooking Portsmouth Harbour. Beards are back in fashion amongst the artistic community, but these men aren't taken in - the clean-shaven look dominates. Some of these men played for AFC Portchester when they first entered the Wessex League in 2004, others were boys playing for one of the many children's teams affiliated to the club at the time. All remember these times with affection - they have always been a close-knit group, growing up together, larking about together, drinking, eating, getting married, divorced, marrying again - but always bound together by the social glue of their old football club.

The club had grown with them. The car park and old concrete changing rooms outside the main entrance had gone, replaced by hover-pack hooks at the back of the big new stand - the old, forbidding changing complex was now a bright tangerine supaplastic changing area where the footballers for the various community teams could just walk in and be sprayed with the new insta-cotton kit that had recently become de rigeur amongst the big professional clubs such as Havant & Waterlooville.

Today's match was a top of the table local derby against fallen giants AFC Portsmouth, now lounging in the fourth tier of English football, having recently gone bankrupt and reformed with the ever-popular AFC prefix. Portchy had never been so high in the pyramid, having built the club gradually over many years, living within their means and expanding the ground when they could afford to. The stadium sparkled in the late autumn sunshine - packed with 10,000 fans in tangerine, this was the biggest match in their history.

The volunteers who had been running the club forty years previously had dreamt of this day...

The Cage is no longer needed since the clubhouse was built.
Various Times: The Present.

Portchester Castle is the biggest visitor attraction in the sprawling suburb of Portchester, history seeping out of every crack in the ancient concrete walls. 10% of bloggers continue to misquote Monty Python's People's Front Of Judaea.

Over the other side of the suburb from the castle is the Wicor Mill Recreation Ground, the home of AFC Portchester. It doesn't hold 10,000 yet, as you can tell from the photos, but they've made a start, building the social club and a small stand (both of which were full on Saturday). The Cage tea hut may also have been used when they had a 500+ crowd for their FA Cup tie with Newport (IW) earlier this season. There's plenty of room to expand around the pitch, with their aim to eventually be as big as local non-league royalty Gosport Borough, AFC Totton and Havant & Waterlooville. And why not?

Overcast at AFC Portchester.
Opponents Team Solent are the men's football team of Solent University (formerly Southampton College of Higher Education), and are new to the Wessex League this season. They have a brand new ground in the Millbrook area of the city, which I pass on the number 17 bus from time to time. The day I saw their floodlights being tested for the first time a month or so ago was more exciting than it probably should have been for a man of my age.

Plenty of room for expansion at AFC Portchester.
I also stare at maps more than is healthy for a well-adjusted fellow. Last week, I happened to notice that if you drop a lead-weighted plumbline down the country, starting at Redcar on the north-east coast, it would pass through York, Doncaster, Nottingham and Leicester before eventually reaching the salt water seaside at Portchester. And what do all these places have in common? Apart from Portchy, they all have racecourses!

The Wessex League first division looks to be an open race this season, with no one team running away at the top of the table. Brockenhurst must be the slight favourites to return to the top division, but behind them it's a seven or eight horse race for the finishing line in April. Going in to Saturday's match, Portchy and Team Solent lay in fifth and fourth place respectively, so I was expecting a tight game - certainly, neither side was likely to win at a canter.

The stand, clubhouse and changing rooms, as viewed from behind the goal.
The weather was disappointingly gloomy, an all-encompassing monochrome which didn't show off the autumnal leaves on the vegetation around the ground in all their fiery finery. Much more England in November than New England in the Fall. Still, the two teams tried to make up for the lack of colour by wearing bright tangerine and yellow shirts.

When the match started, it was obvious that Team Solent were the side on fire, as they took an early two goal lead. The students must have done their homework on Portchy, as they seemed to have a clear plan to attack down the left. Portchy were exposed over and over again until their manager made a tactical substitution after only half an hour. The plan worked, as the home side pulled a goal back just before half-time.

