Monday, 30 April 2012

A Drizzly Day in Havant

Just like Showaddywaddy under the moon of love.
They said it was the biggest match in Havant & Waterlooville's history. They said it was bigger than the FA Cup 4th round game at Anfield four seasons ago when the Hawks grabbed the mighty elephant of Liverpool FC in their talons, lifted it into the air and ripped into its leathery flesh to lead 2-1 at one point. Bigger than the tussles against Swansea City in the previous round which took them to their most famous match. Bigger than the two-legged FA Trophy semi-final against Tamworth. Big with a capital B!

So it must have been important. Why? Because Havant & Waterlooville had to win to avoid relegation to the Southern League. Never relegated in their fourteen years of joint existence, the shame in the twin towns of 'Avant and 'Looville would have been immense. A summer of tear-stained misery awaited, trying to work out where on earth Barwell and Arlesey are. A point above Maidenhead, and two above Hampton & Richmond at kick-off, it also happened that a draw might have been enough if their rivals failed to win (and Hampton would also have had to win by six clear goals away from home to overtake them). But a win would make absolutely sure that summer 2012 would be a happy one.

It had rained all week, but the day of the match was merely drizzly. However, the groundsman - with his fork and his curious roller-with-squeegee-attachment - was still the busiest man in the ground before kick-off. With the visitors being the pond-loving Swans (the Staines Town version, rather than the more well-known Swansea City this time), it was crucial to remove as much surface water as possible, and he did a grand job.

It was a riveting match. Staines scored twice in the first half, but so did the Hawks. The home team also hit the bar and missed a penalty. With Maidenhead beating local rivals Eastleigh at half-time, Havant & Waterlooville were heading downwards. But they had battled for every ball - they may not have won the school prize for achievement this term, but every time I've seen them, they've been a shoo-in for the £5 book token for hardest triers.

There was hope a-plenty going into the second half. Havant had swarmed around the Staines goal like hungry nuthatches around a bird feeder full of Buggy Nibbles for the entire first half, and when a Staines defender was sent off ten minutes in to the second, the hope became overwhelming. At this point in the match, Maidenhead were losing 3-2 to Eastleigh, so the Hawks were staying up with a draw.

Nobody bites fingernails any more. Instead, fingers are used to caress the internet-connected pocket gadgets which have replaced transistor radios at football. These gadgets are the bringers of glee one minute, and despair the next. With 900+ people fidgeting, hopping from one foot to the other, nervously eating chips or tapping away at their phones, the last minute of injury time arrived without any further goals. It was at this point that the twitterers in the crowd let it be known that Maidenhead had scored in the last minute of their match to win 4-3. All hope had been sucked out like Harry Potter having a bad day with a dementor. The Hawks were on their way to Arlesey Town next season...

...and then Joe Dolan broke the back of the net with a screamer from ten yards. Or at least, it felt like a screamer, as that's what happened next...screaming, yelling, boisterous, bundling pandemonium. Pompey fans will remember the feeling when Darren Anderton scored in the FA Cup semi-final in 1992 with seven minutes to go - this was the same.

John Peel once said that he had to listen to forty or fifty records before he came across one that gave him the shivers. This season, Hawks fans have had to suffer the football equivalent of forty-odd Olly Murs and Nicki Minaj tunes. The last kick of this match was New Rose, Teenage Kicks and God Save The Queen all coming along at once. A once in a lifetime proper PUNK ROCK moment.

The match video is here. The match report from The News is here. From the Hawks' unofficial site here. From the blog formerly known as Dub Steps here. From Ade Oakley's blog here. A photo of the winning goal here.

A roller with a squeegee attachment was used at Havant & Waterlooville on Saturday.
It rained this week.
Christian Nanetti waits to take a penalty.
The linos needed long studs at Westleigh Park.
Goalmouth action minutes from the end.
The muddy Hawks heroes clap the fans.
More than one side of A4 needed for this five star match report!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

24. Hythe & Dibden FC

No dogs invaded the pitch during the match, although several walked past with their owners.
I once knew a small boy who was terrified of pine cones. He would shake uncontrollably at the very thought of a larch or a Douglas fir - harmless overgrown Christmas trees to the rest of us, provider of food to crossbills and squirrels, quick-growing profitable softwood for the pulp industry, etc.

