Monday, 24 December 2012

A Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers II

Winchester City.
Another half-season gone, another collection of neglected groundsman's equipment ready to show! Following on from last year's Festive Parade and May's End of Season Round-Up, let's take a look at this autumn and winter's collection of rusty rollers (also featuring a bonus unloved mini-tractor)...

I started the season at New Milton Town, but their ground was as tidy as Margot and Jerry's living room in The Good Life, each and every blade of grass lovingly groomed and polished, every piece of groundsman's equipment carefully tidied away before the match so as not to offend the guests.

Winchester City.
I had to wait until my second match at Winchester City to strike rusty gold. One roller lying beside their pea-gravel running track, plus a rusty little tractor just beyond (if you look very carefully, you can see the roller again in the second photo). This would make a great, if slightly dangerous toy for visiting children if it could be pulled out of its clump of weeds.

Gosport Borough.
Gosport Borough was my favourite ground of the first half of this season. Not only did they have a magnificent old wooden stand, but there were three rollers nonchalantly dotted around the ground, especially for me! Number one was this bright orange motorised jobby (above). Potentially, another dangerous toy for bored eight-year-olds whilst the match is going on.

Gosport Borough.
Gosport's second roller was so enormous that I couldn't fit it in to the photo above. Situated next to the club shop and surrounded by cars, this big boy is presumably dragged sideways whilst flattening the pitch? I can't work it out at all. Head-explodingly confusing.

Gosport Borough.
Gosport's third roller is a much more sensible chappie. I can see how this one works - pulled along by a sturdy ex-dray horse, it looks ideal for smoothing out all that awkward lumpy turf around the six-yard box.

Totton & Eling/AFC Totton.

A similar roller was spotted on the training pitch between AFC Totton and Totton & Eling's grounds. Presumably shared by both clubs, it looked splendid in the bright September sunshine.

Fawley AFC.
I've already shown Fawley's main roller in their FA Vase match report from October. Here, you can see it again with its best friend, the manky old trailer.

Fawley AFC.
The lucky players at Fawley get a bonus roller outside their changing rooms. It can be seen on the former tennis court in the photo above. Very rusty indeed.

Fleet Spurs.
I had to wait until half-time at Fleet Spurs before I could find the abandoned roller in the photo above. Lying neglected beneath some fallen branches next to a container just outside their ground...the saddest sight any roller-lover could possibly imagine. I was in floods...

With no groundsman's equipment visible at Ringwood Town, the final roller for this half-season comes from Sholing's ground, or more accurately, from just outside their Silverlake Arena. Nicely proportioned, it is shared with the neighbouring cricket ground.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

32. Sholing FC

The sign by the turnstiles at Sholing FC.
I once knew a boy who had an A4 hand-drawn poster stuck to his wall, which detailed all the most mysterious episodes which had thus far occurred in his life. In his barely-formed, cuboid child's writing, he had titled it "Strange Happernings", double-underlined, and followed this with an illustrated list:

The number one strange happerning was the Transit of Venus, which had somehow captured his imagination, but closer to home was the mystery of the missing Mars Bar Big (it turned up eventually - it had fallen down the back of his chest-of-drawers); then came the mystery of the night light which kept on working despite the fact the batteries had been turned around within the casing (or was it the mystery of the somersaulting batteries which enthralled him?); and then, most spookily of all, the mystery of the can which fell off the shelf in the supermarket - despite there being no-one near it at the time!

On Saturday, I discovered a new strange happerning for him - the mystery of Tiverton Town's first goal. But I'll come to that later...

The old Vosper Thornycroft Pigeon Club building resides within Sholing's Silverlake Arena stadium.
Sholing FC (2) 2 v 2 (0) Tiverton Town FC
Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South and West
Saturday 8th December 2012
Attendance: 56 (or "few" as they would have printed in the paper in 1919)
Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Club shop: There may be items for sale in the clubhouse - I didn't go in. Various items are advertised on their website and in their programme as "for sale in the megastore".
Colours: Red and white stripes / black / red v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU4610

Intimidating balloons between the dugouts at Sholing.
Well, after two postponed matches in a row, I couldn't keep my eyes away from the weather forecast all last week. From the moment that Saturday's outlook first appeared early in the working week (sunshine was predicted), I returned to the BBC's local forecast at hourly intervals during every one of my waking hours. For the entire week, Saturday in Southampton was predicted to be relatively warm and sunny. Frost-free, rain-free, perfect football weather. I'd seen this before though for the previous weekend - when it came to the day itself, it was colder and cloudier, but still pleasant enough for December (I still don't know why the match at my intended destination, Hayling United, was called off last Saturday). I was as nervous as a piglet in a pork factory.

I was going to see the only team in Southampton who play in red and white stripes. Of course, this would have been Saints in just about every season ever since football began, but not this year, with the professional side playing in an old Liverpool kit for reasons best known to their marketing team. Semi-pro Sholing are the city's only stripy club now. They've been wearing these colours since changing their name from VT FC three years ago, presumably to attract Saints fans fed up with the professional game's excesses. It would save them having to buy a new bar scarf and bobble hat, anyway.

A side-on view of the seated area at Sholing.
Sholing FC have only been in existence as such since 2010, but their roots go back much further - to 1884, to be precise. The original Thornycrofts works team had a large number of Scots playing for them who worked at the shipyard in Woolston. This version of the club reached the First Round of the FA Cup in January 1920 as a Hampshire League side, drawing 0-0 with First Division Burnley at Fratton Park (they lost the replay 5-0).

The following season, they joined the Southern League when the original league became the Football League Third Division. They lasted one season, finishing bottom with four wins from 24 games - most of the league was made up of reserve sides of the clubs who had just joined the Football League, such as Pompey and Saints. AFC Bournemouth's predecessors, Boscombe, finished fifth that year.

The only other information I can find about this version of the club is that they played in the South Hants War League during 1917/18/19. Their results against Pompey (taken from Mike Neasom's statistical record of Pompey) were reasonably impressive, winning two, drawing four and losing five of their eleven matches. Crowds at Woolston were non-specific, ranging from "few" to "large" - 1500 being the only number in print.

Thornycrofts (Woolston) FC folded in 1952, but reformed in 1960. This new club became VT FC, and it was under this name that they were promoted to the Southern League in 2009. However, the following year, their parent company moved and they had to rename themselves. They chose Sholing FC after the area that they play in (changing their colours from yellow and blue to the current stripes). The name still causes some confusion, as I was asked if I meant "Sholing Sports" when I mentioned I was going there last week - Sholing Sports were the well-established local team who folded around twenty years ago when their ground was sold for housing - they came back a few years ago as a Southampton Senior League side, but have since disbanded again.

