Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Bournemouth FC v Fareham Town

The view from inside the clubhouse at Bournemouth Poppies. Is it my imagination, or was there an axolotl swimming in my cider? Can you see it? No? Just me then...
"Greetings! You probably don't know me, and I'm not sure if I know you. There's no point in looking for me, because I'm not here - not in body, anyway. I'd like to tell you a story or two about my life, but first, I need to find a spirit host.

I can communicate by typing on a keyboard, but it takes me many hours to write even a few simple words, one keystroke at a time, one painful button press every few minutes. So much energy for one who has so little to spare. The better way for me to talk to you is to channel my thoughts through a host, and I believe I found one on Saturday.

Not everyone can host a spirit such as myself - they have to be able to hear voices that no-one else can hear, and then to be able to translate those voices. The 1960s pop music producer Joe Meek used to believe that a cat's miaow was the sound of the dead trying to communicate with the living. He spent many hours in graveyards taping stray cats' voices so that he could later play them back and attempt to translate them. He wasn't far wrong, spirit voices do sound a lot like a cat's miaow, just a little higher-pitched and ever-so slightly more "human", more like the wind whistling and moaning through an alleyway.

Only special people can both hear a spirit voice and be able to understand it, and as I said, I found the perfect host on Saturday."

A pre-match stretch and scratch for the Bournemouth players.
Bournemouth FC (0) 1 v 0 (0) Fareham Town FC
Saturday 19th March 2016
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 33
Admission: £6
Programme: £1 (invariably voted the league's Programme Of The Year - lots and lots of stats)
Colours: All red v All blue
National Grid reference: SZ0894

The 45 year old stand at Bournemouth Poppies.
"My host was sitting on the beautifully varnished wooden bench seat number 192 at the back of Bournemouth Poppies' stand. He was fiddling with something - I suspect it was a camera, but a far more advanced type than the daguerrotypes that I knew of in my lifetime. As he was temporarily distracted, I entered his brain through his left nostril. I understand that us spirits have a sweet, coconutty perfume, but my host was just getting over a cold and couldn't smell me - if he had, he would probably have thought that someone nearby was eating a Nice biscuit.

I was lucky. I started talking to my host in my high-pitched whine, and he could immediately understand me. This would be the place to stay for the afternoon. I could use his eyes to see, his ears to hear, his nose to sniff the cold grey air - all his senses were mine for a few hours.

I was able to look around with near-perfect vision. As a spirit, my eyesight is poor - everything is monochrome and grainy, like looking through a frosted bathroom window on a miserable winter's day. I looked to my host's left and right through his eyes, and I could see the six rows of wooden benches in the stand, white lines delineating individual seats and hand-painted numbers indicating that there must be room for more than 200 spectators in there."

And another stretch!
"I played for Bournemouth Rovers in their very first match in 1875. We were the first football club in Bournemouth, founded many years before the more famous AFC Bournemouth. We played at Dean Park, close to where the modern Premiership club now play. There was no such thing as a league in those days. Instead, we had to play friendlies, often against other teams within our own club as there were so few other clubs to challenge.

Before we started a game, we had to decide which rules we were going to play - whether that be the rules of association football or rugby football. It could vary from week to week, according to the preferences of the captains. I always voted for the association game, as the 15 man rules weren't as rigid as they are nowadays, which led to many serious injuries and even deaths. The association game still allowed hacking, where the opposition could kick your shins at will to stop a dribble, but at least I could place a good thick copy of The Times down my stockings to relieve the pain (and, truth be told, I could hack the opposition harder than they ever could me).

Our big rivals in the early years were Fordingbridge Turks (who still exist and are the oldest club in Hampshire). I particularly remember one match in 1876 when the Turks came to Dean Park. We hired an Italian band for the day to entertain the crowd. We also put on a splendid spread of cold meats which we washed down with glasses of mineral water and a cask of beer. It took us two years to pay off the cost of our generosity, but we were gentlemen, so it was worth every penny."

The goal posts are covered in colourful tape at Bournemouth FC.
"We never had a stand like the Poppies have now. Our home was a roped off section of the cricket pitch. We would change in the local hostelry. I was able to see the home team's modern dressing rooms from outside on Saturday, and they have hot showers now, which was unheard of in my day. Via my host, I then saw the spread laid on for the visitors in the clubhouse next to the stand. Laid out on a table beneath the dartboard was a tasty selection of rolls. We weren't keen on bread in my day, as the local bakers used to add "extras" such as chalk to their flour to cut costs and make the ingredients go a little further. Not tasty. Looking at the post-match spread, I wished I could eat once more, but that's beyond me now.

