Wednesday, 29 August 2012

26. Winchester City FC

The entrance to the Denplan City Stadium.
There haven't been many capitals of England thus far. Everyone knows about London, but before The Smoke, it was Winchester that was this country's seat of power. Birthplace of St Swithun, Colin Firth and Captain Scarlet, Winchester swaggers with the confidence that comes with well-established wealth.

There are stern-looking statues and old buildings wherever you look in the city centre. The most impressive structures include the cathedral, which is just visible from Winchester City's football ground; the original wardrobe from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (or at least, I've been told that this is so, but I'm a gullible Hector at times, so I may have been teased into believing this...); and the Great Hall, which houses King Arthur's Round Table.

The Round Table dates from after the age of Arthur, so it's more of a tribute to him than a proper relic. However, it is still very old. The names of the twenty-four knights are painted around the outside: the four that everyone knows - Galahad, Lancelot, Percival and Gawaine - plus the other twenty, who would all surely be pointless answers on, er, Pointless. Try to remember Sir Gareth or Sir Lamorak* if you ever appear on that show...

*My personal favourite knight. The nearest thing to a rhyme with "anorak" that I can think of right now.

Winchester City's main stand.
Winchester City FC (0) 3 v 0 (0) Alton Town FC
FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 25th August 2012
Attendance: 75-100
Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Colours: Red / Black / Red v Yellow / Green / Yellow
Club shop: Yes (Badges £3 + large numbers of old programmes and football books for sale. Must arrive earlier next time for a good browse!)
National Grid reference: SU4830

Puddlesome Winchester.
The Round Table looks like a giant dart board, with Arthur sitting where the number twenty would normally be. He appears to be covering his groin with his trusty sceptre - good idea, as that is roughly where the treble would be. It all reminds me of my drunken darting days, playing for my office team. After five or six pints, we needed a dart board the size of a wall in order to actually score any points at all.

You can't really imagine darts ever becoming an Olympic sport, can you? Although, with golf arriving on the Olympic agenda in 2016, anything is possible.

The one thing I didn't like about this summer's Olympics was the Team GB kit (not just for football, but for athletics, cycling, and all the rest). The black and blue flag design was just horrible. Bring back the classic blue, white and red hoop next time, I say! The fussier the kit, generally the worse it is. Which is why I like Winchester City's so much - red top, black shorts, red socks. No fuss, no annoying frills. It's a kit a small child with clumsy fingers could paint in three seconds flat.

The view from the main stand.
For such an eminent city, Winchester has never really had a football team to match its importance. This season is the beginning of their third spell in the Southern League - the first two lasted no time at all. They have always played in the Hampshire League or, latterly, the Wessex League (which is really just the old Hampshire League with a few special guests from Dorset and Wiltshire).

With a little bit of investment over the last couple of years, they are hopeful of their highest ever finish in the Southern League this season - a place in the top half would clinch it for them. An FA Cup run is likely as well, with this match against lower-ranked Alton Town, followed by another home tie to come if they win.

Of course, Winchester City have won trophies before. By far the biggest was the FA Vase in 2004, when they beat AFC Sudbury at St Andrew's. City are the only club from Hampshire to win the replacement for the old Amateur Cup.

Looking at a list of former players, the one that stands out to me is Micky Mellows. He played for Pompey in the mid-1970s. Possibly the highlight of my entire time at junior school was when he came to visit us and my class had a question and answer session with him. I waved my hand in the air (a chance to speak to a real-life Pompey hero!), not knowing what I would ask him. I was picked and had to say the first thing that occurred to me. Mind quickly whirring through Shoot!'s Focus On weekly feature (er, what are your miscellaneous likes and dislikes, Micky? No, no, I can't ask that - I'm not sure what "miscellaneous" means!), I settled on "Who was your hardest opponent?" (yes, yes, that's what you're supposed to ask a footballer!).

His reply? Norman Hunter! Micky now works for the Faith and Football charity.

Winchester City's tea and ice cream emporium.
As I intend to follow the FA Cup as far as I can go again this season (only visiting grounds in Hampshire that I'd not previously reported from), I only had two choices for my groundhop this weekend. My initial choice was Sholing v East Cowes Victoria Athletic - this would have meant not having to think too much to fill up the word count to a reasonable level - all I would need to do was type the Isle of Wight club's full name a few times and voila! One thousand words in no time at all!