So, Sholing FC haven't quite established themselves in the local consciousness just yet, but I'm sure with a bit more exposure they will do so soon.

Behind the home dugout.
Cuts are everywhere these days. Whether it's cuts to Southampton council workers' wages, cuts to disability benefits, or millionaires' tax cuts, you can't avoid them. I've no idea whether Sholing have made cuts to their playing budget this season - they do seem to have kept most of last season's play-off-reaching high performers. What has been cut is their position in the league. After five successive seasons when they have finished no lower than fourth in whichever division they've been in, they are unexpectedly in a relegation position.

In tandem with the disappointing league position has come a cut in attendances. Saturday's must have been their lowest league crowd in all the time they've been in the Southern League. They generally pull in around 120, but only half that turned up for the Tiverton game. Christmas shopping and general seasonal money-saving must have played some part in Saturday's low turnout. I would have said that Saints being at home may have affected the attendance, but Row Z begs to differ in his recent analysis of non-league crowds. Perhaps the FA Vase match at nearby GE Hamble took a few local floating non-league fans away from the Silverlake Stadium?

An aerial battle between Lee Wort and a Tivvy defender. Thornhill's high-rise flats in the background.
Anyway, the fans that did turn out made a bit of noise, with long, low repeated growls of "Sho-o-o-ling, Sho-o-o-ling!" being heard from time to time in the first half. The two or three carloads of Tiverton fans were much quieter, but they had cause to be as their team went 1-0 down in the first minute.

A free-kick floated in from the right evaded the whole Tivvy defence. Lurking on the left beyond the six-yard area was ex-GE Hamble midfielder Lewis Fennemore, who side-footed the ball back at a precise angle (48 degrees) beneath the Tivvy keeper's dive.

The rest of the first half was scrappier than a Scrappy-Doo convention (although of a higher quality of scrappiness than a scrappy Wessex League game - still scrappy, but in HD). There were a few shots and saves, but not until the last minute of the half, as a cloud shaped like a fiery axolotl passed overhead, was there another goal. A Sholing player headed down towards the goal, the Tivvy keeper made a decent save, but the ball rebounded straight to another ex-GE Hamble player, Jamie Musselwhite, who nudged the ball over the line with the precision of a top bar billiards player. 2-0.

We were treated to some unusual half-time scores over the tannoy - we had the expected Premiership and Football League scores, but we also had the Polish Ekstraklasa and Irish Premier League scores read out as well - all mispronounced, but never mind, it's always nice to know how Pogon Szczecin and Dungannon Swifts are getting on.

I just really liked this cloud! It looks like a legless axolotl.
The second half was action-packed. If Action Man had invited Action Girl out for a hot date, they would have struggled to produce more action than Sholing and Tivvy. I'll condense all this excitement down in to four main bullet points for you:

1. The Strange Happerning!
  • Tiverton's first goal was extraordinary - Transit of Venus extraordinary. The ball flew in at waist height from the right. Tivvy's top scorer Joe Bushin, near the penalty spot with his back to goal, back-heel volleyed the ball over Sholing's flabbergasted net custodian Matt Brown. It dropped beneath the crossbar and produced a metallic ping as it hit the fence behind the goal netting. Everyone was as silent as the planes flying in to Eastleigh Airport in the distance. Silent, except for the sound of our collective jaws clanging on the ground, cartoon-style.

2. The Controversially Disallowed Goal!
  • Caught on the photo below, Lee Bright's headed goal was disallowed by the linesman for climbing. Sholing were not best pleased. Make up your own mind...

3. The Tiverton Jairzinho Wonder Goal!
  • Five minutes after Bullet Point 2, another superb goal by Tiverton Town. Described on Tivvy's official match report as being as good as Jairzinho's goal in the 1970 World Cup Final, but watched by 56 people as opposed to 560 million. Well, Tivvy do play in yellow, so there was some resemblance. One I'd love to see again, but no TV cameras at this match (sadface).

4. The Woodwork and After Match Handbags!
  • It was Tivvy all the way for the last 15 minutes. They nearly won in the last minute, only the post saving Sholing from a third home league defeat in a row. Then at the whistle, instead of handshakes, there was an outbreak of handbags, as they say on Match of the Day. Barry Mason was shown a red card for his part in the shenanigans, despite protesting his innocence.
With this result combined with a win for Yate Town, Sholing dropped to the bottom of the league on Saturday. However, I don't think they will be bottom for long. I've seen far worse teams than them in this league. On their second half performance, Tiverton looked good enough for promotion at the season's end.

The respective clubs' website match reports can be found here and here. Sholing's official photos can be found here, and Tivvy's here.

Sholing's disallowed goal.
I'm going to have a short break for Christmas now. You may see me at Fratton Park, Westleigh Park, or Romsey Town's By Pass Ground over the next few weeks, but I won't be writing about any of these games. The next report on here will be (weather permitting) in early January. Although I may post some photos of rollers in the meantime, you never know!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Start of a Beautiful Career in the Beautiful Game

Proudly holding aloft the Subbuteo Jules Rimet Trophy, won by me for Pompey in 1971.
A second successive postponement for a game I was intending to go (the only match off at levels 1-10 in the whole county this weekend) means no match report again this week.

Instead, it's a picture of me in my brand new Pompey kit, circa 1971! Proudly posing in our West Leigh (definitely not Leigh Park - we were too posh for that!) garden, Subbuteo Jules Rimet Trophy in my right hand, right foot resting on what I remember being a remarkably heavy orange-brown football, which was presumably meant for snowy pitches - I could never kick it more than a few feet, and it was very painful indeed attempting to trap it on my six-year-old thigh, so many rashes...Surely I was destined for big things in the game?

Well, no, my beautiful career lasted until the age of eleven, when my eyesight went and I had to wear thick, black-rimmed National Health specs - no good for heading the ball, you see. Oh, and my lack of fitness, complete absence of tactical nous, reluctance to respond positively to half-time teacup throwing...these all counted against me. Otherwise, I could have been Pompey's key performer under Alan Ball in the late 1980s. My eye for a killer pass and deadly instinct in front of goal could have made all the difference in 1987 (in my dreams)...