My host took me for a walk around the pitch before the players came out. There's a concrete path all the way around the pitch, only interrupted by a pair of sturdy dugouts on the far side, painted in rose pink. The ground is overlooked by detached houses and bungalows on three sides, with the fourth (entrance side), having a dual carriageway on the other side of a hedge - which was noisy. In my day, of course, there were no motorised vehicles.

My host had arrived in Bournemouth by train. I understand that the train station is two miles from the Poppies ground, and that it took him 35-40 minutes to walk between the two destinations. It appears that these days, trains are powered by electricity or diesel and no longer have a member of the railway company walk in front of them waving a red flag to warn oncoming traffic of the approaching danger."

Fareham Town on the attack.
"The players look remarkably different from myself in 1876. Where we used to dress in baggy green and white shirts, green knickerbockers, stockings and caps, today's fellows dress in more comfortable attire - the home team in all red, the opposition from Fareham in all blue. My team all used to sport splendid walrus moustaches, which now appear to be out of fashion. My host tells me that there are people known as "hipsters" and "steampunks" who currently look like me. However, there was sadly no sign of any of these "steampunks" in the vicinity on Saturday.

As my host looked upwards, I was able to see lightbulbs on poles dotted around the ground. This reminded me of the time that my old club took part in the first ever floodlit football match in Hampshire, in November 1878. We challenged a team of local residents to a match, which drew a large crowd to Dean Park. We won 5-1, but the weather was miserable and the lights were spasmodic and just a little dull.

It looks like electric light shows are commonplace these days, but of course, it was never dark enough for the lights to be needed last weekend."

Poppies manager Ken Vaughan takes the substitute number boards back to the changing rooms. Those Sainsbury's bags for life are just the right size.
"We changed our colours to poppy red in 1876, which is what the club have played in ever since. In 1899, after I'd retired from the sport, we merged with Bournemouth Arabs to become Bournemouth FC. We've been playing in the Hampshire League, and then from its foundation in the mid-1980s, the Wessex League, ever since. Our neighbours, The Cherries, long since overtook us as the biggest club in Bournemouth. They may be bigger, but we are older. I shall forever be a Poppy.

My old club won on Saturday. The visitors started strongly, missing a string of chances, including one long-range shot which hit the bar, but my team held out well to go in at half-time on level terms.

We won the game with a goal which would not have been possible in my day. You see, the balls we played with were so heavy, that a shot from 25 yards would not have carried all the way to the goal-line. It would have been easily intercepted by the goal-tender or one of the backs. We had to dribble and pass the ball and virtually walk it in to the goal, much like your Woolwich Arsenal today. However, the balls are much lighter nowadays, and Ami Rosario was able to shoot from distance in to the net for the winning goal.

Of course, we never had nets in my day, and the crossbar was only introduced in 1875 - before then, the umpire had to decide if the ball had crossed the line over or under a tape which we would string between the posts, which caused no end of arguments.

The match ended with a little controversy, as Fawzi Saadi was sent to the dressing rooms for what used to be called "a spot of hooting and hissing" back in the nineteenth century, but what my host tells me is now called "an off-the-ball incident". I think I prefer the old phraseology."

Steam from the shower vent post-match. Or is it...can it be...someone we know?
"It was most splendid to be back again. I never played at Victoria Park, as the club moved there many years after my death, but I felt at home amongst fellow enthusiasts, however few of us there were on Saturday.

My host tells me that my story will not be illustrated with lithographic prints, but with what he calls "photos", which is a shame, as I used to be quite handy with the old lithograph. I created a magnificent print of my old friend William Pickford, who was at Bournemouth Rovers with me and who went on to found the Hampshire Football Association and then write the first history of football in the county in 1937. I presented the print to him on the occasion of the Association's silver jubilee. I still see him from time to time, entering a spirit host in order to watch the Poppies play.

I understand that a match report can be found here. Apparently, you have to "click" on the underlined word and the match report will appear. The modern world really is an amazing place. My host also informed me that there will be extra "photos" to view on something called the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page. He's completely lost me now.

I also have to tell you that he will be back in two weeks, featuring a game from the only Wessex League ground that he's yet to visit.

As for me, I shall be looking for a new host at the next Bournemouth FC game. I hope I find one.

Farewell my friends."