One of the subjects that is available for study at Solent University is Sports Science. In my imagination, I pictured a fidgety, balding man in a white lab coat and Morrissey-style National Health glasses in the students' dugout, scribbling devilishly difficult calculations with an oversized pencil on a scrap of fly-away paper, extensive brow creased in concentration throughout the first half. At half-time, he would have thrown his pencil into the air, and with a cry of eureka, scrawled his calculations onto a whiteboard in the visitors' dressing room to the astonishment of his stunned student audience.

Two goals within two minutes of the restart would have been enough proof that his calculations were correct, and he would have spent the rest of the second half dashing off a letter to the Journal of Sports Science to report his findings.

Please note that I can't remember the details of each goal, but after many years of playing Simon, I can remember the sequence: 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, HT, 2-2, 2-3, 2-4, 2-5, 3-5, 4-5 - so, Portchy actually scored within seconds of the restart, with Solent's next two goals following almost immediately, so the second Portchy goal spoiled my mad scientist story.

Anyway, the students went 5-2 up with 15 minutes left to play, but Portchy's determination got them a goal back, and then they scored a penalty with a minute to go. The ref played seven minutes of injury time, but it wasn't enough as Team Solent hung on to win 5-4.

AFC Portchester's stand. The traffic cones prevent supporters from falling down a gap at the back.
Nine goals, and probably the first time I've ever seen a 5-4 away win. An exciting match which keeps Team Solent in the promotion race. Portchy have dropped back to sixth in the league, but must still be in with a chance of promotion come next April.

As I have to play the role of Father Christmas over the next few weeks, there will only be one more report before the festive season, and it's likely to be from another Wessex League ground. So, until next time...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

My First Match Report: Havant & Leigh Park v Bridermere

My first match report, aged 7.
At the end of the Havant & Waterlooville v Farnborough article, I mentioned that I'd post my first-ever match report. So, here it is...

It was titled "My Weekend" and was illustrated with an aerial view of a motorbike scrambling circuit in the woods:

On Saturday I went with my dad a football match. Havant and Leigh Park were playing Bridermere. Havant and Leigh Park won 1-0, and yesterday we went to some motor cycle scrambling south of Petersfield. We ate an ice-cream while we were watching.

Front Lawn, Leigh Park, last week.
As you can see, my match reports haven't really improved since the age of seven - well, at least the teacher thought this one was 'Good'. My writing was certainly neater than it is now. (As an aside, elsewhere in this old school book was a piece on New Year's resolutions: my mum's resolution was to diet and lose four or five pounds; same for dad - me and my sister had to watch out for him nibbling cakes; my own was to save up my money so that I would have £8*, and to bite my fingernails less; Peter Shilton's was to "try not to come face to face with Peter Lorimer when he is just going to take a free kick").

The real mystery in the report is the team that Havant & Leigh Park were playing - Bridermere. I can find no trace of them at all. A Google search brings up zero results and asks me if I really meant to type Windermere (no, I didn't! My spelling's not that bad!). They were either so unmemorable that no-one has ever bothered to record their name on the internet before, or - more likely - I may have spelt Bridermere phonetically, having not seen it written down (even at the age of seven, I could see a written word and remember the spelling immediately). Possibly a team from Meon? Any guesses or more solid information gratefully received!

Havant & Leigh Park themselves were the forerunners of Havant Town and played at Front Lawn, not far from where my family lived. There was a match being played there before the Hawks v Farnborough game last week between a team playing in black and yellow halves and a team in white shirts and blue shorts. I wish I'd asked the spectators who they were! Could one of them have been the mysterious Bridermere?

*Never have managed to do that!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

15. Havant & Waterlooville FC

The day of the Hampshire derby arrives at Havant and Waterlooville FC.

You should have seen the boy! The ball driven in from the corner quadrant on the school building side of the ground, the four foot centre-forward in primrose yellow and black pinstripes on his own six yards out with only the keeper to beat. The sun reflecting in the boys' eyes from an open window on the ground floor of the school, dust everywhere - there had been no rain for weeks already, and the legendary summer of '76 hadn't yet officially begun - the centre-forward connected perfectly with the incoming ball. It could only be a goal - surely the small wavy-haired boy in the green nylon goalkeeper's jersey stood no chance? Covered in pale sandy dust and speckled with the scarlet corpses of millions of red mites, he dived to his right, springing like a freshly unboxed slinky at the top of a flight of stairs...