My mum had to sew that badge on herself, by the way. The shorts were the first to go, succumbing to a rip. I still have the socks (sorry, stockings) - last used playing five-a-side in my twenties, pulled halfway up my shins. Terribly faded now...

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Sun Sets Over Romsey Town

Spectacular colours over Romsey Town's By-Pass Ground.
Unsurprisingly, the match I was going to report on this week was rained off. I won't tell you where I was going, as I intend to return there in a week or two. I like to surprise you.

Instead, please accept these photos from rock-bottom Romsey Town's match last weekend against halfway-up-the-table Hamworthy United, taken as the sun went down behind the Romsey poplars.

A few minutes later, and the sun has almost disappeared.
Romsey lost 4-1. I fear that I may have brought misfortune upon them, choosing them as "my" local Wessex League club. Bottom of the league, eight successive defeats (or is it nine?)...

Nice sunset though.

(Like the jam in a Victoria sponge, this is filler...)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

31. Ringwood Town FC

The Canotec Stadium, Long Lane. Home of Ringwood Town FC.
Ringwood Town's fourth goal was ruddy marvellous. Opponents Hythe & Dibden had almost just scored themselves, coming close for the umpteenth time, the ball being cleared off the line by a boot, a knee, a buttock - I forget which. The defensive clearance was stroked to the right wing and Ringwood broke upfield, a skein of magnificent scarlet-chested geese flying north to their breeding grounds for the summer.

Passing from right to left along the V-shaped formation, honking with delight as they anticipated the climax, they flew up the pitch with masculine grace towards their goal - the goal. Rugby union apologists would have recognised this move - the backs streaming forward, passing the ball along the line until the fleet-footed winger receives the final pass, sidesteps a pair of lumbering, bescarred man-mountains and flings himself over the goal line with a magician's flourish.

So it was that Ringwood's young substitute, Charlie Heggan, received the final pass. He composed himself for a moment, then chipped the advancing keeper. The ball perforated the goal net like a triumphant goose spermatozoa penetrating a female's egg.

Ruddy marvellous.

Bicycle in sepia pay hut. Arty!
Ringwood Town FC (2) 4 v 0 (0) Hythe & Dibden FC
Saturday 10th November 2012
Sydenham's Wessex League Division One
Attendance: About 35
Entrance: £5
Programme: Not today, broken printer. Free teamsheets handed out instead.
Club shop: No
Colours: All red v Green / white / white
National Grid reference: SU1503

A side view of Ringwood Town's stand.
When you've finished reading this, go and have a look at the items at the back of your food cupboard. From mine, I've dug out a small box of star anise, a jar of coriander seeds, a bottle of sherry vinegar, a six-year-old opened packet of bulgar wheat - all bought for long-forgotten recipes - all important for a day or two, now lost and lonesome.

See also that mouldy box of seven-inch singles in your attic...once desired, treasured for a week or two, forgotten about a year later. This must be how a lot of non-league football clubs are perceived. Your local Wessex League club can become that unloved packet of bulgar wheat so easily. Ringwood Town must feel like that sometimes when only 20 or 30 people turn up to watch them on a Saturday. It wasn't always like this...

According to Norman Gannaway in his book "Association Football in Hampshire until 1914", there has been football played in Ringwood since 1860. Initially, players played informal games amongst themselves. The first recognised clubs in the area were formed in the late 1860s, nearby Fordingbridge Turks being officially Hampshire's oldest. The first club in Ringwood was Ringwood Hornets. I can see them now, impressively-moustached men in black and yellow stripy shirts, billowing white knickerbockers and tassled caps, fresh from a bracing run and several bouts of manly boxing, tossing a pre-match coin to decide whether the Association or Rugby rules would be adhered to.

Early opponents included Portsmouth Sunflowers, Bournemouth Rovers, and - my favourite - Total Abstinence of Basingstoke (no, I didn't make them up!). Bournemouth Rovers (now Poppies) were big local rivals in the early days of Hampshire football - they met in the first Hampshire Cup Final in 1885 (Rovers winning 1-0 by dint of a hotly-disputed goal). According to William Pickford, the Hornets "put six or seven forwards across the front line...they were the hardest team to flatten out".

Gradually, the Hornets (now Town) faded into star anise-like obscurity, spending most of their existence in the lower divisions of the Hampshire League, hidden away behind the much-used cereals and jams of the likes of AFC Bournemouth and Saints.

The stile council. The view from the allotments behind Ringwood's ground.
Ringwood Town's third goal was a dream. We'd only just come out of the clubhouse for the second half, entertained more by young Charlie Heggan waddling in on his knees to prevent his muddy studs ruining the polished floorboards than by the rugby match on the TV above our heads. As legless as a French frog. His mum would have been so proud of him.

The two clubs' committees, high up on the clubhouse stage, had only just finished their teas, served up in Ringwood Town's very best patterned china - cups with thimble handles and saucers to catch the drips. Biscuits too. A glass of cider for those on the committees who preferred something stronger. A crinkled old leather lounger available for those who needed to rest their weary limbs.

The rest of us could choose between a large mug of milky tea from the hatch on the left, or a cold bottle of lager from the bar on the right. The barman dug out two lovely bottles of Ringwood Best especially for a pair of long-distance travellers. It's what football clubs should be like everywhere.

I don't remember how the ball reached the Ringwood Town player 25 yards out from goal. I don't remember who it was that scored, but what I do remember is the ball nestling in the stanchion for a second before dropping over the line. I remember the arc, the perfect curve between football boot and destination. The speed and the distance travelled. Scientists could calculate the ball's velocity or the pull of gravity to the nth degree of mathematical arcania. I just remember the beauty of it all beneath the setting sun.

Waterloo sunset. Free-kick for Ringwood Town..
Ringwood Town's second goal was a relief.

Hythe & Dibden had attacked with verve and style throughout the first half. Consider this: I've seen them play four times now - they have scored three and conceded nineteen in those games (Horndean 1-3; Brockenhurst 2-6 and 0-6; Ringwood Town 0-4). They finished bottom of the Wessex League last season - this time around, they're bottom of the league again with one win all season. In the previous three matches, their defenders behaved as if they were required to stay two chevrons apart from the opposition forward line at all times. However, what's safe on the motorway is parlous on the football pitch.

