Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The 2011 Island Games: Western Isles v Åland

A proud supporter waves the Åland flag at the Newport FC Island Games bus stop.
I returned to the Isle of Wight on Monday to watch the match between Åland and the Western Isles, which took place at the island's largest football venue, St George's Park, in Newport. The weather was hot and dreary, with the occasional dollop of rain. The game itself wasn't particularly exciting - Åland were just a little sharper up front, otherwise the teams were evenly matched.

The Åland team pose for a group photo. It must be uncomfortable squatting like that for too long.
It was more interesting watching the other people in the crowd for a lot of the time. The Western Isles fans were on one side of the main stand; the Åland flag-wavers were in a small block to their right. There were between ten and twenty supporting each side, with the rest of the crowd of 152 being neutral. Nowhere near as noisy as the previous match I went to between Greenland and Rhodes, both off and on the pitch - both teams playing with a certain North European reserve.
This dog was being fed chips outside the snack bar.
The highlights on the pitch were the two second-half Åland goals, the second of which was an absolute cracker - a 40 yard lob over the goalie's head into the top corner. Very Matthew Taylor-esque in its execution (or for the Saints fans amongst you, Matthew Le Tissier-esque - that good!). The Scotsmen huffed and puffed, but were unable to break through at all. I would say that they weren't going to score in a month of Sundays, but as they don't play on Sundays due to their religious beliefs, that will always be the case! 0-2 meant that they were the first team to be knocked out of the tournament.
The second-largest football stand on the Isle of Wight.
I spent some time wondering where Åland is (I hadn't checked before I set off). I knew that it's in the Baltic, but I didn't know to which nation they belong, or what language they speak (Finland and Swedish being the answers!). The other thing that bothered me as I ate my half-time banana was the name of the little 'o' that resides on the top of the capital A in Åland (I still don't know!). I know a circumflex is a little pointy hat for French vowels; an umlaut is the double-dot of choice for heavy metallers the world over; and I know which way the acute and grave accents point in French. But the little 'o'? It's so Scandinavian and mysterious. I like it.
Keeper's ball! Another Western Isles attack comes to nothing.
I also wondered about the beautiful sandy beaches on Barra and Benbecula on the Western Isles. I wondered if anybody ever goes there to sunbathe; I wondered if the beaches were covered in smelly seaweed; I wondered if the sand was full of sandhoppers. I'd like to visit the beaches of Barra and Benbecula one day and find out for myself.
A fair challenge sees the Western Isles gallop forward.
I might see Åland again later in the week, as I hope to go back and watch some more matches on Thursday and Friday. After today's results, it appears that they have finished dead level with Saaremaa at the top of their group, after the Estonian island also beat the Scotsmen 2-0. Whether they will draw lots, or have a penalty shootout, or have a fishing competition on the Medina to decide the group winner remains to be seen.
Your number is falling off, sir!
I don't know who I shall see yet, but there will be further match reports and photos later in the week.
The official Team Åland water bottle.

The 2011 Island Games: Greenland v Rhodes

The Island Games banner at Brading.
The fourteenth Island Games are being held on the Isle of Wight this week. This is a mini-Olympics for 25 islands which don't have nation status, with over four thousand athletes competing in a wide variety of sports over the course of the tournament.

I have taken two trips over to the island so far, watching two of the men's football matches. The first of these was on Sunday at Brading Town FC, where the biggest island in the world, Greenland, were taking on the Greek footballers of Rhodes in the mid-afternoon sunshine.
Plenty of support from other Greenlandic athletes.
The match was hard-fought, but lacked a little in goalmouth action. Rhodes won a penalty midway through the first half, but it was tame and easily saved by the Greenland keeper. It reminded me of Kevin-Prince Boateng's hesitant pen for Pompey in the FA Cup final last year, not least because the two sides were wearing roughly the same kits (although Rhodes were in Chelsea blue, so it wasn't quite the same).
Flags flying above Greenland's Party Car.
The crowd were very much on Greenland's side. They had a big following from their own athletes. Their women's football team weren't playing on Sunday, so I assume it was them that were doing most of the chanting. A small group of English fans were also cheering the men in white on, singing such renowned ditties as "the referee's from Iceland" when the man in black was fooled by a Rhodes player's swan dive.

We were also treated to a selection of Greenlandic pop blasting from a car stereo throughout the second half. In case you're wondering, it sounds just like every other manufactured pop the world over, except sung in their own language. A bit disappointing really.
The Rhodes coach captured in a quiet moment.
The Greeks did manage to take the lead before half-time. A lofted free-kick was missed by the Greenland defence, and the Rhodes number nine managed to bundle the ball home from a yard out. Greenland's keeper kicked the post in frustration. All that preparation, and his team could effectively be heading out of the tournament after 30-odd minutes, what with only one team qualifying from the group of four.