What a save! With his ungloved right hand, the boy shovelled the rock hard ball around the post and out for another corner, opening yet another graze in his already-heavily-scarred right knee as he landed. As the first drop of dark sticky blood escaped from his skin, encrusting immediately upon contact with the suffocating air, the boy was surrounded by his team-mates in their black shirts with round white collars, congratulating him. It must have looked like a little vicars' convention around the keeper, but this was actually the Sharps Copse Junior School football team, and they were on their way to victory over Cowplain Juniors. The keeper buzzed with pleasure as his friends and the small crowd of mums and dads clapped him. Mr Wade, the lanky games teacher, smiled and said well done.

A welcome sign hidden behind the TV tower terrace.
Havant & Waterlooville (1) 5 v 0 (0) Farnborough FC
Saturday 29th October 2011
Blue Square Conference South
Attendance: 799
Entrance: £11
Programme: £2.50
Club shop: Yes, the Hawks Megastore! Scarves, hats, badges, old programmes, kits and caboodle.
Colours: Blue and white hoops / white / white v Yellow with a blue vertical stripe / yellow / stripy
National Grid reference: SU7207 and SU7208
Video highlights: Yes
More video highlights: Yes!

The fans' flag draped over a barrier: "Let's go 4 a little walk".

Of course, you've already guessed, that small boy was me aged eleven. West Leigh was where I grew up; where I obsessed about football; where I could listen to the scores at 5 o'clock on a Saturday and remember them all after one listen, repeating them to my family like a performing seal. Kilmarnock v Dunfermline? He'll never remember that one! Oh, yes he did!

In those times, when I wasn't playing football for the school, or three-and-in in the park behind our house, my dad would take me to watch a match on the back of his red motorbike. Usually, we'd go to Fratton Park to see Pompey struggle to score a goal, but occasionally, he'd take me to Havant & Leigh Park at Front Lawn, or to Jubilee Park to cheer on Waterlooville. These would have been the first three grounds I ever spectated at. Our clubs always seemed to lose, but it didn't matter - it was all part of the weekend routine: wake up to the sound of Leigh Park Gardens' skreeking peacocks; go shopping at Keymarkets in Park Parade, and perhaps drop into the toy shop next door and buy a new packet of Top Trumps or a Subbuteo team; go home and attach sticky numbers to the back of the new Subbuteo players and give them foreign-sounding names such as Roobische Kootz - they would then play their first match and I'd write down the scorers and times...

...Beefburgers for lunch, smothered in ketchup; then on with my blue and white knitted bar scarf and ancient motorbike helmet, and off to the match we'd go!

The rickety TV tower.
Havant & Leigh Park eventually became Havant Town, moving to a new ground on Martin Road, but this was after I'd left the town behind for further education and job opportunities elsewhere. I never got around to seeing them play. I did sporadically still visit Waterlooville, but my football kicks were generally to be found at Fratton Park.

The two neighbours joined forces in 1998 when 'Ville sold their ground for housing and moved in with Havant. Westleigh Park has since been steadily built up to its current state, where it is terraced and covered on all four sides, with a nicely-proportioned 500 seater stand on the west side. It would certainly be good enough for Conference football, and with a little help from the town planners, could easily be extended on two sides to create a ground of a high enough standard for the Football League. I would imagine the club would average crowds of 1,500 or so in the Conference, and 2,500-3,000 should they ever reach Big Boy Land.

A panoramic view from the Bartons Road end of Westleigh Park.

Reaching Big Boy Land is the difficult part. You need money to progress, and the Hawks currently have none. The drainage problems at their ground last season didn't help. Westleigh Park was built on a bog (I know, I used to play down there occasionally before the ground was built - it were all squelchy mud and spiky grass back in my day!). They had to replace the drainage system during the summer, which must have cost a good deal - money which then couldn't be spent on the better quality players required to progress up the league. I would say that the Hawks will be treading water for the next few years, but that would imply the new drains don't work, so I won't.