Monday, 14 March 2016

Pewsey Vale v United Services Portsmouth

Pewsey Vale's ground, overlooked by an old schoolhouse.
I love this time of year, don't you? Everything comes alive after the dead times of winter. After months of miserable weather - the never-ending damp, grey workday mornings and grim, dark evenings, where the only light you ever see is a motorway junction soda lamp through a windscreen covered in salty filth - all of a sudden, you wake up for work and it's light outside. You open the front door for a pre-breakfast stroll and there's a woodpecker drumming in the park, a greenfinch trilling from a tree top, a gaggle of puppies chasing each other through the crocus patch by the playground.

It's the time of year when nature knows that anything can happen.

And you know that it's the end of all the football postponements - those middle-season months of uncertainty, when you look at Saturday's fixtures, choose your game to go to, and then the rain falls all week and you're at the mercy of the referee, deciding whether a boggy pitch is a safe pitch - and invariably, he decides it isn't and you're stuck at home, or you go somewhere less interesting instead.

And this becomes a habit after a while, all this "doing something else" on a Saturday, and some of us drift away as these new hobbies become more reliable than the football.

But it's okay, you can come back now. It's warm, the sun is shining, you can go out without thermal undies and enjoy the end of the season.

The clubhouse/changing rooms and covered seating area at Pewsey Vale.
Pewsey Vale FC (0) 1 v 3 (1) United Services Portsmouth FC
Saturday 12th March 2016
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: Varied throughout as people came and went, but averaged out at around 15-20
Admission: £5
Programme: 50p
Colours: White / navy / navy v Red and blue stripes / red / red
National Grid reference: SU1659

Watching on intently from the dugouts.
I'm now completing the Wessex League for HAH. I had three of the 38 grounds left to visit before Saturday - Pewsey Vale, Bournemouth Poppies and AFC Stoneham. I'd been to Pewsey before and wrote about it here, but I'd yet to see a match being played on the pitch - I'd spent an hour driving to the village in January, I'd had a nice cup of tea in the clubhouse, I'd seen Pewsey and Ringwood players warming up, I'd seen the referee consult with his assistants, I'd seen the club volunteers pick up the corner flags and store them away, I'd seen everyone present shake their heads in disbelief at the soft postponement, then I'd turned around and driven for an hour back home again...

...and Pewsey Vale is a long way, relatively speaking, from the heartland of the Wessex League, which is generally based around Solent City and Bournemouth. United Services had a 130 mile round trip for the game on Saturday, which, other than Portland United, is the furthest they will travel this season.

Of course, it's the same for Pewsey, who have one or two local rivalries across the misty, militarised Mordor of Salisbury Plain with Amesbury and Laverstock, otherwise they have to travel a fair distance for a lot of their away matches. That's the trouble with being right on the edge of the league footprint - of course, if they moved over to the Hellenic League or the Western League, they'd be on the edge of their footprints as well. They can't really win.

Can you spot the White Horse carved in to the hill?
Pewsey Vale play at one of the least well developed grounds in the Wessex League. They're based in the village's sporting hub - a collection of facilities comprising of a bowling green, some tennis courts and the football pitch. The best way to access the ground is to park in the Co-op's car park and walk along a short footpath to the corner of the ground furthest from the clubhouse. Here, a club official will greet you and ask if you've come to see the football. He has to ask you this because there are public footpaths wandering hither and thither around the outside of the pitch - anyone can enter the ground at any time to walk their dog, or simply pass through from one side to the other pushing a wheelbarrow with an enormous potted plant in it (see the photo at the bottom of the page!).

Once you've established that you're here to watch the match, the gateman will take your fiver and store it away safely in his old ice cream tub. Programmes are available for 50p - this week's copy was mostly adverts, with an insert featuring league tables and suchlike. I spend many hours poring over the programmes I buy at Wessex League grounds - I always seem to learn something new. This week's new-found knowledge is that there is a business in Collingbourne Ducis that will clean your dog's ears for you - Collingbourne Ducis being a village that I've often driven through and wondered what people who lived there did for a living. Now I know.

United Services attempt a cross as the crowd look on.
There isn't a lot of so-called "football furniture" at Pewsey Vale, but it is a pretty ground. Walking clockwise from the entrance, there is a grass bank to your left, which gives a good view of the match if you wish to stand on it (if there's a break in play, you can turn round and watch the locals playing tennis instead - not that there was anyone playing on Saturday). From the grass bank, you can see Pewsey's famous White Horse off in the distance. This is one of eight white horses in Wiltshire, apparently, and was carved in to the hillside in 1937 to celebrate the ascension of George VI to the throne. If you look very carefully at one of the photos above, you might just about make it out - it's a mile away from the village centre, but the locals claim it is part of the village.