However, this match was brought forward to Friday night (presumably to avoid Saints' home debut in the Premiership). I was busy at a wedding reception on that evening, so the only choice remaining was Winchester City v Alton Town, but that was okay.

There were a few people at the wedding reception who work for the BBC in Southampton (not that I recognised any of them, despite being told that one of them files regular reports on South Today). A chat with one of the weather girls would have been useful, perhaps Winchester-born Alexis Green (grade 8 on the trumpet!), or Sarah Farmer (owns a huge number of cookery books!), or even Reham Khan (massive shoe collection!), as I wasn't sure what the weather had in store for Saturday. None of them were at the reception though - I suppose they were all too busy hunched over charts with compasses and rulers, predicting the south's weather for the next five days, desperately trying to disprove Bob Dylan's old theory that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Winchester City's Bus Shelter Stand.
Walking to the ground from the city centre, rain started falling...and falling, heavier and heavier. Then there was lightning (very very frightening). I could have gone to a fancy dress party dressed as a drowned rat.

Five minutes before kick-off, the word from the tea hut was that the match should still go ahead, as, despite there being rivers of mud flowing around the surrounding gravel running track, the pitch tends to drain quickly and efficiently. They were right.

Alton had conceded fourteen goals in their first three league matches, so I was expecting a big home win. However, the match was surprisingly close. Winchester were attacking more, but tripping over their bootlaces as soon as they caught sight of goal. In fact, it was Alton who took the lead after half an hour - or at least, they thought they had from a low shot from the edge of the box. Annoyingly for them, their number 10 was goalhanging directly in front of Winchester's keeper, and the linesman disallowed the goal.

The road to Wembley is now closed for Alton Town.
The second half started badly for Alton Town. An early corner was headed in, much to their chagrin, as they believed that the forward had used a defender's shoulders to lever himself up a Zigic or two. In Portsmouth, we call this type of goal a "Rickie Lambert", after his similar effort at Fratton Park last season.

The underdogs still weren't out of it, as they hit the bar with a tremendous looping shot at around the hour mark. The killer blow for them came when Winchester's experienced old pro manager Guy Butters (who believes that the gaffer can make a 5-10% difference to a team - I agree, either way!) sent on substitute James Taylor (no, not the James Taylor, one-hit wonder in the UK in 1971 with You've Got A cue list of footballers who share names with famous musicians, starting with ex-Preston defender Michael Jackson...).

No, this wasn't the James Taylor, but THE James Taylor, Havant & Waterlooville's record scorer. Fifteen minutes and two classy Taylor goals later, the ref blew the whistle on Alton Town's FA Cup adventure for this season. Winchester City will take on Yate Town at home next week in the First Qualifying Round. Four more victories, and they will be in the First Round Proper in November.

Flag in the club shop "not for sale".
For a virtual tour of the Denplan City Ground, see this blog. For hundreds of excellent match shots from the ground, see Pitchside Photography (who has also been at one or two local FA Cup matches already this season, including Alton's win over Bradford Town in the previous round). There's another report of this game here (includes a photo of Winchester's first goal).

Okay, that's twenty-six clubs visited and reported upon. In these matches, I have seen 99 goals, at an average of...oh, I don't know! Maths was never my strongest subject! Anyway, the next goal I witness will bring up the century. Exciting!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

25. New Milton Town FC

It's New Milton Town FC verses Newport IOW in the FA Cup!
It's been a long wet summer. After Marvellous March left us spoiled for sunshine, but short of water, it just rained and rained and then rained some more - April, May, June, wet, wetter, wettest. Damp, grey, sodden. All the umbrellas in Hampshire couldn't stop this rain.

Going out meant donning galoshes and sou'westers. Still, staying in wasn't so bad for us sports fans: we had an entertaining Euro 2012, Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome in the Tour de France, and the Olympics - all good stuff. Since the previous football season ended, I looked forward to each event in turn, and enjoyed each in turn, but there was something missing. The "something" was my groundhopping habit, which came to a pleasurable end at Hythe & Dibden four months ago.

Football League and Conference fixtures were released in June, so I could plan my visits to Pompey and Havant & Waterlooville respectively, but it was the FA Cup draw that I was most looking forward to. I like the fact that this random mixture of numbered balls, pulled out of a hollow see-through sphere by a pair of grinning celebrities (this does happen for the Extra-Preliminary Round draw, doesn't it?), can send me anywhere, so long as "anywhere" is in Hampshire and I haven't previously been there...