Autumnal trees in the lowdown sunshine at Havant.
The pitch looked immaculate last Saturday. This armchair Hawk was looking forward to the game immensely - a game which would be played between a team which had lost its pizzazz and one which had lost its mojo since I saw them both play at Eastleigh last season.

Farnborough had gone fully professional over the summer, which on the face of it, seems daft at Conference South level. I suspect the players they employ are probably earning less overall than the part-timers they had last year - all personal fitness trainers and golf club pros in their time away from the club, no doubt. The upside of professionalism should be that the players are fitter and have more time to work on set pieces; the downside is that they will only attract young players who haven't settled into another job elsewhere; on the other hand, another upside is that they might be able to develop these players and sell them on at a profit...still seems daft on crowds of 500 or so though.

The match started slowly. I found myself looking around to see if I could spot any of my old school friends from 1976. There may well have been one or two there, but recognising a man in his mid-forties after not seeing him since the age of eleven isn't easy - they could possibly pass for anything between 30 and 60, depending upon the luck of genetics - they could be grey, pony-tailed or hairless, paunchy or stick-like, tattooed, tired, haggard or harrassed - one thing's for sure, they wouldn't look eleven any more.

The main stand at Havant & Waterlooville, as viewed from the Don's Doors terrace.
The match got going. Farnborough attacked with vim; the Hawks counter-attacked with verve. A few minutes before half-time, the men of 'Avantlooville scored the opener. Ex-Pompey protegé Sammy "once linked with Everton" Igoe stroked in a corner from the left which was headed in by Ollie Palmer. From where I was stood, it looked like the ball bounced off a defender's head, then off the bar, back onto the defender's head, back off the bar again, etc, until the ball eventually dropped over the line, but video evidence proves my mind was playing tricks.

Four more goals in the second half really did for poor old Farnborough - despite the result, they didn't play that badly - it's just that the Hawks were jaw-droppingly good. Backheels, audacious lobs, an Arsenal-style "pass and move and walk it into the net" goal, a thirty-yard thunderbolt...Sammy Igoe's lobbed third goal was as immaculate as his Brylcreemed hair, which makes him look like he's jumped straight out of the Bumper Book Of Football 1948 (in the accompanying photos here, he's the player in black and white).

The 5-0 result left the primrose-shirted professionals of Farnborough staring down at the Stygian gloom of the Southern League underworld. In contrast, Havant & Waterlooville were looking up at the stars on a day when everything went right for them. Now all they need to do is do the same again, week after week.

Starlings in the gloom.
I'll be back to see some more football at Westleigh Park when my travels are over. Actually, I'll probably pop along for the odd game whilst this Hampshire project is ongoing. It just felt right on Saturday. I found myself clapping and cheering and actually meaning it. No more shall I be the armchair Hawk giving a little squeal of delight or a sad sigh when their result appears on the Final Score videprinter. My squeals and sighs will be heard at the ground by fellow enthusiasts.

The next fresh match report should be from the Wessex League in two weeks time. In the meantime, I have unearthed my first-ever match report from Havant & Leigh Park, which I shall post next week.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Got, Not Got

Big Roger wallowing in football.
I used to save up my pocket money for weeks in order to buy a new cassette tape. I'd go out, buy it, get it home, press play and listen straight away, before my duffle coat or trainers had even touched the floor. Sparks, Mud and Goodies tapes were fingerprint-greasy and loved - loved, as in bent and broken within weeks, but never ever forgotten.

This no longer happens. I download a song on a whim, go and make dinner, eat dinner, watch Pointless on the iPlayer, have a bath, make tomorrow's lunchboxes... and the song sits forgotten in a cold, functional column of unknown artist digital files, unloved and disposable. Meh. Such is the rusharound, do-everything-and-forget-everything adult lifestyle. Surrounded by possessions, but not feeling no love for them no more.