Carry on clockwise to the far corner flag, and you will see the only thatched cottage bordering a Wessex League ground (unless anyone knows of another). Throughout the game on Saturday, a well-to-do pigeon sat motionless on the thatch warming his toes and cooing from time to time. He was in the perfect position to see two of the most stunning goals that the village has witnessed this season - firstly, a perfect 40 yard lob from United Services's Michael Dark, who spotted Pewsey's goalkeeper off his line and tried his luck - from the angle that Dark fired the ball in, it would have been torpedoing its way out of the sun towards Pewsey's blinded custodian - a very clever goal indeed. It was harsh on Pewsey, who had matched their promotion-chasing opponents up until that point.

Coming out for the second half.
The second stunning goal that the pigeon would have witnessed came late in the second half, with the home side 2-0 down and kicking towards the Thatched Cottage End. This one was scored by - and I presume I heard this correctly - Gareth Bale (I'm pretty sure that's what his team-mates were calling him, although there was no sign of a Bale on the teamsheet...there was a Dan Reynolds though). I'm not sure if this one was intentional, but it was the second 40-yarder of the game, straight from a free-kick wide on the left. Everyone was expecting a cross, but instead, the ball looped up and over Peter Houkes in to the far top corner. I caught the ball crossing the line on camera, but you'll have to head over to the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page to see that one.

The four goals were shared equally between the two ends, so let's leave the pigeon contentedly cooing and carry on around the ground and head towards the other end to see the other two goals. You have to pass the changing room/clubhouse building before reaching the far goal. This is a single-storey building with a tin roof which provides the only shelter in the ground on a rainy day as the roof hangs over 40 or so red plastic seats placed in two rows. Alternatively, you could watch the match from inside the cosy clubhouse whilst sipping from a mug of tea and chewing on a freshly-made roll, but there are only a couple of windows available, so be quick to reserve your place.

One of these dogs has spotted something more interesting than the football. Probably another dog.
We're nearly at the far end now, but first we have to pass the old spooky schoolhouse on our left. You can almost hear the terrified screams of schoolboys past, threatened with a ruler on the palm of the hand for the mildest misdemeanour by the school's belligerent ghouls (same old jokes since 1902). You can now live in the old house of terror in one of four studio flats if you have a spare £150,000. Watch the match from your mezzanine room under the turrets for free on a Saturday.

It was in front of the old schoolhouse that United Services's second goal originated after an hour or so. A free-kick from wide on the left was lofted in to the box in a more conventional manner than Pewsey's later in the game. The ball was flicked on and landed at the feet of Dark, eight yards from goal. He shimmied to his right, selling a dummy to the keeper, then rolled the ball gently to the left to make it 2-0.

The final goal, a minute after Pewsey's wonder strike, was also at this end. As the local bellringers practiced pealing in the background and a murder of crows cawed overhead as they returned home from a day of scavenging, Liam Bush ran through on goal, only to be chopped down from behind by Pewsey's Gareth Robb. A clear penalty, the only decision for the ref to make was whether to show a yellow or a red card. After consulting with the lino on the far side, common-sense prevailed with a yellow, the penalty being punishment enough. Rich Warwick placed the ball on the spot, ran up to shoot, but slipped as he did so. Pewsey's Louie Latouche dived to his right, but could only palm the ball on to the post, from whence it trickled gently over the line.

At this point, the church bells stopped ringing, leaving only the sound of crows and the congratulatory slapping of shoulders from the visitors.

Only in Pewsey...
Pewsey started the day second from bottom of the league, and there they remained after 90 minutes. Incredibly, this was only their 19th league match of the nine month season, with just seven official Saturdays remaining to squeeze in their remaining 15 games (although the season has now been extended by a week for them and a few other sides that have suffered with multiple postponements this winter).

Let's hope the pleasant weather continues.

United Services stay fourth, with a good chance of promotion come the end of April.

My next report will be from another Wessex League club next Saturday, followed by my final Wessex League club two weeks from then. After that, I'm undecided, but I shall probably finish my match reports for the season at a promotion or relegation clash in mid-April - could be anywhere!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Banbury United v Winchester City

A jolly Puritan adorning Banbury United's corner flag. Don't be fooled by that welcoming smile, ye olde erectors of crosses, he's really a smiling assassin.
I don't know about you, but I'm always singing to myself. It could be anything - a current chart sensation, an oldie but goldie from the glam era, or an obscure punk B-side. There's usually a tune going on inside me somewhere. Right now? Today's happy tune is Days by The Kinks, a big hit in 1968 - you'll know it if you hear it.

