Tuesday, 22 February 2011

5. Andover New Street FC

Andover New Street and their noisy neighbours.
 I've been taking it easy so far. I hadn't previously gone anywhere outside of the M27 corridor, and as I've lived in this area all my life, I know the towns along the Solent coastal strip as well as I know my cats' nipples - they might be hidden away, but I know where they are to tickle them when they roll over. Or something (note to self...think of a better analogy and replace this nonsense asap).

So, for my latest trip, I travelled to a sports complex half a mile to the north of Andover to watch two teams that I knew absolutely nothing about. It was time to leave my comfort zone and start learning. You see, I've never been to Andover - it's always the town that I pass by on the way to somewhere else. I have no friends or family there; I've never had to work there.

Do you know one of the best things about being a football fan? It's the opportunity to go to places that you would never otherwise visit. I've been to Stockport and Sunderland following Pompey - two towns that don't appear on any tourist map, and neither are towns that I would go to for any other reason than to watch football. Andover isn't the only town in my home county that I've never been to - there are others. But today was all about the thrill of the new (and hopefully enjoying a good game of football, of course).

The thrill of the new.
Andover New Street FC (4) 4 v 3 (2) Tadley Calleva FC
Saturday 19th February 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League First Division
Attendance: 30-40
Entrance price: £4
Club shop: No
National grid reference: SU3448 / SU3548
Subbuteo colours: 105 v 139 (the bottom row - Lyon)

Lonely corner flag at Andover New Street.
 What do people do in Andover? I don't know for sure, but I can guess: like anywhere else, they watch telly, they drink beer, they laugh, they cry, they feel happy or frustrated, they eat chips and curry, chocolate and celery. They'll be like any other disparate group of people. All different, but all essentially the same - flesh and blood and bones with thoughts and feelings.

As it happens, I didn't actually stop in Andover today, as New Street's ground is outside of the town. I got lost on the way there, and I got lost on Andover's ring road on the way back, but never mind...

You know, people work so hard to keep their clubs going - I could say this about any of the clubs that I visit. You suspect that so many owners of the big clubs are either in it for the publicity, or as a front for legitimising their dodgy business lives (or both). I'm not saying that football lower down the pecking order is more pure or noble or anything like that, but you know that the smaller clubs are run by people who love the game. And that's enough.

The volunteers at Andover New Street are certainly hard-working. They run a large number of teams for different age groups. This is obviously a club run by the local community, for the local community, and if the men's first team doesn't have a good season, it doesn't matter too much (which is just as well, as they usually struggle to reach halfway in this league).

The ground is next to the noisy neighbours of Andover Rugby Club, and an archery club (the ancient art of archery being almost as old as the Roman centurions on Tadley Calleva's crest). I visited a nearby cemetery too before the match, which exuded a colourful sadness in the sweet-smelling dampness of the early Spring air.

There was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere about the club. The players joked about New Street's keeper's pink jersey as they lined up to trot on to the pitch. Don't get me wrong - both teams wanted to win this match - it was certainly competitive, but there was no nasty undercurrent between these two near-neighbours.

As for the game itself, I struck lucky again, just as I had at Romsey two weeks previously, and ended up seeing the highest-scoring game in the league this weekend. One problem with these goalfeasts is that I can't remember all the action in detail (I don't stand there taking notes), so for a full match report with scorers, head this way. There is also an action photo gallery here. (Incidentally, the fact that someone connected with the club has had the time and inclination to regularly update the club website is much appreciated. The player profiles make interesting reading too - monkeys seem to be remarkably popular at New Street!).

Up steps New Street's David Beckham...
 Where was I? The goals that I can remember...

Goal number 1 (to New Street after 15 minutes) came direct from a Beckham-esque free-kick into the top corner. Tadley's keeper was stranded like a halibut out of water. The free-kick had been given for the only nasty tackle in the whole game - the kind of two-footed, studs-up effort that Match of the Day replay in almost pornographic detail over and over again from fourteen different angles: the sort of tackle that makes Alan Shearer's forehead veins bulge as he tuts with semi-literate rage. It so happens that the New Street player on the receiving end of the lunge wasn't injured, so will have been able to carry on earning money for himself and his dependents this week. No sending-off. New Street were not happy, but they were disciplined enough not to let it get to them for too long.

Goal 2 followed almost immediately, and went to New Street's Isaac Sedu. Now, New Street's emblem is the swift, which just so happens to be one of the fastest birds in the world. It seemed as though Isaac had a swift strapped to each boot as he (almost) literally flew past Tadley's rather more static birds in defence. When he came down to earth, he let rip with an unstoppable netbreaker from the edge of the box. Goal of the match.