This time, despite the four goals against, they were much improved, especially going forward. Well, until it came to scoring goals. A penalty saved, woodwork tickled, numerous other attempts, none of which bothered the statisticians. Hence the relief for Ringwood when the ball was hesitantly cleared from an all-arms-and-legs penalty box scramble just before half-time. Straight to a man in a scarlet shirt twenty yards from goal. Straight back into the net through the jumbled jungle of limbs and torsos.

Ringwood were chuffed, as you can see from the celebrations in the photo below. The Hythe & Dibden player on the right was quite plainly gutted. All this effort...for nothing.

Celebrating Ringwood's second goal with a raucous bundle.
There were no dogs at Ringwood Town on Saturday. There's nearly always dogs at matches at this level: polite puppies, hot shaggy doggies, Lassie...what better place to end up after a satisfyingly long walkies than your local football ground when there's a match on? Not here though. The Canotec Stadium is quite some distance from the town centre, reached via a pair of delicate, unlit country lanes. No buses pass by. It's pure car country.

The club used to play near to the town centre at Carver's Field. A short investigation reveals that when the sun goes down, this recreation ground - much like a thousand others, all over the country - becomes inhabited with slappers and kevs (a kev being someone who appears to have been struck in the face by a burning welly, apparently). No wonder they felt they had to move.

It isn't immediately clear when the move occurred - some time around the late 1960s or early 1970s, but Ringwood Town are now well-established at the Canotec (a printing solutions company) on Long Lane. The visitor will find a homemade stand and dugouts, photographed here by David Bauckham in 2004. The brick-built stand offers poor viewing partly due to the six white wooden poles holding up the roof, and partly from a blood-red floodlight pole directly in front of the three rows of wooden benches. However, I don't care - it has character and it would keep the crowd dry if it rains.

The most interesting structure is the double dugout building (joined together in the middle since the Pyramid Passion photo), created from whitewashed breezeblocks and corrugated iron. Built by skilled artisans, on a matchday it's filled with yelling coaches, keen young physios with first aid kits and sponges, and two gaggles of unused subs, feet up on the wooden frame in front, surveying the gaffer intently, waiting for their time to shine on the pitch.

All day and all of the night. Ringwood's homemade dugouts from behind.
Ringwood Town's first goal was a little fortunate. Their green-clad opponents had hit the post with a looping header in the first minute. By the third minute, they had broken clear at least twice more without reward. By the fourth minute, they were 1-0 down.

Ringwood's winger barged past a Hythe defender with the aggressive demeanour of an over-wound Battling Top. Whether the Hythe defence stopped because they thought there had been a foul, or because they thought the ball had crossed the dead-ball line, I don't know, but stop and wave to the ref is what they did. Whilst they were hesitating, the ball came to a Ringwood forward ten yards out, who appeared to mishit his shot into the bottom-right corner. I say mishit, because it arced in like a tiddlywink. He may have meant it that way, but it looked like a scuffer from the stand.

Thank you for the days. Ringwood's stand post-match. Also: red floodlight pole!
Walking off the pitch at the end of the match, Charlie Heggan took off his scarlet shirt, revealing a fetching black-and-white hooped vest beneath. The hero of the fourth goal walked off with his team-mates teasing him: "Oi, Charlie, you look like a burglar in that outfit! All you need now is a bag with SWAG written all over it!" I don't suppose he cared. He'd scored a goal that the old Hornets would have been proud of, with their six or seven forwards refusing to be flattened...

A grand day out at another friendly club, and yet another that I'd quite happily return to.

The next report should be in a fortnight or so.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

30. Fleet Spurs FC

Fleet Spurs FC play at Southwood in Farnborough.
Teaching your pet an Olympic discipline, part one: Cat Dressage.

Step one: Find your cat (probably asleep in a cardboard box somewhere).

Step two: Loosely tie a ribbon around each paw. Stroke your cat and whisper sweet nothings in its ear whilst doing this. It will not suspect a thing!

Step three: When the cat stands up, gently tug on a ribbon to lift up a paw. Repeat this step for each paw.

Step four: Play some rousing marching music on the stereo. Lift each paw in time to the music. Admire your prancing kitty. Repeat this step for at least five minutes a day for a fortnight.

Eventually your cat will want to prance by itself. Teach it to prance sideways by waving a piece of cod to its left...then to its right. Reward your cat with neck tickles and Sheba. Hope that Cat Dressage will replace Horse Dressage at the next Olympics. Dream of bringing back a gold medal from Rio. You and your cat invited to the garden parties of the rich and famous...

A big golden crisp at the Olympic Park.
Fleet Spurs FC (1) 2 v 3 (0) Stockbridge FC
Saturday 27th October 2012.
Sydenham's Wessex League Division One.
Entrance: £5 (included free sticker!)
Programme: Free with entry
Attendance: Officially only 2, but 18 counted
Club shop: No
Colours: Dark blue / Red / Dark blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU8355

Seats in front of the pavilion at Fleet Spurs. The cover above here made me happy when it rained.
Daydreaming about this alternative Pet Olympics just now reminded me about how marvellous the real thing was this past summer. I was lucky in the ticket lottery (actually, not that lucky - I realised the probable futility of applying for the popular events and planned accordingly...): volleyball at Earl's Court and hockey on the main Olympic site in East London - both sports that I'd played in the past before my body turned to mush.

Watching the female athletes of the Russian Federation, Dominican Republic, Brazil and the USA at Earl's Court, I finally realised how volleyball is meant to be played - you don't just stand around waiting for the ball to rebound off your elbow in the general direction of the opposition. No, there's more to it than that! Russia's Twin Towers (two 7ft blondes prowling by the net); the Dominican Republic's relatively tiny (6ft 2") dynamite Bethania De La Cruz De Pena; shaggy-haired samba star Sheilla (pronounced Shay-ee-la) of Brazil; and the USA's magnificent Destinee Hooker and Logan Tom showed me how to serve, block and hit with power and finesse.

So...I returned to the volleyball court after their lessons...and the ball hit me on the face, elbow, knee...same as usual. As useless as ever.

A massive defensive clearance from this Stockbridge player.
The second day out at the Olympics was on Great Britain's Super Saturday - the day that we won three gold medals in the athletics stadium. I was there for women's hockey - a tight game between New Zealand and the USA. But the main memory of that day will be the enormous crowds - not even on FA Cup final day at Wembley have I seen this many people in one place. The mass of bodies milling about like a flock of starlings at dusk from one part of the park to another, all going somewhere, mostly in the opposite direction to my group. It was just like walking between stages at Glastonbury, but surrounded by people that have had a wash recently.