My "tune" through much of last week was actually an old nursery rhyme - again, you'll probably know it:

Ride a cock horse
To Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady
Upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers
And bells on her toes
She shall have music
Wherever she goes

I was heading for Banbury at the weekend, and I couldn't stop myself from humming this old rhyme, but it would have been the same if I'd been going to, say, Waterloo Station - I would have been crooning Waterloo Sunset to myself all week, no doubt.

Banbury's 13-year-old stand.
Banbury United FC (2) 2 v 1 (0) Winchester City FC
Evo-Stik Southern League South & West Division
Saturday 27th February 2016
Attendance: 589
Admission: £5 (usually £10)
Programme: £2 (superb - possibly the best non-league programme I've seen since starting HAH)
Colours: All red with yellow trimmings v Blue and black stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SP4639 / SP4640

Twelve steps of shallow covered terracing behind the Town End goal.
Chanting this nursery rhyme over and over, I got to thinking what it all meant. I'm not of the internet generation - I don't just whip my phone out and tap in a keyword and find the information I want within seconds - that just doesn't occur to me. I'm of the generation that grew up with shelves and shelves of encyclopaedias - it would always take a while to find what I wanted (and I'd normally get distracted in my search and start reading about the hyrax or something else instead (the elephant's nearest relative, despite being teeny-tiny and looking like a miserable guinea pig, by the way) - whatever it was that I wanted to know would be instantly lost in a fog of useless facts from Volume 9: HA to IN).

Anyway, the bit that interested me in the nursery rhyme was the "cock horse". Was this an antiquated way of saying "stallion"? Maybe. Then a female horse in those days must have been a "hen horse", and similarly, a male dog would have been a "cock dog", a female squirrel a "hen squirrel", and so on? I never did get around to looking it up. The encyclopaedias have long since been put away in a cardboard box in the attic.

What I did find out during the week was that there really is a statue of a cock horse in Banbury, and it resides next to Banbury Cross, so we had to go and see it on Saturday. Sure enough, the brassy cock horse was there (bestraddled by a fine lady), across the road from Banbury Cross, which sits upon a roundabout. Apparently, according to the accompanying story board, there used to be several crosses in the town (including my favourite, the Bread Cross), but these were considered blasphemous by the town's Puritans in the 1600s, and were all pulled down. The current cross was re-erected in Victorian times (the cock horse is a very recent addition).

It was all very interesting. However, my photo of the scene was spoiled by a man dressed as Spiderman holding up a board advertising pizzas. Or perhaps he made it more interesting, I don't know.

The two teams line up for handshakes pre-kick-off.
This diversion was all very well, but I was in Banbury for a football match. It was a big one, between two sides that were on lengthy winning runs - Winchester City had won six league games in a row, but Banbury United had gone one better, with seven in a row. Unsurprisingly with records like that, they were the top two clubs in the Southern League's South & West Division going in to the match.

There was much talk beforehand about the two clubs' top scorers - Winchester's Warren Bentley had recently been scouted by the likes of Luton Town and Notts County - non-league's "next Jamie Vardy" is out there somewhere, and why shouldn't it be Bentley, who has scored 101 goals in the last season and a half? But never mind Jamie Vardy, remember that Charlie Austin also came to promininence via the Wessex League a few seasons ago, which is where Bentley scored so many goals last season, helping his club to promotion.

Banbury's Ricky Johnson has also been scoring for fun this season, including five hat-tricks. Is he the next non-league sensation? Rings on his fingers, the ball on his toes, he shall score goals wherever he goes... It would be interesting to compare the two hotshots side by side on the same pitch.

The game gets under way with old industrial buildings as a backdrop on the Power Park side.
I was looking forward to this one. Banbury had been trailing the match heavily on social media during the preceding week. They were offering half-price admission, hoping for a big crowd. Walking towards the ground along a narrow pavementless road at twenty to three, it was clear that the locals had taken heed, as car after car after car drove carefully past me towards the club car parks.

Banbury's Spencer Stadium (they were originally called Banbury Spencer) is situated at the conclusion of this bumpy road at the far end of the Power Park Industrial Estate. It is squashed between warehouses and factories on two sides, with the main London to Birmingham railway line fifty yards from the entrance on the east side (three-carriage Chiltern Rail and longer Virgin Cross Country trains chugged by every few minutes throughout the match, visible between the stand and the clubhouse). At the far end of the ground is open land, over which you can see the trains disappearing in to the distance, London-bound, with lorries and vans poking up above the vegetation beyond the train tracks, hurtling along the M40 towards Birmingham. Further away, the green-grey Chiltern Hills are visible, covered in copses and spinneys.