The ref has a word with a New Street player in front of the Buildbase Stand.
 For Goal 3, I was distracted by another bird - a robin in the trees behind me - and missed the ref giving a penalty to Tadley. Luckily, one of New Street's players yelled over to the dugouts informing them that "to be fair, he was all over him", which is as near to a replay as we were going to get. The penalty was slotted in under the dive of New Street's pink (and now brown with mud)-shirted keeper (who I thought resembled the actor David Hasselhoff, just a little). 2-1.

The goals kept on coming...2-2, 3-2, 4-2 to the home team at half-time. A breathtaking first 45 minutes. If I had been taking notes, I suspect I would have needed more than one pencil.

During the interval, I wandered around the ground, and came across something you don't see every day...

New Street's transport for away fixtures?
 ...a ten-seater bike!

The second half was almost as good as the first, except this time, instead of goals, there were terrific saves at either end, the woodwork was rattled twice, and both sides scored disallowed goals. Just one more goal stood, and that went to Tadley with twenty minutes remaining. A nerve-wrenching final quarter of the game for the home team, but they just about held on for the three points to banish any relegation worries that they might have had.

So, a throbbing, thrilling, action-packed derby game at a friendly club. The sun even smiled through the gloom for two minutes for the first time on my travels before being hastily swallowed up again by the over-enthusiastic February clouds.

Oh, and is there an actual road called New Street in Andover? Yes, yes there is. I strongly suspect that the club played there originally before moving to their out-of-town site in the 1960s. Perhaps someone who knows the club better than I do can confirm this?

And I suppose I still haven't been to Andover - merely getting lost on the ring road doesn't really count. I shall remain within the town boundary to see New Street's neighbours Andover FC another time - almost certainly in the Wessex League, as the bookies have stopped taking bets on their relegation from the Southern League this season.

Another look at that extraordinary bike before I sign off:

Another view of the remarkable bike.
Next time: another trip to Hampshire's central belt.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The 42nd Club

I came across a terrific website yesterday called Football Ground Map. This site features maps showing the locations of each club across many many leagues. Checking out the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League map, I noticed that there is another team in Hampshire which falls within my groundhopping remit. Situated just yards from the Hants/Berkshire border are the "Wild Boars" of Eversley! I was aware of their existence, but with a Reading postcode, I believed they played just over the border. I was wrong, and am delighted to add them to my list of grounds to visit! And with their new ground next to some reclaimed gravel pits, I shall take my binoculars and do a spot of birdwatching before the match!

Monday, 7 February 2011

4. Romsey Town FC

Excitement builds as the big day approaches.
I saw Romsey Town play ten days ago at Fareham Town, and was impressed by their sporting attitude, as well as the pleasing way in which they tried to pass the ball around. This was no team of hoofing muscleheads. Well, I'm looking for a local club to support when I've completed my grand tour of Hampshire stadia, so I decided to hop along to Romsey's By-Pass Ground to see them play again, this time against the yachties of Lymington Town. Was their performance at Fareham typical of the way that they play, or was it all just a fluke, being more down to how dire Fareham were that evening?

Romsey Town FC (1) 2 v 6 (5) Lymington Town FC
Saturday 5th February 2011
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 33
Entrance price: £5.50
Club shop: No
National grid reference: SU3520 / SU3521
Subbuteo colours: 10 v 50 (yes, Brazil, but with blue socks)

Romsey Town kick off in front of their main stand.
The town of Romsey is relatively well-off, and has had many famous residents over the years: Lord Palmerston; the Earl of Mountbatten, whose impressive chiselled visage I can picture even now from Brooke Bond's tea card collection of Famous Britons 1869-1969; and fellow tea card Florence Nightingale, possibly most famous for her nursing skills during the Crimean War, but who is less well-known for keeping a pet owl in her pocket, and for inventing the pie chart - the bane of a million meetings about market share (although give me an aesthetically pleasing rainbow-coloured pie chart over the angry, accusing pointy menace of a bar graph any day of the week).

Romsey Town's share of the local football supporters' pie chart is tiny. If their fans were part of a real pie made up of the supporters of all the teams in the Greater Southampton area - the likes of Southampton FC, Eastleigh, AFC Totton, Sholing, etc - then they would amount to less than half a crumb of crust, or a mere droplet of gravy in the steak and kidney pudding of South Hampshire football.

