|Rules and regulations: No roller blades, no petting, no diving...|
Then you look out of the window and it's tipping it down. Whatever you wear, nobody's going to see it under your anorak, so just grab the first thing that comes to hand. And your hair? It'll look like you've just been swimming through a muddy puddle within seconds, so don't bother gelling it up too much tonight.
Your only consolation is that it's the same for everyone.
And it's been like this for months now.
|Sugar and sticks. Essential accoutrements for non-league tea.|
Alton Town FC (0) 1 v 2 (0) Tadley-Calleva FC
Saturday 13th February 2016
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Colours: White / black / black v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU7240
|Part of the old terrace at Alton Town FC's new (old) ground.|
But of course, the rain has been falling, clattering down now for 48 hours and the pitch has more water on it than Lake Baikal and there's no chance of the game being on today. The programmes are back from the printers, full of player profiles, manager's comments, the chairman's welcome, a photo of young Jake scoring the winner against the team from down the road the last time you played (which was 6 weeks ago now) and...and...and nobody's going to read any of it, because there won't be a match today.
And it's been like this for weeks now.
|Alton's Mo Nyamunga takes a goal kick. The new stand in the background.|
Locally, in the Evo-Stik Southern League, Petersfield Town have played 23 of their scheduled 42 league matches, leaving them with 19 still to play. Their league has only another ten Saturdays left to run.
In the Sydenhams Wessex League (eleven Saturdays left), there are six clubs in each division who have still only played half of their league fixtures (or less) - Fareham Town have 22 matches still to play; Sholing and Moneyfields 21 each; Pewsey Vale, Horndean, Newport and Follands 20 apiece.
Some of these sides also have cup games to play. For example, Horndean's county cup game against Totton & Eling has been postponed eight times now. It gets rescheduled every week, and every week it rains some more and the fixture is off once again.
The solution for the latter two clubs has been to move the fixture to a neutral venue with no waterlogging issues. The chosen hosts? Alton Town.
|Leaping over railings is an essential skill for Wessex League goalkeepers. Tadley's Tom Hindmarsh shows us how it should be done.|
Alton moved in to their new home in December. Whilst all around them were calling games off, The Brewers were guaranteed to play if they were at home, and not just the first team - the reserves and age group teams have all carried on through December and January.
And the adult teams have done very well indeed on their new "plastic pitch" (as they were once disparagingly called) - 100% records so far for the firsts and ressies, which made Saturday a particularly tough assignment for Tadley.
However, Tadley-Calleva have their best squad in years - they only missed out on promotion to the Wessex Premier last season by a single point, and in Brett Denham they had the league's top scorer, so they started the season as favourites for the title.
It hasn't all gone to plan so far, as they went in to Saturday's game in ninth place, three places behind Alton (but with six games in hand over them). In the programme, Alton's manager was well aware that sixth place is usually good enough to qualify for the following season's FA Cup, so that a Top 6 finish had to be their aim - Tadley being one of their rivals for this objective.
|Skidding on bunny fur.|
The two teams cancelled each other out in the first half. Both wanted to win, but neither could do so. It was the second half when everything occurred that was worth mentioning. Alton's Ben Choularton scored the opener after 50 minutes. Being at the far end of the pitch, I didn't get a good view of what happened (there were players in my way), but apparently Ben took a potshot from distance which should have been saved, but wasn't. My spies tell me that the ball squirmed under Tom Hindmarsh's fingers and rolled over the line, but as I say, I was in completely the wrong place to see that one properly. My spies may have been telling porkies.
A couple of minutes later, Tadley came close to scoring when Alton's keeper, Mo Nyamunga pulled off a point blank save from a diving header. The home team then broke up the other end and Luke Perkins skimmed the top of the bar with a shot from 20 yards. The second half was as enthralling as the first half was dull.
I mentioned the weather at the start of the report. Well, have you noticed how the storms are being named this winter? They've been named in alphabetical order, starting with Abigail, then Barney, and so on. Did you know that they're not only alphabetical, but that they go Female - Male - Female - Male and so forth? Well, we've reached J next, and J will be Male.
|Tadley's last-minute penalty miss which could have been oh-so crucial.|
I got chatting to a local by the terrace after this. With ten minutes to go, neither of us could decide who was going to win this one. Tadley had the best chance after 87 minutes, when they were awarded a penalty at the Playground End. You can see what happened next in the photo above - sometimes a picture will tell the story better than I can...
Going in to injury time, both sides were still pressing for the winner. Nobody cared that they'd been playing in icy drizzle for the past hour and a half (okay, I cared - my hands and feet were freezing!). Tick tock went the clock, onto the 91st minute, and one last chance for the team from the Hampshire-Berkshire border, and it was one that counted, as Josh (aha, another potential Storm name!) Drew belted in the winner from close range.
It finished 2-1 to Tadley. Alton's home record in tatters, but hey-ho, on they'll go to the next game. A top six place is still theirs if they keep playing well. Both sides have a good chance of qualifying for the FA Cup next season, even if a promotion place might just be out of reach now.
|The pitch markings vary in colour - the usual white lines are present, but there are brown lines, blue lines...|
What's good and what's not so good about Alton's new Anstey Road Enclosure? Well, they've effectively moved "back home" after a quarter of a century away. The original Alton Town played here until they merged with Bass (Alton) FC, the local brewery team (hence their nickname). I've written about their travails with corporate behemoths Molson-Coors before, but the short and long of it is that they have moved back to their original ground, which was refurbished as part of the deal when the American corporation sold Town's previous ground for housing.
Junior side Alton United have been playing here for a few years - their first team play in the Aldershot & District League, but more importantly, there were many age group teams based here. Next season, Town and United will merge and become Alton FC, with all the various men's, women's and junior teams playing at the same venue, often with several matches going on in the same day, one after the other.
When I say the ground has been "refurbished", I mean that there are very few of the original structures remaining. There was an old wooden stand here, which has been replaced with a modern prefabricated structure. This has thoughtfully been placed on a concrete step, so that the views from the stand are much better than the usual prefabs which are usually placed at ground level, so that spectators struggle to see over the pitch railings if sat in the front row.
There's a space for wheelchair users under the roof as well, which is another nice touch (not every club remembers to do this).
On the far side of the ground is the original terrace, which varies in height between two steps and four steps. It's been reconcreted where necessary, so should last a few more years yet. The terrace is obviously a good thing, but not so good is the fact that there used to be a roof here, which was taken down during the rebuild. There are stanchions remaining from the old roof, so a new one could go up without too much effort, hopefully in the near future. It's always good to have at least two covered areas in a stadium - if the wind is driving rain straight in to the seated stand, it would be nice to have the option of moving to a more sheltered covered area.
|The traditional HAH arty shot to end the article. Wet swings this time.|
The 3G pitch has done wonders for Alton Town. It's a bit boring to photograph, I must admit, as it lacks texture, but that's the least of their concerns. When Storm James arrives, as surely Storm James will in the next week or two, Alton Town will carry on playing when all around them are sat at home watching Ceefax (or whatever the equivalent is now).
Will Fareham Town be the next club to install an artificial pitch? There are plans in the pipeline, so we'll see.
I haven't seen any other match reports or photos from this match, so no links to other sites this time out. However, I shall post a few more of my own pictures on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page, as has become my habit since I set it up a few weeks ago. Expect these to appear tomorrow (Wednesday), as I shall be off out to a match later this evening.
The next report is likely to be from a Southern League ground in Oxfordshire on the 27th February.