Friday, 27 May 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 2000/2001

Entering the list at number 20 - Blackfield & Langley!
Part two of the Hampshire Top Twenties sees little change from the previous season. Portsmouth Royal Navy dropped out, never to return (they changed their name to United Services Portsmouth soon afterwards; a new Portsmouth RN now plays in the Hampshire League). They were replaced by Waterside club Blackfield & Langley (pictured above). Farnborough Town and Andover were champions of the Isthmian League and Wessex League respectively - the former being promoted to the Conference. Basingstoke Town and Aldershot Town finishing third and fourth meant that North Hants dominated the upper echelons of the Isthmian. Pompey avoided relegation on the last day of the season, as was so often the case in those days. Saints finished level on points with Charlton Athletic in Premiership mid-table in their last season at The Dell.

Here's the final standings for 2000/2001:

1. (1) Southampton 1/10
2. (2) Portsmouth 2/20
3. (4) Farnborough Town 6/1
4. (6) Basingstoke Town 6/3
5. (3) Aldershot Town 6/4
6. (5) Havant & Waterlooville 6/6
7. (7) Bashley 7/15
8. (10) Andover 8/1
9. (9) Lymington & New Milton 8/2
10. (8) Fleet Town 8/4
11. (11) AFC Totton 8/5
12. (14) Eastleigh 8/7
13. (16) Gosport Borough 8/8
14. (19) Brockenhurst 8/9
15. (12) BAT Sports 8/13
16. (15) Fareham Town 8/15
17. (13) Moneyfields 8/16
18. (17) Hamble ASSC 8/18
19. (18) Whitchurch United 8/19
20. (NE) Blackfield & Langley 8/21

Tune in again next week at about the same time to see if your favourite club moved up or down the rankings...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 1999/2000

Portsmouth's United Services sports grounds, as viewed from the Spinnaker Tower.
Fratton Park is just visible as a few tiny pixels in the top-left corner.
So, what exactly do you write about during the close season when you produce a football blog? Do you ignore football altogether and write about cricket and trains? How about posting all the photos that you didn't think were good enough originally, just to fill the scary void of nothingness that is The Season Of No Football? Or write nothing at all?

Or how about twelve weeks of made-up league tables?

There is nothing the average football fan likes more than comparative statistics - and rightly so! So here's my idea for the next three months...

Over the summer, I shall be publishing a Hampshire Top Twenty league table for each of the seasons of the 21st century. The first is for the season 1999/2000. The top five steps throughout the whole period are the Premiership, followed by the three divisions of the Football League and then what is now known as Conference National. Below that, until the Conference South and North were formed, came the Southern and Isthmian Leagues (for this geographical area) both with at least two divisions (they were overall steps 6 and 7). Below them at overall step 8 was the Wessex League. The cut-off point for twentieth place in this featured list was second-bottom of the Wessex League.

Numbers after the clubs' names refer to the overall step of the pyramid they were in during the season, followed by the position within the step (thus, the Wessex League was at overall step 8 this season, so "8/7" after Eastleigh's name indicates that they finished 7th in a step 8 league - which for them, happened to be the Wessex). If two teams finished in identical positions at the same step, e.g., in the Southern and Isthmian Leagues, I have left them level. The Combined Counties League was an unofficial feeder league to the Isthmian, which at this point had four divisions, hence I've assumed it was a step 10 league, which explains the omission of Cove until the mid-decade restructuring.

To qualify for the table, a club must have resided within the Hampshire border. Got that? Here goes:

The Top 20 Football Clubs in Hampshire, 1999/2000

1. Southampton 1/15
2. Portsmouth 2/18
3. Aldershot Town 6/2
4. Farnborough Town 6/12
5. Havant & Waterlooville 6/13
6. Basingstoke Town 6/18
7. Bashley 7/20
8. Fleet Town 7/22
9. Lymington & New Milton 8/2
10. Andover 8/3
11. AFC Totton 8/4
12. BAT Sports 8/5
13. Moneyfields 8/6
14. Eastleigh 8/7
15. Fareham Town 8/11
16. Gosport Borough 8/14
17. Hamble ASSC 8/16
18. Whitchurch United 8/17
19. Brockenhurst 8/18
20. Portsmouth Royal Navy 8/20

Sensible Saints had been the top club in Hampshire for 40 years, and it didn't look as though anything would change any time soon as Milan Mandaric seemed to swap managers at Pompey approximately once a fortnight. The fluttering phoenix of Aldershot Town was on its way up, missing out on the Isthmian League title to the runaway train of Dagenham & Redbridge by 24 points. The only other club that came close to winning a title in 1999/2000 was the short-lived Lymington & New Milton, runners-up in the Wessex League on goal difference behind Wimborne Town. All these clubs will appear in the Top 20 at least once more, with the exception of Portsmouth Royal Navy (see photo for an aerial view of their ground).