Persevering with the food analogies, their match against Lymington Town produced an eight goal sandwich. The first and last goals were scored by Romsey, which you can imagine as the bread (wholemeal, freshly-baked from the nearby Waitrose, of course), whilst Lymington produced a stunning six-goal filling, five of which came before half-time.

Romsey kick off for the sixth time in the first half. The view from the seats.
Romsey carried on where they had left off against Fareham, dominating for the first five minutes, scoring a messy goal off the back of a Lymington player's head from the last of an initial flurry of corners.

Then something happened. They stopped being good.

Lymington played in their Brazil-style away kit - authentic even down to the green numbers on their backs (okay, except for the blue socks - Brazil wear white stockings). There was a time when half the teams in the Football League seemed to have this as their away kit - Pompey and Crystal Palace certainly did - in the hope that a little Brazilian magic would rub off on them. Some hope! I'd like to say that the experiment paid off for Lymington today, but the truth is that Romsey's defence had a collective shocker. They seemed to literally disappear every time that Lymington attacked. My theory is that their centre-halves were kidnapped by Lymington Town-supporting moles, who grabbed their ankles and dragged them temporarily underground, leaving Lymington free to score at will. There were certainly enough molehills around the outer perimeter of the pitch to justify this controversial theory.

Lymington Town pretend to be Brazil. Romsey play in Austria's kit.
5-1 down at half-time. A first-half during which my dream of becoming a ballboy came true for the first time on my travels when I was able to throw the ball back to the Lymington keeper after it snuck under the railings near where I was standing. I'll never forget the first time I touched the actual match ball - it was at Waterlooville in the 1970s - and the thrill never lessens with the passing of time. It certainly didn't for a gorgeous dalmatian, who spent the entire match waiting patiently to fetch the ball for the players. A proper balldog.
One man and his balldog at Romsey.
Apparently, there were mitigating circumstances for Romsey's poor showing. The backbone of their team had been ripped out, so that all that was left on show today was a spineless floundering flobberworm of a team. The flobberworms seemed to be coached by a vociferous old fella in front of the seated area, who was desperate for them to draw the second-half - which they did, 1-1 - but my sources informed me that this was actually Mad Pete, who has nothing to do with the coaching staff. He was wearing a tracksuit and everything - what they call a "character".

This was one of those dreary English winter days when even the drizzle was too bored to bother us for long. It was just overcast. But at least it was by far the warmest match I had been to so far.

One last observation: how can Bovril taste so vastly different at two different grounds? The Bovril at Romsey was of the highest quality, unlike that at Fareham, which was okay, but a bit powdery. You would have thought that Bovril would have a standard flavour the world over, wouldn't you?
Romsey Rapids overlooks the By-Pass Ground.
Anyway, I had a nice time at Romsey Town. When my travels are over, they may well become "my" team. However, there's a long way to go yet. I've yet to go to Brockenhurst, Totton & Eling, or any of the other New Forest clubs...

Next: it's about time I headed north!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Romsey Town on Google Street View

Turn right for a goal feast!
I went to watch Romsey Town against Lymington Town yesterday at Romsey's By-Pass Ground - report and pictures to follow shortly. With ground improvements seemingly going on, which includes the erection of a tall grey iron fence, soon you may no longer be able to watch a match by standing on the pavement outside the ground (although you could spectate from the Romsey Rapids car park if you so wish). Not that anyone took a blind bit of notice of the match from beyond the perimeter fence yesterday!

Romsey Town is one of the few grounds you can see well via Google Street View, so I thought I'd put up a link before the next Street View update. Here it is:

View of Romsey Town

Friday, 4 February 2011

Interlude: Two New Grounds at Totton

A beautiful day in Totton.
I work quite close to Totton, so I took the opportunity this week to pop out at lunchtime and take a look at the two new football grounds (which are situated side by side next to the Testwood Lakes nature reserve in the north of the town).

The first two photos show AFC Totton's new ground. They play their first game there in two weeks against Paulton Rovers. The new stand looks splendid with its shiny new blue seats.

Standing on tippy-toes outside the perimeter fence...
The second pair of photos show Totton & Eling's much smaller ground, situated behind AFC Totton's main stand. There is a training pitch between the two stadia. Totton & Eling (who are now miles from Eling, but never mind!) have started playing league games there already.

Take a pair of binoculars when you visit Totton & Eling!
The smaller ground overlooks the nature reserve - you might just be able to make out a lake in the above photo. It looks like a nice place to spend a warm Spring evening. When I visit, I think I'll take a pair of binoculars with me and see if I can spot any rare ducks at half-time.

A second view of Totton & Eling's new ground.