The Greenland fans weren't the only noisy people in the ground. The Rhodes coach must have yelled every word in the Greek dictionary throughout the 90 minutes, with every gesticulation in the Greek semaphore dictionary as an accompaniment. In contrast, his team's substitutes only used the word "bravo!" I guess that's Greek for "well played!"
Rhodes clear the ball upfield.
Nothing much happened in the second half. Rhodes were content to keep the ball and make Greenland chase blue shadows in the very un-Arctic temperatures. They did manage to score a second ten minutes from time. Then still nothing much happened...
Greenland kit.
...until the board was shown to indicate four minutes of injury time. Then it all went hatstand. Greenland scored a few minutes previously, the ball being hooked in from six yards. Rhodes got wound up - their play-acting (which was always there or thereabouts) was turned up a few notches to eleven. They argued and time-wasted, for which their keeper was booked. Then one of their players stroppily pushed over a Greenlander (and at the far end of the pitch as well) - a sending-off. A minute later and a panicky mix-up in the Rhodes defence caused the goalkeeper to handle outside of his area - a second yellow, and he was off too. It took several minutes of arguing and harrumphing, but eventually one of the outfield players was given a goalie's shirt and play could resume.

The resulting free-kick was lumped in, the stand-in keeper grabbed the ball with all the goalkeeping skills of a newborn baby giraffe, and the ref blew for full-time.
The hot weather suited the Greek team.
2-1 to Rhodes in front of 202 enthusiastic fans at a pretty ground for just three quid. Most enjoyable!

More match reports to follow shortly.

Friday, 24 June 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 2004/2005

The glowing Spitfire attached to Eastleigh's stand (previously to be found on a bandstand in the town).
With the average age of a Premiership season ticket holder now being around 44, more than half of Pompey's regular supporters had never known their club to finish above Saints in their lifetime. However, it happened at last this season, as Agent Redknapp took the team in stripes down to the Championship in bottom place. Unbridled joy in the blue half of Hampshire; misery and suchlike in the red-and-white portion. Other notable performances in 2004/05 included Eastleigh's promotion to the newly-formed Conference South, and Lymington & New Milton's Wessex League championship, which saw them promoted to the Isthmian League. With restructuring in the non-league arena, the Wessex and Combined Counties Leagues found themselves at the same overall level for the first time, with the Southern, Isthmian and Wessex Leagues dropping a level to make way for the new Conference feeder leagues.

As a reminder, the numbers following the club names in the ranking table refer to their league's overall level in the English pyramid, followed by the club's position within that league. Hence, Pompey were at overall level 1 (Premiership), and they finished 16th.

Hampshire Top Twenty rankings, 2004/2005:

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

The new entry this time was VT FC, the works team of Vosper Thorneycroft in Southampton. They replaced their neighbours, Hamble ASSC (coincidentally, another works-sponsored club).

Friday, 17 June 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 2003/2004

Brockenhurst's club gate.
This season belonged to Winchester City (of whom I have precisely no photos as yet!) - Wessex League champions at the first attempt, but more impressively, the first senior Hampshire club side to win a national cup trophy in the current century, beating Sudbury in the FA Vase final at St Andrews. Pompey and Saints were neck-and-neck in the former's first season in the Premiership, with the latter just edging it by one position. It was to be Saints' last top ranking spot to date. In the battle of the bragging rights in the Blackwater Valley, Aldershot Town finished ahead of their local rivals Farnborough Town in Conference National. Lower down the pyramid, Havant & Waterlooville and Basingstoke Town qualified for the newly-formed Conference South by the narrowest of squeaks.

Top Twenty ranked clubs in Hampshire, 2003/2004:

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

The club to drop out at Winchester's expense was Blackfield & Langley. Onwards we go to 2004/2005 next week.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 2002/2003

Gosport Borough's large stand.
What a fabulous season for several of the county's clubs! Saints in the FA Cup Final; a magnificent Pompey squad storming to promotion from the Championship with just shy of 100 goals and 100 points; Havant & Waterlooville in the FA Trophy semi-finals (narrowly beaten by Tamworth); Aldershot Town winning promotion to the Conference; Winchester City reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Vase and gaining promotion to the Wessex League; AFC Totton winning the Wessex League Cup; and Eastleigh going up to the Southern League for the first time in their history, beating Gosport Borough to the Wessex League championship! Like I said...fabulous!

The Top Twenty ranked clubs in Hampshire, 2002/2003:

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

I would imagine that Winchester City were stronger than many of the clubs in the Wessex League this season, but they were in the Hampshire League. I rather suspect they may be the last-ever Hampshire League club to go as far as the quarter-finals in the FA Vase, unless restructuring brings the league back up the pyramid again. Alton Town were the new entry this season - they came in at the expense of Whitchurch United.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

21st Century Hampshire Top Twenties: 2001/2002

Saints moved in to their new stadium this season. It is just visible in front of the block of flats in the gap between the trees. I know, white-on-white, it's not very clear - but it is there, honest!
A static table this time around, with no new entries - just a little embarrassed shuffling around the nether regions, as it were. The only champions were Andover, who won the Wessex League for the second season running. Runners-up Fleet Town were promoted to the Southern League - presumably Andover either declined promotion, or they failed the ground-grading for the higher level. Farnborough Town did well, finishing seventh in the Conference, not far behind current Championship club Doncaster Rovers - they would never achieve such heights again. Saints ended up squished between Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough in Premiership mid-table, whilst Pompey had yet another narrow squeak, finishing four points clear of relegation from the second tier.

Another distant view of St Mary's - it's over the far side of the river, top centre.
The Top Twenty clubs in Hampshire, 2001/2002:

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

One of these clubs drops out of the Top 20 next time, to be replaced by A New Team! Who will they be?