I think Lassie's trying to tell us something...
From one extreme to another, and it was back to the Wessex League for me last Saturday. By studying the league website's attendance tables, I knew that Fleet Spurs have the lowest crowds in the league, averaging 8.75 so far this season, with a high of 12 and a low of 5.

As I set off from home, sun shining in the cloudless sky, I wondered why their crowds are so low (although it's all relative - the average for the whole league is only around 40-50). Is it because they were forced to move to the outskirts of Farnborough in 1998 when they were denied planning permission for floodlights at their old ground in Fleet? Perhaps they should have changed their name to Farnborough Spurs when they changed location? That may have brought in a few curious locals.

Or is it because everyone in this area supports a big club? They would rather watch Manchester United or Arsenal on the TV than come out and watch the less skilful players just across the road? Highly likely (and you can't imagine an Arsenal follower watching a team called Spurs anyway). Although, to be fair, this is the case in every town in the country.

Pondering these imponderables as I drove past Winchester, it clouded over. The chances of taking stunning photos of  the match with gorgeous shimmering Autumnal colours in the background receded.

My mind then wandered to what Row Z wrote about his visit to Hamble Club Reserves recently. In the comments section, we agreed that we felt a bit odd sometimes at clubs with very low attendances - it can sometimes be a bit like walking in to a locals' pub in the middle of nowhere. You feel as though everyone is staring at you, the stranger, even if that's usually just groundless paranoia. When a match is being watched mostly by friends, family and a couple of feckless ressies, you do occasionally feel as though you stand out a bit as a freakish oddball. I wondered if today was going to be one of those days.

The view from inside the pavilion. Condiments table in the foreground.
As it happens, the answer was "no". Despite me being one of only two paying customers at the turnstile, I was made to feel very welcome. Indeed, the fellow at the pay booth even offered me a lift to the station after the match as he recognised me immediately as a groundhopper - "football fans don't need us, but we certainly need them", he told me. As we stood chatting for ten minutes and nobody else turned up (it was fifteen minutes before kick-off), I wondered why so few local people come to this friendly club on a Saturday afternoon.

The official attendance was two, but as always, there were a few more people dotted around the ground - I counted 18 in all - club officials, non-playing players, undoubtedly one or two others who had sneaked in through the clubhouse without paying. Those of us that were there were treated to a decent match between two evenly-matched sides.

Spurs took the lead after five minutes when their number 8, Chris Musgrove, wiggled his way past Stocky's midfield and let fly from the edge of the box, and like a spectacularly accurate Rocket Ronnie O'Sullivan snooker shot, the ball found its way to the bottom left hand corner of the Stockbridge net in double-quick time (if it had been a Google search, it would probably have been calculated at 0.711 seconds). If there had been a stanchion, it would have hit it. But instead of a stanchion, Fleet Spurs have those curious new goals-on-wheels - I always expect them to wheedle round when a hard shot hits them, jerking like a Subbuteo goal when you knock it sideways with your thumb whilst manoeuvring the goalie-on-a-stick too quickly. This one stayed in place though. Square wheels, obviously.

Stockbridge score the winner in Fleet Spurs' goal-on-wheels. Yes, it was raining at this point.
Spurs remained 1-0 up until seven minutes in to the second half when Stocky equalised with a header. Two minutes later, the referee awarded a free-kick to Fleet a millimetre outside the penalty box's painted line on Spurs' left. The ball was chipped in and Musgrove skimmed it in off of his fringe.

Showers fell intermittently. Then, on 75 minutes, Stockbridge equalised for the second time. A hopeful shot from 25 yards deflected off a defender and bounced over the line with Fleet's keeper laying in the mud on the other side of the goal after anticipating the shot's trajectory as it left the attacker's boot. As an ex-keeper myself for my school team, I know how he was feeling (deflated, miserable, crestfallen, forlorn, woebegone - any or all of these, or any other keyword from a Morrissey song).

This meant that with 15 minutes to go, either side could win it. The teams were evens stevens on the day, despite the homesters being much higher up the league table. Chances came, chances went - past the post or into the keeper's arms until, with five minutes left, Stocky pumped a high ball in from the left. It bobbled around like a ballbearing on a bagatelle board before falling at the feet of Mike Barker, who swivelled and shot left-footed from ten yards. The result can be seen in the photo above...more forlornness from Fleet Spurs, but elation, jubilation, exhaltation from the Stockbridge nation.

A big late October sky above Fleet Spurs. The Nokia Building in the background.
I've spotted two official match reports - one on the Wessex League website, which may well also appear on the Fleet Spurs site when it is updated - the other on Stockbridge's excellent website (one of the best sites in the league, if not the best).

More pet Olympic disciplines? How about Rabbit Triple Jump...Bunny can already hop - the skip and the jump should follow with patience. I'm sure you can think of others.

The next match report should be in two weeks, barring weather calamities or other unfortunate events.

Monday, 15 October 2012

29. Fawley AFC

A friendly welcome sign for visitors to Fawley AFC.
This is the story of the Fawley flame. It's not a true story, and all the characters within it are fictional. Don't believe a word you read.

A gang of teenage boys are gathered around a pub table on the Waterside (the collective name for the villages squished between Southampton Water and the New Forest). A typical mixed group of the cocky and the dysfunctional. Anthony has been sitting there all evening, scraping dead skin off of a wart on his left index finger whilst listening to Ryan boast about his latest female conquest. Anthony's face is cratered with old acne; his pullover emits a slight odour of vinegar, as his mum hangs out the washing to dry in the kitchen whilst cooking chutneys for holiday money. He leaves his wart-slicing Swiss army pen-knife on the table as he wanders off to the gents, fed up with his alpha male companions.

When he returns, Ryan has opened up all the various knife blades, saws and scissors, and his mates are throwing the pen-knife towards each other, playing a dangerous game of catch with what they have named the spinning death star. Anthony asks for it back, but they tease him by standing up and throwing it over his head in the world's stupidest game of piggy-in-the-middle.

The landlord sees what is happening. The boys have been getting rowdier as the evening progressed and a timid pair of strangers on a date have walked out, nervously glancing towards the noisy table on their way to the door. The landlord likes the boys - they are regular Saturday night visitors, spending a great deal of money at the bar on beer and nuts, and on the triv machine in the corner without ever winning more than a couple of quid in return. He sees himself as a young man in them and doesn't want them to leave and never come back. Even so, they need to be calmed down...