Stockbridge v Petersfield Town, as seen in Got, Not Got!
I stopped my runaround evening lifestyle for five minutes last week. I made time before running a bath to flick through a book that I'd received in the post. My old musical hero, Derek Hammond (Yeah Yeah Noh), had contacted me a few weeks before, asking to use some pictures from my blogs in his new football book, Got, Not Got. I said that would be fine, and so I was looking forward to seeing the pictures in print. I quickly found within my photo of Stockbridge, the scan from my scrapbook, and a picture of The Wedding Present 's George Best album that I'd made from Hama beads, and felt a warm glow - there's nothing like seeing your own work in print, after all.

Over an hour later, I was still reading, still admiring the pictures of 1960s, '70s and '80s football memorabilia, thinking, with a mental squeal, "Had!", or a disappointed "Didn't have!", or an occasional "Still got!" I chuckled at the succinct, mildly grumpy observations of the authors - people of my generation, who shared my childhood memories. If you're aged between 30 and 60, and you liked football as a child, they will be your memories too.

Go to the Got, Not Got blog for a flavour of what to expect. You can also read the authors' columns on the Mirror Football website. Then ask for the book for Christmas (or buy it yourself). It's both gear and groovy, guaranteed.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

14. Basingstoke Town FC

FA Cup 3rd qualifying round derby day at Basingstoke Town FC.
Let's get this straight from the start, because the residents of Basingstoke will be expecting this: Boringstoke (or Basingjoke) is simply an enormous, soulless series of interconnected housing estates plonked slap-dash in the middle of Hampshire's chemically-leached agricultural desert, with a high-rise centre which resembles downtown Minneapolis. Quaint, it ain't.

There, Stokies knew that was coming - because it always does. That's not my opinion, that's just a précis of every other reference to the town on the WWW. Everyone seems to have a downer on the town, whether or not they've actually been there. You so often see the word Basingstoke used as shorthand for new town suburban tedium (see also: Swindon, Harlow, and any other town that was rapidly expanded post-war to give bombed-out Londoners a roof and a new life).

My opinion? Everybody has to live somewhere. Why not Basingstoke? It seems tidy and clean. It undoubtedly lacks the charm of Merry Olde Englande, but living in an idyllic picture-book thatched village costs a lot of money, which most of us don't have. If all you can afford is a functional, but comfortable and warm semi with an average-sized garden for your summer barbeques, then Basingstoke is just fine. And if you like shopping, then it's even finer, with the eighth-largest shopping centre in the UK, plus large numbers of American-style breezeblock superstores.

For facts, figures and positive images of Basingstoke, head here! For snide comments and snarky put-downs, head just about everywhere else on the 'web. Stokies, I'm on your side.

Outside, looking in from the club car park.
Basingstoke Town FC (4) 4 v 0 (0) Hartley Wintney FC
Saturday October 15th 2011.
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round
Attendance: 577
Entrance: £12
Programme: £2 (glossy, lots of adverts, not much content - currently advertising for a programme editor if anyone is interested)
Club shop: Yes, enamel badge bought for £3.
Colours: All blue with yellow trim (Wimbledon style) v Orange / Black / Orange (like Dundee United!).
National Grid reference: SU6250

The sprinkler comes on pre-match.
As for Basingstoke Town Football Club, they've been in a rut. Now they want to get out of it. Stuck at the same level of the pyramid since the age of the dinosaurs - not good enough to be promoted, nor bad enough to be relegated for year upon humdrum year.

However, things could get better this season. They brought in a group of players from the London area during the summer, whilst offloading several of their surplus locally-based players - many of whom ended up at...Hartley Wintney. The newbies have done well so far, with Basingstoke bothering the business end of the Conference South table for the first time in a while, scoring an average of two goals per game.

A big thumbs-up from Stokie the Dragon, Basingstoke Town's mascot.
As for Hartley Wintney, I saw them beat Bashley in the FA Cup four weeks ago, and was impressed by the spirit of the club as a whole, but particularly by the players' determined attitude on the pitch. Evidently, they must have showed even more grit in coming from behind to beat Bideford two weeks later, and they were rewarded with the perfect cup tie. Like all clubs outside the top two divisions, they were never going to reach the real FA Cup final, so the chance to get one over on their relatively big rivals in front of a 500+ crowd was going to be their own mini-cup final.

