Tuesday, 31 January 2012

19. Blackfield & Langley FC

Turn left for Blackfield & Langley FC.
As you drive along the busy road on the west side of the River Test towards Blackfield & Langley, housing estates to the left, fields of horses to the right, trying to remember the speed limit for the particular stretch of road that you're on (was it 40, 50 or 60mph here?), you are suddenly joined by a line of leggy companions at the Hythe roundabout.

These leggy companions are a hundred feet tall, made of metal, and they follow each other in a precise military line as far as you can see to the south. They are joined together by lengths of wire which sag between them like skipping ropes for giants. You wonder where they're going.

After a couple of miles you veer a little to the left and what you think could be the giants' futuristic city is revealed: dozens of tall chimneys thrusting up towards the sky in the distance - this must be where the leggy giants live?

A few minutes later, you're travelling through the village of Holbury, which is where you guessed the chimneys were, but they are well hidden behind a bank of conifers by now. The metal giants stroll on past. They don't live here.

Give us a B! Give us an L! And so on, along the length of the hoardings...
Details
Blackfield & Langley FC (0) 0 v 2 (0) Alton Town FC
Sydenham's Wessex League Premier Division
Saturday 28th January 2012
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Attendance: 51
Club shop: No
Colours: Green / White / Green v White / Black / Black
National Grid reference: SU4402 / SU4403

Chimneys at Blackfield & Langley.
Your leggy companions are, of course, pylons, and they carry on past Blackfield & Langley's ground to Fawley Power Station, a mile to the south; the chimneys, however, stay where they are and poke up menacingly above the trees, seemingly watching the puny humans below with disapproval. Some have red "eyes" (aircraft warning lights) which make them look a little devillish. Others, with the addition of a few ribbons and bells, could be morris dancing sticks for vengeful gods, which is even more sinister. But really, they're merely chimneys, and they do a useful job of pumping out gaseous substances* at Fawley Oil Refinery.

* That's my useful job too.

Another chimney, and a fine twisting leap from this Alton Town player!
Studying the Ordnance Survey One Inch Map of The Solent for 1945 (that's a 2.6cm map these days - it took several thousand to cover the whole of the county...), you discover that most of today's large towns in the area were present and of roughly the same size, give or take a few acres. Along the Waterside, the villages of Fawley and Hythe are noticable - the former having hardly changed in size at all.

However, the oil refinery wasn't there back then - in its place was a country mansion with extensive grounds full of topiarised bushes and strutting peacocks. As for the settlements of Blackfield, Langley and Holbury...well, you need a magnifying glass to spot the former, and a particularly strong microscope to see the latter two hamlets. There can have been no more than fifty houses covering the three communities at that time. Considering Blackfield & Langley FC were founded in 1935, every able-bodied man, woman and child in the area must have had turn out for them in the early days to field a full starting XI.

Of course, the three hamlets expanded elephantinely when the power station and refinery were built. Now, if every able-bodied person in the immediate area were to play for the club at the same time, it would be a case of extreme cheating.

Streaky marmalade sky beyond Blackfield & Langley's stand.
Blackfield & Langley's history has been unremarkable. They used to play in Blackfield village, but moved to their new ground behind Gang Warily Community Centre approximately 20 years ago. Situated on a right-angled triangle of open land between villages, with a pitch and putt course to the west, and another football pitch to the east (there was a 2pm kick-off in progress next door during the first half, contested by Chelsea and AC Milan lookalikes), the ground is unfortunately covered in more graffitti than any other that I've been to so far. It must be so frustrating for their hard-working committee to have to deal with that unnecessary hassle. They seemingly can't leave anything out unguarded that can be broken, stolen or set on fire, so the ground was largely devoid of any of the interesting oddities that I sometimes come across at Wessex League stadiums.

GOOOOOAAAAL! 1-0 to Alton Town!
I was expecting some Brazilian-style silky skills from the hosts, as the Wessex League tittle-tattlers that I overhear when visiting other grounds suggest that they have the second-biggest budget in the league, and thus should be able to pay for any half-decent player that hasn't already signed for Winchester City. Something must have gone wrong here though, as they are drifting in lower mid-table. Maybe they signed Sven on as manager when he left Leicester City? Did he read about the local "leggy companions" and get the wrong end of the stick?

Alton Town are also mid-table, but their expectations must be a lot lower, so they will probably be happy with their FA Vase run this season and not being involved in a relegation scrap. If there was any pressure in this game, it would have been on Blackfield & Langley.

Manly hugs for the goalscorer as Alton pylon the pressure...
It probably goes without saying, but there were no Brazilian-style skills on display (unless it was skills from another sport - I noticed some useful piranha fishing moves during the first half). The skills were more German, although that may have been my imagination, as I thought I was watching Germany play themselves for a bit (away kit v home kit). The opening 45 minutes were high on effort, low on goalmouth action. Alton were the better side, and would probably have been ahead on most Opta statistical ratings, but they couldn't beat Blackfield's inspired keeper. The home side had their moments, but not enough to quell any grumblings from their fans dabbed around the railings.

You would think that a team playing in green might have a slight advantage, in that they would be virtually invisible to their opponents' defence, who would have trouble seeing them camouflaged against the backdrop of grass, hedges and trees. Perhaps, but this can work two ways, as it was plain that Blackfield's players must also have had trouble seeing each other - at least, this would explain their lack of accurate passing (this would also go some way towards accounting for Plymouth Argyle's league position).

Eventually, two quick goals by Alton's 9 and 8 had Blackfield at sixes and sevens. One low poke to the keeper's right, the next to his left, and that was that, bar a sending-off for the home side's number 11 during injury time - but just like Arsene Wenger, I was unsighted by a gaggle of players, so I don't know what his offence was.


...and two minutes later, it's 2-0 to the visitors.
It was a grim afternoon for the greens beneath the chimneys and pylons. I wish it could have been better for the sake of their convivial volunteers, but you can't win every week.

I plan on going to another match on 11th February, so the next report should appear early in the following week.

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