A pitch-side wedding marquee, weighed down by velveteen bar chairs.
New Milton Town FC (0) 0 v 2 (2) Newport (IW) FC
FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round
Saturday August 11th 2012
Attendance: 40-ish
Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Colours: Blue and red stripes / blue / blue v Yellow / green / yellow
Club shop : No
National Grid reference: SZ2394

A sad old rusty turnstile at New Milton Town.
The draw gave me five matches to choose from: Hayling United v Fareham Town; Alton Town v Bradford Town; Ringwood Town v Cadbury Heath; Fleet Spurs v Totton & Eling; and this one at New Milton. I chose Fleet Spurs v Totton & Eling, as firstly, it would be an encounter between two teams at different steps, with the lower-ranked team being at home; and secondly, it would have been the first time that I would have featured either side on this blog - two of only eight clubs that I'd not yet seen (home or away). Ideal.

Unfortunately, whilst checking Totton & Eling's website the evening before for titbits of useful information, it became apparent that the match had been switched from Fleet Spurs to T & E's ground. Dilemma.

You see, I had read up on every piece of information I could find on Fleet Spurs over the previous five weeks. If you saw me with my head buried in a book, it was probably The Bumper Book of Non-League Football or somesuch, searching the smallprint for information on the club. If I was on the internet, I'd be reading and re-reading anything Fleet Spurs related. If I spoke to anyone at work, I would bore them with facts on Fleet Spurs' origins, Wessex League history, directions to the ground...

People started avoiding me.

The late change of venue threw all this meticulous preparation into a wobble. I had to either visit Totton & Eling or choose another match.

Newport hit the post with New Milton's tiger-striped keeper beaten.
As a post-match family barbecue on the nearby beach at Milford-on-Sea appealed, I decided to visit New Milton Town instead. With no club website, it's difficult to find much information online about the club, barring Wikipedia. However, I wrote about their merger with AFC Lymington on a previous occasion.

Unlike Fleet Spurs, I'm not an expert on New Milton. What I do know is that the club were once ambitious and, like Curtis Mayfield, tried to move on up, but lack of support did for them. The signs of old ambition are all around the ground: the rusty old turnstile and the overgrown exit gate, which would both have been ground-grading requirements at a higher level.

I suppose both New Milton Town and Newport (IW) could be considered as two of the Wessex League's fallen giants (or, more optimistically, sleeping giants), as the Isle of Wight club also played at a higher level for a while. They even played the Welsh Newport in the Southern League for a rare clash between two clubs of the same name from different locations (so rare that I can't think of any other examples - Bury Town v Bury in the FA Cup would be a similar example if it ever happened).

Crystal Palace v Norwich City?
So, I'm not an expert on the football club, nor even the town of New Milton. What I do know is that if you cross the Chewton Bunny into nearby Dorset, you can see the best High Street in Britain for the over-eighties. Everything you could ever wish for can be found in Highcliffe's shopping area: a hearing aid centre, a mobility scooter shop (we call them Mario Karts in this house), a fireplace emporium, at least two funeral directors... The whole area to the east of Bournemouth has the highest proportion of over-eighties in the country, according to the latest census results.

The other thing you need to know about New Milton is that it has a splendid water tower, as featured on the club badge.

Oh, and the residents of nearby Milford-on-Sea don't like their new steps.

Coming out for the second half.
The match itself was a hard-fought, wind affected cup tie. There's no Isle of Wight opposite the seaside here to act as a friendly windcatcher, as it does a few miles to the west in tranquil Lymington. The wind was blowing straight off the sea and into the far goal. The home side's tiger-striped keeper would have felt quite sand-blasted in the first half, with the New Milton Mistral full on in his face.

Newport's first goal after 15 minutes just took off, the ball's trajectory being quite banana-like, swerving along a perfect curve from Alex Przespolewski's right boot into the top right corner of the goal, just like I always tried to do when practicing Subbuteo shooting with the five-hole target board in place (never could manage that!). Having failed to hit a ball through any of the upper target holes, ever, I can appreciate what a difficult skill that is.

Goal two, from the same player, sizzled along the grass, leaving a trail of smoke behind as it bazoomed into the bottom right corner. The world's best goalkeepers would have struggled to stop either shot.