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Programmes

Top row, left to right: Eastleigh, Andover New Street, Romsey Town; Centre: Gosport Borough, Brockenhurst, Horndean; Bottom: Fareham Town, Fleet Town, AFC Totton, Stockbridge.
I've been to ten different non-league grounds in Hampshire in the latter half of 2010-11. At each, I've bought a programme. Now, I'm not a programme collector, and neither have I kept records of every match I've ever been to. Plenty of groundhoppers do both of these things, but I've mostly followed the same club all my life, and their statistics are perfectly well kept by others. I can understand the appeal of collecting - I buy an enamel badge at every ground I go to, assuming there's a club shop - but spending an extra £3 or so every time I visit Fratton Park for the latest shiny club propaganda sheet isn't for me.

However, non-league programmes seem to contain some of the character of their parent club, and I've enjoyed buying and reading them this season. I shall certainly carry on buying them over the next two years as I carry on with my journeys. What I haven't done so far is add the programme details to my match details as I've written about each club on here - this will be rectified when August comes around again.

What follows now is a list of the matches I've been to over the last few months with added programme information:

Eastleigh v Havant & Waterlooville (4-2), £10 entrance + £2 programme. Colourful, professional-looking, plenty of club news in amongst the adverts.
AFC Totton v Sholing (2-1), £9 entrance + £1.50 programme.
Fareham Town v Romsey Town (1-1), £ 6 entrance + £1 programme. Excellent value. Several interesting articles, plenty of stats. A labour of love.
Romsey Town v Lymington Town (2-6), £4.50 entrance + £1.50 programme.
Andover New Street v Tadley Calleva (4-3), £4 entrance, programme free. All the Wessex League First Division programmes were advertising shells with team sheets and opponents' histories within.
Stockbridge v Petersfield Town (1-1), £4 entrance, programme free.
Brockenhurst v Bournemouth (0-5), £6 entrance, programme free. Another favourite. Colour cover, lots of club info and a most extraordinary rant on the welcome page.
Fleet Town v Met Police (0-2), £8 entrance + £2 programme (I think - no price on cover). Professional appearance, lots of match reports.
Gosport Borough v AFC Totton (0-1), £8 entrance + £1.50 programme. A couple of interesting pieces within.
Horndean v Hythe & Dibden (3-1), £5 entrance, programme free.

And the best programme award for 2010-11 goes to...

Fareham Town! Jam-packed with original opinions and information. The usual club statistics, but in more depth than is often the case; an article on the pros and cons of being promoted to the Southern League; another article on the Step 5 promotion process; a report from a groundhopper's trip to Blackwell Miner's Welfare; another long piece on potential restructuring of the Wessex League; memories of a trip to Margate...and so on. And all written for a midweek crowd of 60 people, and sold for only a quid! Absolute bargain.

And whilst I'm here, to wrap up the season, my personal award for best match of the season goes to...

Andover New Street v Tadley Calleva! A gripping, end-to-end thriller on a day when it seemed just about possible that Spring was on its way to Hampshire.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

9. Horndean FC

Welcome to Horndean Football Club!
If you inspect the Portsmouth-Fareham-Havant-Waterlooville conurbation on a map, you may think that it resembles a fist with a long finger pointing north. Horndean resides on the fingernail. I like to think that this finger is showing the way back to London for all the already-rich-beyond-dreams mercenary footballers that strutted around Fratton Park in the Premiership in recent years, snatching greedily at Pompey's leprechaun gold. Out, foul fiends! Tottenham Hotspur awaits you and your many Porsches and Hummers! Be gone, and let us have our club back!

These moneyed young peacocks would drive past Horndean with their bottle-blonde peahens on their way back to Big London without ever knowing that a football club existed here. But there is one, and they have done well this season - second place in the Wessex League First Division, winning promotion to their own, much more humble Premier League.

Smile please! This one is for the walls of the clubhouse!
Horndean FC 3 (1) v (0) 1 Hythe and Dibden FC (I would normally link to the club websites here, but neither seem to have an active web presence).
Saturday April 30th 2011.
Sydenham's Wessex League First Division.
Attendance: 30-ish
Entrance price: £5
Club shop: No
National grid reference: SU7013
Subbuteo colours: 41v 36
If it's snowing at Horndean, bring a toboggan for downhill thrills.
One player that would never have dreamed of ripping off the people of Portsmouth was their record-breaking goalkeeper, Alan Knight - 801 appearances for the club over a 22 year period. Whilst I was growing up, standing on the Fratton End cheering the lads on, he was a constant presence. It still seems very odd to watch Pompey and not see Knightsie between the sticks. He was the manager at Horndean until recently, before moving on to become Aldershot Town's goalkeeping coach. He never earned more than £1,000 a week in all his time at Pompey and has had all sorts of problems since he stopped playing. You can't imagine any blinged-up Premiership peacock playing for that sort of money now...