But no, whilst the arachnophobes, ophidiophobes and triskaidekaphobes amongst us steered clear of spiders, snakes and the number thirteen, this poor boy's life was blighted by his fear of pine cones.

You can't go far without bumping into a pine tree, so the small boy missed out on all the fun of drilling holes in a Sitka spruce trunk to collect sap to feed his ant farm, of brass-rubbing trunks with flaky golden crayons to marvel at the bark patterns, or even collecting every type of pine cone there is and posting a "wanted" list on the internet for rare cones. All good healthy hobbies for inquisitive boys.

Hythe & Dibden's main stand.
Hythe & Dibden FC (1) 2 v 6 (2) Brockenhurst FC
Saturday 21st April 2012
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Entrance: £4
Programme: Free with entry (good effort - had everything you could need for a match at this level)
Attendance: 35-40 (as the match took place on a recreation ground, people were coming and going all the time)
Club shop: No, but clubhouse open over the far side of the cricket pitch.
Colours: All green v Blue and white stripes / Blue / Blue
National Grid reference: SU4208

Brockenhurst fire in a free-kick at Hythe & Dibden FC. Large pine tree behind the goal.
The small boy wouldn't have liked Hythe & Dibden's Ewart Recreation Ground much. He would have quivered with fear at the menacing pine tree behind the lower goal, its sharp branches extending out its deep green talons above the crossbar, enormous cones ready to drop on any puny humans below who dared to sneer at its awesome power.

Did I mention the word "power"? That's funny, because Hythe & Dibden were formed in 1902 as Hythe & Power United! What an excellent name! It rivals some of my other favourites of all time, such as Mold Alexandra, Abergavenny Thursdays, Kremen Kremen Chug, Red Boys Differdange, Tytherington Rocks, Deportivo Wanka. I could go on...and on...

Anyway, as the village of Hythe grew bigger between the wars, it devoured the nearby village of Dibden Purlieu like a maniac Hungry Hippo gulping down an irritating marble, and so, feeling as though they needed to make it up to their neighbours, they changed their name to Hythe & Dibden FC. They had many trophyless years (Hampshire League Division 3 West champions in 1949/50 being their first glittering prize after nearly half a century of trying). Looking at the list of honours in Saturday's programme, the Echo Giant Cup (1985) stands out, but only because I'd love to know just how big the Giant Cup was! With the size of trophies generally being inversely proportional to the competition's importance (this is a well-known law), it may have rivalled the pine tree for magnificence.

Compare the Brockenhurst dugout to the vertical floodlight pylons to get an idea of the angle of the slope.
Did I mention that there's a pine tree behind the lower goal? I did? I said "lower" because there is an impressive slope at the Ewart Recreation Ground. At the top corner (see the photo below), the pitch is at 10.5m above sea level, whilst at the opposite corner (see the following photo), the corner flag pole rises from the earth at only 7.5m above sea level - a drop of 3 metres, or approximately 10 feet from one end of the pitch to the other, which rivals the slopes at Horndean and Fleet Town as Hampshire's finest, any of which could be used for an egg-rolling contest at Easter.

Due to the slope, the bottom goalmouth at Hythe collects more water, and thus more mud than the top one. If you close your eyes and listen to the squelch of boot upon mud, you could imagine yourself at a (very quiet) 1970s Football League stadium - a time when football pitches could often double up as mud-wrestling arenas for those who like that sort of thing.

As it was, it didn't rain too much on Saturday - just the one almighty shower as the players walked out for the second half - not just raining cats and dogs, but mice and hamsters and every other kind of pet as well at that point. It was generally pleasant though, so can't complain too much! It's not as though it was wet enough to grow cress on my jeans...