In the crowd of forty or so, there were at least six people (including myself) taking photos. I know what I do with my better efforts (they go on here), and I have found some on Newport's website. Where are all the others? New Milton have no website and no pictures in their programme, so unless one of the photographers was from the local newspaper, the whereabouts of the other three sets of pics may remain a mystery.
New Milton Town's press box.
My children used to believe that fierce creatures lived in those dark green cabinets that you see as you walk along the street - they're full of wires - you can see into them sometimes if bad kids have broken the lock and left a door open. I assume they belong to one of the utility companies - I'm guessing they're something to do with telephones. Anyway, these fierce monsters were called boggan-boggans, and you had to be very careful when passing these cabinets, in case a boggan-boggan leapt out and attacked you...

New Milton could have done with a bit of boggan-boggan aggression in the second half, as Newport carried on winning every 50/50 ball and having more shots than the hosts, hitting the post with one early on.

The home manager made a substitution ten minutes into the half, bringing on Simon De'ath. Now, having seen Romsey Town several times last season, I know what a good player he is at this level. One goal on a misty October evening against Fawley stood out, when he languidly brought a high pass down forty yards from goal, controlled the ball with his thigh, and then volleyed it in off a post with the poor keeper flapping at a passing moth - he was definitely flapping at something else, because he was nowhere near the ball. Romsey Town's answer to Matthew Le Tissier is now New Milton's slow-moving maestro.

However, despite having more efforts on goal with De'ath (and several other ex-Romsey players) on the pitch, the home side never looked like getting two goals back against their stronger opponents from across The Solent.

No FA Cup run, no kudos, no prize money for New Milton Town this season. It's the league, league cup and FA Vase left for them as the 'Port travel to Moneyfields for the next round of the FA Cup next Saturday.

There's no way out from Fawcett's Field!
Did I mention a barbecue on the beach earlier? The New Milton Mistral put paid to that! I lit the disposable barbecue, waited for the flames to die down (as per instructions) and placed some sausages on the rack. An hour later, with the sausages having merely dried out, it was decided to go home to the trusty grill and finish them off with some fried onions and a glass of beer or two.

So, the FA Cup has started! I'm not sure if I'll be at a match in the next round, but if I am, you'll be the first to know! Promise!

Monday, 6 August 2012

The 41 FC's 2012/2013

Aldershot's Jimmy Melia (top right), taken from Football Star Parade 1969/70.
Twenty-four clubs visited since January 2011; seventeen more clubs to visit in 2012/2013. Then it will all be over. Unlike last season, there is no change in the number of clubs in Hampshire from overall level 10 and up (assuming Pompey survive the week). The only changes concern the various leagues and divisions that clubs will be competing in - up one level go Saints, Gosport Borough, Winchester City, Hartley Wintney and AFC Portchester; whilst it is down the slippery snake for Pompey...

Eversley have merged with California (no, not the American state) to create the only name change for this season. They will be visited in due course, along with sixteen others over the next nine months.

The current full list of Level 1-10 Hampshire sides is typed out below. Those I have already visited are in bold.

Fixtures for the top four divisions can be found via any half-decent British newspaper's sports pages.

Step 1. Premiership
Southampton (Feb 2012)

2. Championship

3. League One
Portsmouth (Mar 2012)

4. League Two
Aldershot Town

5. Conference

6. Conference South
Basingstoke Town (Oct 2011)
Eastleigh (Jan 2011)
Havant & Waterlooville (Oct 2011)

7. Southern League Premier Division
Bashley (Feb 2012)
Gosport Borough
AFC Totton (Jan 2011)

8. Southern League Division One South & West
Winchester City

8. Southern League Division One Central
Fleet Town (Apr 2011)

9. Wessex League Premier Division
Alresford Town
Alton Town
Blackfield & Langley (Jan 2012)
Fareham Town (Jan 2011)
GE Hamble (Jan 2012)
Hayling United
Horndean (Apr 2011)
Lymington Town (Dec 2011)
Moneyfields (Sep 2011)
New Milton Town
AFC Portchester (Nov 2011)
Romsey Town (Feb 2011)
Totton & Eling

9. Combined Counties Premier Division
Cove (Aug 2011)
Hartley Wintney (Sep 2011)

10. Wessex League First Division
Andover New Street (Feb 2011)
Brockenhurst (Mar 2011)
Fleet Spurs
Hythe & Dibden (Apr 2012)
Petersfield Town
Ringwood Town
Stockbridge (Mar 2011)
Tadley-Calleva (Mar 2011)
Team Solent
US Portsmouth
Whitchurch United (Oct 2011)

10. Combined Counties First Division
Eversley & California

Like I said, it's time to get started again...