Bench seats in the new stand at Fawley.
Fawley AFC (1) 1 v 2 (0) Bemerton Heath Harlequins FC
FA Vase 1st Round Proper
Saturday 13th October 2012
Entrance: £5
Programme: £1
Attendance: 50-ish
Club shop: No
Colours: Dark blue / Dark blue / Light blue v Black and white halves / Black / Black
National Grid reference: SU4304

Silhouetto allegretto. A sunny day on the Waterside.
...the landlord approaches the table and asks the boys to stop throwing the death star. They acquiesce immediately and settle back down to carry on drinking. The landlord scrapes a wooden chair along the tiled floor and sits down between Anthony and Ryan. He makes a little small talk - asks them what they do for a living and suchlike, before letting them know that he's just had a text from his mate who works in the safety booth at the oil refinery. Apparently, the Fawley flame has just gone out. This is a very bad thing.

You can see the Fawley Oil Refinery for miles. It's visible to walkers and horse riders in the nearby New Forest National Park; you can see it from the Isle of Wight; take a lift to the top of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, a good twenty miles away, and the chimneys and flare stacks poke up rudely above the non-specific greyness of the surrounding land. And there's always a flame burning at the top of one of the flare stacks, gobbling up excess poisonous gases.

The landlord's mate had texted him to say that the flame had gone out and that it was panic-stations in the refinery. He suspected a vacuum had somehow been created within the stack which may have caused a backdraft. The flame was making its way slowly down the stack. If it reached the bottom, there was an open tank full of crude oil nearby, and if the flame met the oil, then there was no way to avert disaster. The refinery would go ka-boom! and take half of Hampshire with it.

The boys listened quietly. Seven pints never felt so sober. Ryan made his excuses and left. The others followed him. In ten minutes, they were far enough away to feel safe.

But they were back the next week, older and wiser and a little less cocky.

One of two home-made shelters at Fawley AFC.
Now, this is a true story: Fawley AFC were once part of the Esso Sports and Social Club, one of many works social clubs in the area. Big companies used to believe that a healthy worker is a good worker. Until some manager making a name for himself decides that, with profits down to merely £2bn in the last quarter, savings need to be made. The social side of the enterprise makes no money, contributes little, and the fifty-year-old buildings need repairing or replacing. Time to cut them adrift. Nice fat bonus to go with the company car and first-class air travel for Mr Go-Places. Decaying infrastructure for the workers to maintain.

Thus, in 2002, Esso (Fawley), became Fawley AFC, run by independent volunteers as part of a larger sports and social club in Holbury (the actual village of Fawley is a couple of miles away to the south-east). Founded in 1923 as AGWI United (not sure what those initials stood for!), changing their name to Esso (Fawley) in 1949, the club have never been very successful. Trophies won include the Southampton Senior Cup (1935), Hampshire League Division Three West (1953), the Southampton Wednesday League (1961 and 1968), the Southampton Senior League (1980 and 1988), and finally Hampshire League Division Three (1995). Actually, written down like that, I've seen worse imaginary trophy cabinets!

A splendid rusty roller at Fawley.
The trophy at stake on Saturday was the FA Vase, the Football Association's knockout competition for clubs below step 4 (Southern League around here) of the national league system. Wessex League clubs have had reasonable success in this competition - Wimborne Town and Winchester City have both held the trophy aloft; AFC Totton have been beaten finalists; Poole Town were semi-finalists just two seasons ago; and last season, Bournemouth Poppies went all the way to the quarters. Of today's combatants, Bemerton Heath Harlequins reached the fifth round in 1999, whereas this is only Fawley's second-ever entry. Last season, they won two matches before losing to South Park (no, not that South Park). This season, they beat Hamworthy United in the previous round. Up until now, all their ties have been away from home, so Saturday's match created a tiny (really really tiny) piece of football history, as it was their first-ever home match in the Vase.

A fact about Fawley? How about Britain's longest pier? There's no slot machines, funfair or dirty dancehall on this pier - it's strictly for tankers delivering oil.

And another fact? There's a theatre at the sports complex. They'll be doing Calendar Girls - the story of the WI creating a stir with a naked calendar, I believe - between 18th and 20th October if you're down that way. Now, did the WI in Fawley's original name, AGWI, stand for Women's Institute? That would be novel.

FA Cup heroes Blackfield & Langley are Fawley's nearest footballing neighbours - just 1500 metres to the south - Mo Farah could run there in four minutes. As B&L were also in FA Vase action on Saturday, it was a pity they couldn't stagger kick-off times on what was Non-League Day - I'm sure plenty of people would have gone to watch both games as the two grounds are so close (for the record, B&L won their tie 5-1 against Westbury United).

A ticking off and a yellow card from the ref.
To reach Fawley's pitch, you have to walk through the main entrance of the Waterside Sports and Social Club and be waved through to the glass door opposite by the man at the desk. Through the second door, down a ramp and past the boxing club on your right. The shadows on the walls were as crisp as a freshly-snapped Ryvita on this glorious early Autumn day. The football pitch is in the far corner of the complex, beyond the bowling green, rugby pitches and cricket scoreboard. As entry is so strictly controlled, and with all potential entrance points covered in barbed wire, the area has no sign of vandalism of any kind - no graffitti here (such a big problem at Blackfield & Langley). Equipment can be left safely lying around - no chance of anyone walking through the clubhouse with a rusty roller in tow.

There's a friendly welcome at the pay hut. As you walk in, there's Pinky & Perky's Bistro to your right (tea £1). Beyond the bistro are changing rooms in rusty green containers, sited on an old tarmac tennis court. The high fences surrounding the disused tennis court are still in place, which prevents spectators from watching the match unobstructed from behind and to the right of one goal. You can walk past the changing rooms though to the right-hand side of the pitch, where two small home-made shelters are bisected by brick dugouts. Beyond the second shelter is a large shed with a green door (Shakin' Stevens would approve).

On the opposite side is a new stand with wooden bench seats. The far end is out of bounds, so effectively, the ground is two-and-a-half-sided! Plenty of room for their average crowds of around fifty though. I liked it.

Pinky and Perky's Bistro, AKA the refreshments hut at Fawley AFC.
Fawley took the lead in their first-ever home Vase tie in the 20th minute - a low rasper from the edge of the box after Bemerton failed to clear the danger zone. Other than the goal, the first half was fairly even and uneventful. The second half, on the other hand...