I would have loved to have stood behind the dugouts and listened to my erstwhile hero rasping out wisdom to his team, but it was not to be. Instead, there is a big, booming ex-Navy man there now called Dave Carter, who knows what a spade is, and lets everyone on the pitch know.

(Edit: the man I thought at the time was Dave Carter may well have been his assistant, having seen his photo after the fact in The News).
"One day, that will be me in goal for Horndean..."
Horndean is at the foot of the South Downs. The hills start at the entrance to the football ground. There are rumoured to be yetis existing at the snow-capped top end of the ground. There are red flashing lights on the crossbar at that end to warn low-flying aircraft. The British Olympic team have spent time at the top end doing altitude training. Oxygen masks are given out at the turnstiles for anyone venturing up the hill.


What I'm trying to say is that the pitch at Horndean has quite a slope. Whereas Fleet Town's is shaped like a skateboarding half-pipe, Horndean's would do as a base for an Olympic ski-jump event.

Horndean were kicking uphill in the first half. They needed six goals to become top scorers in the league this season, and they must have fancied their chances against a Hythe & Dibden team that have been stuck at the wrong end of the table since the office Christmas dinner season, far away from the beered-up lads at the top end having a laugh throwing stuffing balls at one another, stuck instead in an endless one-sided conversation with Darren from Accounts about the last quarter's audit results.

The home team have one of the best strikers in the Wessex League in Torr Spicer, who seems to score a hat-trick every time he plays, and sure enough, he did again today.

Spicer's first goal came after half an hour, slotting home right-footed from the edge of the box, as cool as a cucumber raita. He is one of those players who seem as though they have the ball attached to their boots on an invisible thread of cotton. The H&D players had turned up with blunt plastic children's scissors and couldn't cut the thread, however hard they tried.

In contrast to Spicer, H&D had a centre-forward named "50p Head" by his manager (but he didn't seem to mind). There was only going to be one winner - it was just a matter of how many Horndean would score.
Leap like a salmon!
Off with the oxygen masks at half-time, and on with the crampons for the short downhill trundle to the tea bar. Committee men with milky tea, and raffle prizes such as a basket of fruit and a four-pack of supermarket-brand beer await within. I needed a cold drink, and sure enough, there were frozen cans of fizzy pop for sale. My can of orange Tango still hadn't defrosted by the time I arrived home nearly two hours later, but never mind - it was still delicious!
Empty dugouts after the match. There is a small covered standing area between the two dugouts.
Horndean had only scored once in the first half, but they had hit the woodwork four times, so it was quite a surprise when Hythe & Dibden equalised early in the second half from their best move of the match. Some intricate passing skills set up one of their chaps for an accurate shot across the face of the Horndean goal, the ball nestling in the far corner - utterly bemusing the home keeper, who was still shaking his head ten minutes later when the Reds retook the lead with a Spicer wundervolley* from 20 yards. Feed the Torr and he will score.

Another Spicer goal followed a little later, this one resembling the penny falls at Clarence Parade Pier in Southsea - the forward scuffing the ball in the general direction of the goal, before it bounced off of at least three defenders' shins, then bobbling in off the post - much like a 2p piece bumping randomly down a cascade machine before landing on the sliding shelf and pushing another 12p and a packet of sweet cigarettes down into the silver tray below. Or something.

*Pronounce the W as a V, and I think we have an exciting new entry in to the English language.
Disused mower at Horndean.
So, an easy win for Horndean. The match was played in a relaxed and friendly spirit - the players obviously enjoying themselves before jetting off to the Isle of Wight for their summer holidays. It was nice to lounge around in the sunshine - if only it was like this every time I went to a match. The freezing January evening trip to Fareham seems like a lifetime ago now.

I'll visit another 16-17 Hampshire teams next season and report back my findings, starting in late August. I'm looking forward to it already!


As an addendum to this article, if you love cricket, you will probably know that the rules of the game were first written down on Broadhalfpenny Down, near Hambledon. The Brigands play their home matches there these days, and their ground is worth a short detour - it's just a couple of miles from Horndean. Park at the Bat And Ball pub and have a pint of shandy whilst you're there...
Broadhalfpenny Down, home of the Brigands.