Monday, 26 March 2018

Overton United v Paulsgrove

Respect before kick-off.
You know that game Consequences where you're in a group and you take it in turns to write down names and places and what people said on a piece of paper and you fold the paper over and over so that everything is hidden and then you open it up at the end and the consequence is always the same because nobody can think of anything funnier - "they got married, had three children and lived happily ever after"? (He was called... She was called... They met at...blah blah know the one). Well, if Consequences was real life recently it would go something like... "He was called Andy...The match he was going to was XXX v YYY at ZZZ Recreation Ground...and come Saturday, the consequence was - it rained overnight, the pitch was waterlogged and the match was off".

Over and over again.

Whatever has it been like recently? Every Friday and Saturday it tips it down with rain or snow or cats and dogs and frogs or whatever else is up there in the sky above us.

Until this Saturday. At last!

Overton United's clubhouse and changing room facility.
Overton United FC (0) 0 v 2 (2) Paulsgrove FC
Saturday 24th March 2018
New Forest Care Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Attendance: About 40 standing around the pitch, plus a few more watching from the bar.
Admission: By donation (a box was brought round)
Programme: No, but there is a monthly club newsletter called Touchline.
Colours: Blue and white stripes / white / blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU5149

I've featured both Overton and Paulsgrove previously this season - Overton in the Hampshire Intermediate Cup at Bishop's Waltham, and The Grove at home to Stockbridge. During Overton's match, I got chatting to joint-manager Gary Savory and said I'd pop along and see them before the end of the season. So I did.

Overton appears to be a prosperous village. Situated around four miles west of Basingstoke, I would guess it's a perfectly pleasant place to live. There's quite a few thatched cottages near the village centre, with plenty of newer houses radiating out from there. The first shop I saw was selling guns (for the sporting community, presumably). I seem to remember when I first visited neighbouring Whitchurch, the first person I saw was carrying a gun - I suppose he bought it from here. He must have been going out to hunt rabbits or pheasants or clay pigeons.

St Mary's Church.
I too was hunting on Saturday, as I often am. I was hunting for new beers to add to my Untappd beer list app. I noticed before I set off that The White Hart had a beer from the Upham Brewery that I'd not tried before, so I popped in pre-match for a cheeky half. That'll be nearly 200 unique types of beer since I signed up 6 months ago then...I'm not obsessed, honest.

Another phone app I've had since Christmas is the Groundhopper app, which some of you might know about. On here, you record all the matches you go to and the grounds that the matches are played on. Not every club or ground is on there - so, Overton's ground is on there (so users can record their visits to Overton Recreation Centre), but Overton United FC are not (I don't know why).

Amongst all the other stats it produces, it ranks its users as "Top Fans" for each club. Apparently, I'm "Top Fan" of several local clubs (because I've seen them play more than anybody else using the app - obviously the number of app users are tiny compared to the number of fans out there, so it's just a bit of fun). Along with the likes of Romsey Town and AFC Stoneham, I'm Paulsgrove's top fan, having seen them play, ahem, five times (like I say, I'm clearly not their top fan in real life - their proper fans have better things to do than record their every movement on phone apps).

Smiles for the winded defender, Jake Warlow, after he was accidentally nutted by his keeper.
So I was out hunting for new beer and a new football ground, as I'd never been to Overton United before. What's it like?

As with most grounds in the Hampshire League, the pitch is situated on a recreation ground. There are tennis courts in one corner and a cricket square in the middle. The pitch is placed next to the Bridge Street Pavilion, which contains the changing rooms and an upstairs members' bar. I would guess this was built in the 1970s, but I could be wrong.

Behind the bottom end of the pitch runs a mill race. This shallow water feature was full of chattering ducks. Throughout the match, I could hear alarmed quacking as a gaggle of over-excited male mallards chased a single female mallard, presumably in the hope of mating with her and passing on their genes to the next generation of ducklings. I wonder if they record the number of ducklings produced from their loins on a phone app?

Where there's water near a football pitch, there needs to be a method of retrieving stray balls from that water, so there was a fishing net sat ready on a bench for that purpose.

As you can see from the pictures here, the main feature at Overton United, and what makes it a particularly attractive ground, is St Mary's Church, positioned on higher ground above the pitch to the north. There must have been a children's party going on when I arrived, as mums and dads and small boys and girls came traipsing past during the first half carrying helium balloons on sticks. One child asked "Daddy, is that a rugby match?"

Daddy said it wasn't.

Corner for Overton.
It certainly wasn't a rugby match, because if it was, I'd have turned around and driven away. I really don't understand that game. Football is so much simpler. Get a round ball, pass it around a bit with your feet and/or head until your team nears the opposition target, then try to get the ball in to that target more times than the other team to win. That's basically it.

And that's what Paulsgrove did twice. Their first goal came after 16 minutes as Tommy Woodward was played through the centre. He chipped the ball over the advancing Sean O'Brien in Overton's goal, under the bar, between the posts, nestling in the net.

Grove could have argued that O'Brien shouldn't have been on the pitch, as he'd handled outside the area after just three minutes. However, referee Chloe-Ann Anderson deemed that there were enough covering defenders to have made it not a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Anderson was busy again just after the opening goal, when a spot of handbags broke out by the clubhouse. Paulsgrove defender Craig Ralph moved his head towards an opponent. There was no contact, but enough intent was shown to warrant a red card. So the away side were down to ten men with 70 minutes still to play.

Celebrating Paulsgrove's second goal.
When the going gets rough, the players get tough. Grove doubled down, determined not to let Overton through. It really wasn't noticeable that Paulsgrove had one less player as they fought for every ball. After all, they're in a great position to win the league - if their season had been fizzling out, maybe Overton would have had a better chance, but tackle after tackle went in and there was no way through for the home team.

There was more controversy after 31 minutes as Paulsgrove thought they'd scored a second, but it was ruled out by the club linesman for offside. The Grove swore he was wrong. I couldn't work out why as I was too far away, but there may have been someone on the goal line playing their player onside? I don't know.

They did get their second, and what proved to be the final goal of the game, after 41 minutes, Danny Lane thumping in a header from close range. The shirt-over-the-head celebration followed, as you can see above.

There were few chances for either team in the second half. Paulsgrove defended their two-goal advantage well. Overton could never quite break through, as I'm sure they would have done against a less resilient side.

Oh, and it rained. I wondered where the rain had gone...

Aw, can I play?
The result leaves Paulsgrove in a strong position. Their biggest problem in the run-in is that they still have 13 matches to play before 28th April, whereas their main rivals for the title, Bush Hill and Infinity "only" have ten to go each. All three have to play each other in the last month, so these "mini-league within a league" games will be crucial. However, they must also avoid slipping up against their other opponents, which is surprisingly something Infinity didn't do at the weekend at Colden Common.

Overton United will finish in mid-table this time out, although I can see no reason why they shouldn't be challenging for a top five position next season.

Thank you to Overton for the friendly welcome.There will be more pictures from the game posted on the HAH Facebook page later this evening.

I'm not going to speculate on where I'll be reporting from next. Wherever it is, could the sun come out just for a few minutes? Please! And could there be a beer I've not recorded before in a nearby pub? Pretty please!

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