On the far side of the ground, there's a small patch of rough grass, which slides down in to the River Cherwell, thin, grey and cold, meandering aimlessly towards Oxford with its cargo of empty crisp packets.

Amongst all this unremarkable land sits the bright and cheerful Spencer Stadium, painted in the club colours of red and yellow.

Banbury United's Felipe Barcelos scores the opening goal.
It's a fine ground. To the left of the main entrance is a one-storey clubhouse building, which was heaving on Saturday - this was to be the highest crowd of the season so far in this division - higher than one of the matches in the Conference National league this weekend at 589. Walking around the ground, the far end is hard standing, but it is wide and gently sloping towards the pitch, such that the back of the slope is the equivalent of approximately two steps of terracing, so that fans at the back can see over those at the front.

Past the corner flag and up to the first dugout is a thin stretch of paving. Beyond the second dugout, twelve steps of uncovered crumbly terracing rises up, giving a good elevated view over the pitch. This terracing carries on round the corner, where the back six steps are covered by a bright red tin roof, held up by yellow steel posts, which reaches almost to the far side. Where the cover stops, there is a yellow tea hut. Around the final corner, past a rusty roller parked outside the club shop (not open on Saturday - souvenirs available in the clubhouse instead), you come to the seated stand, built in 2003 - another red structure, but this time with blue plastic seats.

Changing rooms, toilets and Puritans Radio all squeeze in to the space between the stand and the entrance, all glimmering brilliantly in their cheerful reds and yellows.

Surrounding the pitch are eight floodlight pylons - proper ones, bought from Oxford City's old White Horse Ground when it was demolished. Stood up straight, tall and handsome, they look down solemnly on proceedings with four large lamps on each pole making them look like wise, bespectacled stick insects.

Winchester City's impressive collection of flags.
The match was entertaining. Winchester started off the better team, but Banbury scored first, the speedy Felipe Barcelos nipping through a gap in City's defence to lift the ball over Brendan Norris in the Winchester goal, much to the delight of the masses of Banbury fans behind the goal.

Goal number two followed before half-time, and this time it was Johnson hammering home from a cross from the right - the original Puritans couldn't ban all crosses from Banbury, after all. Frustration for the twenty or so travelling Winchester fans, but at least they had half-time to look forward to, when they could spend some time arranging their many flags at the open end - up went the flags of Iceland, Liechtenstein, an unidentified American state flag, a Winchester-Burnley friendship banner, and so on.

No more goals for Banbury in the second half, despite plenty of chances. Amongst the regular sounds of diesel-powered trains passing by, there was plenty of crowd noise - proper crowd noise, as opposed to the usual collection of separate voices, making sounds at the same time, but also individually distinct. Every time Banbury attacked, there was a roar from the covered terrace, which must have been inspiring for their players. However, it was Winchester who scored the final goal with 15 minutes left. A cross from the right by Zach Glasspool skimmed off the top of Bentley's head and settled in the far corner of the net.

Despite plenty of pressure, City couldn't score an equaliser. At the end of the game, the packed terrace at the Town End stayed behind to salute their heroes - red and yellow scarves twirling around, fists pumping the air. It feels good to be top of the league.

One very happy Banbury player meets his family pitchside after the final whistle.
Hmmm, rereading the description of the Spencer Stadium's surrounds above, it looks like I might have had a downer on the town (the Cherwell with its cargo of crisp packets, etc). Far from it - Banbury is not unpleasant. If you enjoy shopping, it has a large mall; if you prefer smaller shops, there are plenty of those as well, hidden away in the mediaeval back alleys. If you like food and drink, there are many pubs and cafes. Could I recommend the town's speciality, the Banbury cake? It's like a warm mince pie, but made with puff pastry - delicious! And of course, if you like football, the Spencer Stadium is bright, cheerful and welcoming.

This was a relatively big match compared to some that I've covered, so there's plenty of other match reports and photos around. If you go to Banbury's website, for example, you can read a match report, follow a link to watch a seven minute video of the game, and admire some action photos.

I shall upload some more of my own photos to the HAH Facebook group page shortly.

Next up on HAH will be visits to the final three Wessex League grounds that I've yet to feature, starting on March 12th in Wiltshire. See you then.