With so many of Hartley Wintney's squad having so much to prove to the Basingstoke management, they could have been forgiven for arriving at the ground with a collective grudge and some shenanigans in mind. But, to their collective credit, they're not like that at all. This is a disciplined group of players, who play fairly, but with a great deal of heart and no little skill for the level they play at.

Mind you, there is still a massive four-step difference between the two clubs (the equivalent for Basingstoke would be a tie against Pompey or Saints). Only in their wildest dreams (the ones that don't involve bareback dolphin riding or naughty nuns, at any rate), could Hartley Wintney possibly have expected to win. But there's always hope, even when the situation should be hopeless.

This could have been a classic cup tie.

Staring into the sun at Basingstoke Town.
I liked Basingstoke's ground. It has one large stand, which isn't unusual at this level. The stand hides the twin toy megastores across the dual carriageway - Babies R Us to the left; Toys R Us to the right as you look from across the pitch. Geoffrey the Giraffe must have seen quite a lot of action over the years, but only at the entrance end, as the stand blocks his view of the far end. There are three covered terraces, and one uncovered terrace, each of which consist of three of four steps.

The pitch is lit by eight tall latticed floodlight towers, which have 'eyes' like the old For Mash Get Smash advertising aliens. Not that lights were needed on Saturday, which was yet another cloudless, t-shirt kind of a day. Looking at the photos I've been taking recently, anyone would think that the sun always shines in Hampshire. Well, it doesn't.

Lattice floodlight pylon at Basingstoke Town.
Pre-match, Stokie the Dragon wandered around the pitch, posing for photos and wobbling his nose for his fans (that would be the under-tens and me then!). I've missed seeing mascots at most of the non-league grounds I've been to. It must be a giggle dressing up as an animal for an hour or so. You wouldn't want to be the back end of a pantomime horse (ouch! the backache!), but a tufted dragon, straight out of a drug-fuelled psychedelic dream - I'd like to have a go at that.

I don't know what Stokie had for lunch, but the Basingstoke footballers must have had some of it too. You could almost see the fire on their breath as they rampaged into Hartley in the first half. The village side were done for by the 23rd minute, as Amazingstoke went 3-0 up, thanks to their slick movement and extra nous. Another goal just before half-time, and Hartley's hopes went up in dragon smoke.

Careful! Don't step offside! Waiting for a Hartley Wintney free-kick delivery.
I started to think of the highest score I'd ever seen at a live match, because the record was in danger. This happens to be Norwich City's 8 goals without reply against Sutton United at Carrow Road over twenty years ago - a match which took place at the height of inflatable mania. Carrow Road was a riot of rubber canaries; Sutton had a blow-up giraffe - their most memorable chant that day was "There's only one giraffe in Sutton!"

Basingstoke's giraffe, Geoffrey, looked down on the Camrose with a giraffey grin on his face as his team attacked the goal that he could see during the second-half. He didn't witness any goals though, as a combination of stout defending, good saves, and a general improvement in Hartley's play prevented a potential record-breaking embarrassment for the villagers.

Thus, it remained 4-0 until the end. The second half was a 0-0 draw. Hartley will be disappointed with their start, but they do have a possible promotion to aspire to, as they are the most likely team to overhaul Guernsey at the top of the Combined Counties Division One.

Basingstoke Town have another home draw in the 4th qualifying round. If they can beat Staines Town, they will play in the first round proper, possibly against a big club such as Sheffield Wednesday. If they have more of Stokie's dragon food before the game, I'm sure they'll win.

A rusty gas flue behind the stand.
As for me, I shall be leaving the FA Cup behind for the time being, as there are no Hampshire clubs at home in the final qualifying round that I've not previously reported on. Thus, I shall be at a league match for my next adventure. That'll be a return to bread and butter football then, but the joy of groundhopping is never knowing what to expect, so even bread and butter can be surprising. Until next time...

NB: Pitchside Photography was at the match, taking plenty of high-quality photos - I spotted him early on, which saved me the fuss of trying to get a decent action shot!

Another NB: Having checked, the floodlights look nothing like the Mash Get Smash aliens' eyes! More like Vauxhall Chevette headlamps.