...again, action-free for the first ten minutes...until Bemerton's number six was shown a red card for an elbow on a Fawley player as they both chased a loose ball. Not unusual, except the hot-headed Harlequin then threw the ball at the ref as he reached in to his back pocket. The ball bounced off the ref's forehead and out of play near the dugouts. The crowd of 50 or so gave a collective gasp - enough sucking motion to change the direction of the sooty smoke belching out of one of the tall chimneys behind the theatre. The talk was all about how long the ban would be. "A minimum of five matches" seemed to be the consensus.

For the final 35 minutes, the match could have been played out on the stage of the aforementioned theatre, with the referee playing the part of the baddie in the eyes of the home crowd, as well as the miffed away supporters. Fawley tried to hang on to their lead, but ten-man Harlequins were having none of it, as they bought a parking permit for Fawley's penalty area for the remainder of the game. The inevitable equaliser came via a penalty - Bemerton's spot-kick maestro was as cool as a bucket full of liquid nitrogen as he waited for the goalie to move to his right. Penalty duly slotted to his left.

As full-time approached, talk turned to whether there would be extra-time and penalties if it remained 1-1. Nobody seemed to know. However, a second penalty for the team from Wiltshire put paid to this collective conversation. The ball appeared to strike the chest of a Fawley defender as it flew towards goal, but the ref signalled handball. By the trotters of Pigling Bland! The man in black was not popular!

Penalty number two was walloped with aplomb to the keeper's right. There was no coming back for poor old Fawley after that. The team from Salisbury went in to the hat for Monday's second round draw - they will travel to St Austell in Cornwall on November 17th. They could visit the Eden Project whilst they're there. Make a day of it.

After the match, it's across the fields to the shower block.
A fine afternoon out beside the oil refinery chimneys. Another club added to my ever-lengthening list of ones to revisit over the coming long as the Fawley flame behaves itself.

I would have liked to go to another Vase match in the second round, but sadly, all three of my remaining unvisited clubs were knocked out on Saturday. I'll be concentrating on the league for the rest of the season then, same as Fawley.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Totton & Eling Team Tab

There's a Totton & Eling team tab hidden somewhere in this old scrapbook page! See if you can spot it!
At the end of every summer in the 1970s, Shoot! used to give away league ladders for the new season. Over a period of three weeks, you would receive the ladders themselves in the first week (league tables for England and Scotland with slots for each position within each division), then the team tabs for each English and Scottish league club. The idea was that you would update each division with the team tabs as and when matches were played.

So, you would dutifully start the season doing just that, but after a few weeks it became a little, well, boring. So, you would take them all out of the ladders, put them in a pewter tanker, shake them up, and draw out ties for the British Cup (which was surely just around the corner in reality - you were just doing the draw before Bert Millichip could get his hands on his 128 numbered balls and do the first-ever real draw). "And Coventry City will play Hibernian, in surely the tie of the round..."

The team tabs were slathered in useful information from the mid-70s onwards. The club's name would be in its colours on the visible part, but underneath, on the invisible iceberg-like bit, would be the name of their ground, year of formation, nickname, and most intriguingly, their record gate (e.g., Pompey's was 51,385 v Derby County - I've been in 40,000+ crowds at Fratton Park, but that ain't going to happen ever again!). I would learn all of these things off by heart and would wish that one day I could be in a record attendance.

Well, I may have done this at last, after 40 years of trying. The 230 at Totton & Eling's Millers Park for their FA Cup tie with Weymouth might well have been a ground record (probably not a club record - they must have bettered that at Southern Gardens in the 1940s or 1950s. I don't know for sure, and I don't expect anybody else does!). Anyway, to celebrate, I made a Totton & Eling team tab with the following vital information:

Totton & Eling (red lettering on a black background - club colours)
Millers Park
Formed: 1925
Record gate: 230 (in invisible brackets afterwards: "I was there!")
The Millers

I added it temporarily to an old scrapbook, just to see what it would look like (see illustration above). It looks good there, in amongst all the Sun soccerstamps!

Terry Paine, circa 1971.
From the same scrapbook, here's a picture of Saints legend, Terry Paine. Bradley Wiggins, eat your heart out! That's proper sideburns!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

28. Gosport Borough FC

Go Sport! Boor Hug!
Oh, September! The summer holidays are over. Children return to the fetid house of germs, also known as school. Children swap Pokemons, football cards and various lurgies. Children pass on interesting new illnesses to their poor old dads.

One poor old dad has fevered semi-sleep. Suffering, tossing, turning. Ludicrous lifelike dreams. Appears on a new, cheaply-produced programme on the specialist channel, Evostik TV - Anagram Fans. "Welcome to Anagram Fans! Each week, we give a list of football clubs to supporters of teams in the Evostik North and South Leagues. They have to produce succinct and hilarious anagrams from these football club names. The winner is the fan who scores the most on the studio audience's Rattle-ometer!

First up, representing Gosport Borough, is Andrew! Andrew, you have thirty seconds to create the best anagram you can out of your own club...Gosport Borough!"

The magnificent old stand at Gosport Borough FC.
Gosport Borough FC (2) 2 v 0 (0) Bideford AFC
Saturday 22nd September 2012
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round
Attendance: 232
Entrance: £9
Programme: £1.50
Club shop: Yes, badges £3.50. The original shop was burned down during the summer, so stock is quite limited at the moment. However, if you want scarves, beanie hats, old programmes, they're all there.
Colours: Yellow / Navy blue / Navy blue v All red.
National Grid reference: SZ5999

Jock's Tea Bar in front of the big old stand at Gosport Borough.
Thrashing and dribbling, the half-awake half-man panics. "Um, 30 seconds...gosh, er...GO, er, SPORT...BOOR HUG? No, no, that's not very good...must think of something else...GO...PORTS? Oh, lawks...GROT SOP BOG HOUR?" Time's up and GO SPORT BOOR HUG is the best he can do. Red-faced with embarrassment, he blurts out his useless anagram to the audience...

...who go wild! The Rattle-ometer (which consists of a hundred enthusiastic, bobble-hatted, bar-scarved rattle-twisters) pops up right to the top! Poor old dad, who thought his anagram made Gosport Borough sound like a particularly badly-named club from the Dutch regional leagues (definitely not as good as Go Ahead Eagles of Deventer*), wins the Anagram Fans trophy - a silver dictionary on a stick. It was almost worth the sleepless night.