Covered standing area by the corner flag at Hythe & Dibden.
A ship sailed past. Not just any old ship, but one of those enormous cruise ships that depart from Southampton and sail to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean or one of those other seas that are tricky to spell. It could be seen between the trees and buildings at the pine tree end (indeed, I think its bow is just about showing in the midfield action photo above a roof on the right-hand side).

In the week that the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic was big news, this seemed quite normal (which indeed it is around here, as these ships come and go all the time along the channel separating Hythe from Southampton). What it would be cruel to say is that this was an appropriate analogy for the state that Hythe & Dibden find themselves in this season - possibly heading for the iceberg of relegation from the Wessex League.

Bottom of the league with just five wins all season, they could be heading back in to the Hampshire League. However, this is unlikely, due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the Wessex League is short of teams - just 18 in the second tier this season, so there's room for at least two more. Secondly, Warminster Town want to move to the Western League - if they do, that would leave 17 teams. This would mean promoting at least four clubs from below if Hythe & Dibden were to be relegated. Thirdly, with no teams likely to be falling in to the Wessex from the Southern League to replace upwardly-mobile Winchester City, the top division is only likely to relegate one team with Verwood Town and AFC Portchester moving up from Wessex One. So that leaves another space.

QK Southampton are in a possible promotion position in the Hampshire League and have had Wessex League inspectors along to check their ground. But they lack floodlights, seating and cover, all of which are requirements at Step 6. Other clubs from the Hampshire League and other feeder leagues also lack facilities, so the chances of enough clubs coming up from below to oust Hythe are slim. They should be safe for the time being.

Hythe & Dibden in the rain. Looks nice as a Desktop Background!
Brockenhurst should have been one of the promoted clubs this season. They were in a very healthy position at Christmas and looked certainties to bounce back from whence they came (25 consecutive years in the top flight until last season), but they've blown it in 2012 and look likely to finish fifth.

Did I mention the pine tree? I did, but there are also many more trees overhanging one side of the pitch. At one point in the first half, the match ball hit one of these trees and bounced straight back down at least a yard inside the touchline. The ref's mind whirred, mentally flicking back through hundreds of You Are The Ref cartoons so he could decide what to do (he plumped for a throw-in, telling the players that the ball would have crossed the line if it hadn't been for that pesky tree, or words to that effect). Good decision!

This wasn't the only action of the first half. From the moment that Brock hit the bar in the first minute until the players went trundling off over the cricket pitch for their half-time oranges, the match snapped, crackled and popped with incidents. Brock took the lead after 5 minutes with a header from a corner and then proceeded to toy with their opponents like a leopard seal balancing a penguin on its nose whilst flapping its flippers for fun.

After half an hour Hythe had had enough of this and equalised with what can only be described as a thunderous volley. A minute later and Brock had gone 2-1 up from the penalty spot. The cruel and heartless leopard seals were back in charge.


Midfield tussling at Hythe & Dibden v Brockenhurst.
The second half was just as good. Brock were attacking up the incline, but they still managed another four goals to the home side's one. The one for Hythe came early on to draw level again, but Brock responded by tossing them into the air and swallowing them whole with two goals in the following two minutes. I'd not even finished my half-time cuppa and there had been three goals since the restart.

A fifth goal for Brock from a quick breakaway, then a sixth near the end and that was that for the scoring. My defective memory tells me that the home team may have had a goal disallowed, but I may have hallucinated that after so much excitement.


A fingertip save from Hythe & Dibden's busy keeper.
Oh, and the small boy? Remember him? He soon grew out of his fear of pine cones. He grew up to be a strapping young lad, afraid of nothing much at all. He's old enough now that he could be playing for Hythe & Dibden, but the truth is, he doesn't like football very much. There's more to life than just this old game, but crikey, for those of us that enjoy it, it ain't half fun sometimes!

There should be one more report this season, so check back in a week or two for that!