*Interesting fact: Early in their history, Go Ahead had to change their name from Be Quick, by order of the Dutch FA.

Gosport Borough attack.
Back in the real world, with poor old dad having recovered from his rancid fever, Saturday was FA Cup day at Gosport Borough's Privett Park (or Palace Privett as they call it - an ironic twist on Pompey's Fortress Fratton, given that neither side have won a league match at home so far this season). Boro had won through to the match against Bideford after shenanigans aplenty in their previous match against luckless Bashley, when a corner was given instead of a goal by the match officials after Gosport's keeper had kicked the ball out through a hole in the side netting (which, incidentally, had been fixed by last Saturday!). Bashley irate; Gosport perhaps a little embarrassed, but there was nothing anyone could do as the FA didn't order a replay. The competition had to go on.

It was a fine day on the Gosport peninsula - one of those days when you believe you can reach out and shake hands with the Isle of Wight, four miles distant on the other side of The Solent. My son lost his first tooth whilst eating a packet of crisps at Gosport submarine museum a few years ago - which is the only personal anecdote I have of the town. It's not really a place that you pass through on the way to anywhere else, so I've never spent much time there.

My last visit was for Boro's match against AFC Totton, which the visitors won to gain promotion. I took a few photos of Privett Park on that occasion, but failed to take any of the colourful and eccentric Harry's Shed, reasoning that I would be coming back another time and could take a few pics then. I didn't realise that the distinctive home-made shack with garden bench would be replaced by a new stand by my next visit. You can see it here in a set of photos taken by the excellent David Bauckham.

Celebrating in front of the new Harry Mizen Stand.
The new Harry Mizen Stand is fine, but it's got nothing on Boro's superb old main stand. Built in 1937 (seven years before the club were even formed!), this is my favourite structure at any non-league ground in Hampshire. Wooden step-seats, worn down by years of agonised squirming, make their way up to the back, which is painted dark blue with the letters GOSPORT BORO spaced out in bright yellow paint along its length. At intervals, dried out ivy has tried to break in through the back, but didn't get very far. Pigeons roost in the stanchions at night - fans avoid sitting on the seats directly beneath their perches. In the middle is an old-fashioned press box, with just enough space for three reporters, their cheeseburgers and polystyrene coffee cups. In front of this is the directors box, with its slightly more comfortable seats. The whole stand has been well-maintained over the years, so I hope it lasts for many more moons yet.

To be honest, I've spent more time around the Bideford area than I have in Gosport, during a couple of North Devon holidays. Memories include watching a sheep race at The Big Sheep ("The best day of your holiday, baa none!"), and of wearing a stripy gnome hat whilst walking around the nearby Gnome Reserve ("Discover a pixie flitting over clumps of comfrey!"). Happy days!

I was present at Fratton Park in 1978 for a First Round Proper tie against Bideford. I don't remember much about it - I know Pompey won 3-1 and that there were over 10,000 people there (possibly the most ever to watch Bideford play?). Did the Devon club play in red and white stripes? Or was that Minehead the previous season? I know that Pompey were relegated to the Fourth Division that year. If I believed in omens, I probably shouldn't have watched Bideford again this season...

By the way, did you know that Pompey are only one of two of the longer-established Football League sides never to have lost to non-league opposition in the FA Cup? I think the only way that they will keep up that record this year is to avoid being drawn against one. A virtual clap on the back to anyone who can name the other lucky club.

A ticking off from the ref for this errant Bideford player.
Back to Saturday's match, and Gosport were magnificent in the first half. Ex-Pompey, Cherries and Hawks man Sammy Igoe (who I once saw at a cashpoint in Hedge End) strode around the midfield like a pocket colossus, nonchalantly setting up attack after attack with a subtle nudge here, a deft flick there, accuracy his middle name. Bideford's goalkeeper had shots raining in on him with the frequency of a meteor shower in the dying days of the dinosaurs.

For all their immense pressure, Boro didn't score until the 23rd minute, but by the bushy tail of Squirrel Nutkin, it was worth waiting for! Chisel-jawed centre-back Brett Poate controlled a loose clearance 25 yards from goal, took aim, and curled the ball around the entire Bideford defence (and one of his leaping team mates, if this photo is telling the truth), battering the ball against the inside of the left-hand post, from whence it settled up against the far side of the net. The ball may well have had a satisfied smile on its face from a job well done - the best goal I've seen so far this season, for schizz.

Goal number two (and surprisingly the last, as Boro should have won by four or five) came fifteen minutes later after Justin Bennett had wiggled past the left side of Bideford's defence with the mesmerising hip-shaking agility of a teenage Elvis, before passing to his team-mate Luke King to wallop home from three yards.

Gosport Borough's press box humming with half-time activity.
The wind changed direction at half-time, blowing in from the north. The first fingers of icy coolness of the autumn. The last time I'll be warm in a t-shirt at a match until at least next April. The chilly wind cooled Gosport's attacks down a little in a more even second half, but they still deserved their victory.

The visitors from Devon did have some chances, causing Gosport's custodian Nathan Ashmore to fly through the air like a levitating superhero for one particularly spectacular save, and then hitting the post in the second half during their only really threatening period of the game.

At one point Bideford shot in to the side netting. Of course, their fans claimed a goal, but the officials were having none of it. I suspect Gosport will be sick of this joke over the coming weeks and months.

Overhearing some Boro fans on the way out, it appeared that they wanted to play local rivals Fareham Town in the next round. However, the Creeksiders had already fallen at home to Blackfield & Langley in their tie just a few short miles to the north. Instead, Gosport will travel to Conference South Bath City in a fortnight. Two more wins and they will be in the First Round Proper.

Bideford kept their substitutes' number boards in a reusable carrier bag.
This may well have been my last FA Cup report this season, as non-football duties take precedence on the days of the next two rounds. Shame, as the early rounds of the cup are most enjoyable - the clubs involved usually give it their all, hoping for an eventual glorious glamour tie against a Football League club (or at least a big Conference club).

Newport (IW) have been the most successful of the clubs that I've featured to date, as they went on to win two more ties, before losing to Salisbury City on Saturday; Winchester City and Weymouth both lost their next matches after being featured on here. Gosport Borough will have to win away at Bath City in the Third Qualifying Round to outdo the latter pair. If they can repeat Saturday's performance, they have a chance.

Gosport Borough's official match report is here. Bideford's is here. The full set of photos from Gary Spooner on Football Grounds In Focus is here. David Bauckham's photos are here.