Wednesday, 29 August 2012

26. Winchester City FC

The entrance to the Denplan City Stadium.
There haven't been many capitals of England thus far. Everyone knows about London, but before The Smoke, it was Winchester that was this country's seat of power. Birthplace of St Swithun, Colin Firth and Captain Scarlet, Winchester swaggers with the confidence that comes with well-established wealth.

There are stern-looking statues and old buildings wherever you look in the city centre. The most impressive structures include the cathedral, which is just visible from Winchester City's football ground; the original wardrobe from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (or at least, I've been told that this is so, but I'm a gullible Hector at times, so I may have been teased into believing this...); and the Great Hall, which houses King Arthur's Round Table.

The Round Table dates from after the age of Arthur, so it's more of a tribute to him than a proper relic. However, it is still very old. The names of the twenty-four knights are painted around the outside: the four that everyone knows - Galahad, Lancelot, Percival and Gawaine - plus the other twenty, who would all surely be pointless answers on, er, Pointless. Try to remember Sir Gareth or Sir Lamorak* if you ever appear on that show...

*My personal favourite knight. The nearest thing to a rhyme with "anorak" that I can think of right now.

Winchester City's main stand.
Winchester City FC (0) 3 v 0 (0) Alton Town FC
FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 25th August 2012
Attendance: 75-100
Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Colours: Red / Black / Red v Yellow / Green / Yellow
Club shop: Yes (Badges £3 + large numbers of old programmes and football books for sale. Must arrive earlier next time for a good browse!)
National Grid reference: SU4830

Puddlesome Winchester.
The Round Table looks like a giant dart board, with Arthur sitting where the number twenty would normally be. He appears to be covering his groin with his trusty sceptre - good idea, as that is roughly where the treble would be. It all reminds me of my drunken darting days, playing for my office team. After five or six pints, we needed a dart board the size of a wall in order to actually score any points at all.

You can't really imagine darts ever becoming an Olympic sport, can you? Although, with golf arriving on the Olympic agenda in 2016, anything is possible.

The one thing I didn't like about this summer's Olympics was the Team GB kit (not just for football, but for athletics, cycling, and all the rest). The black and blue flag design was just horrible. Bring back the classic blue, white and red hoop next time, I say! The fussier the kit, generally the worse it is. Which is why I like Winchester City's so much - red top, black shorts, red socks. No fuss, no annoying frills. It's a kit a small child with clumsy fingers could paint in three seconds flat.

The view from the main stand.
For such an eminent city, Winchester has never really had a football team to match its importance. This season is the beginning of their third spell in the Southern League - the first two lasted no time at all. They have always played in the Hampshire League or, latterly, the Wessex League (which is really just the old Hampshire League with a few special guests from Dorset and Wiltshire).

With a little bit of investment over the last couple of years, they are hopeful of their highest ever finish in the Southern League this season - a place in the top half would clinch it for them. An FA Cup run is likely as well, with this match against lower-ranked Alton Town, followed by another home tie to come if they win.

Of course, Winchester City have won trophies before. By far the biggest was the FA Vase in 2004, when they beat AFC Sudbury at St Andrew's. City are the only club from Hampshire to win the replacement for the old Amateur Cup.

Looking at a list of former players, the one that stands out to me is Micky Mellows. He played for Pompey in the mid-1970s. Possibly the highlight of my entire time at junior school was when he came to visit us and my class had a question and answer session with him. I waved my hand in the air (a chance to speak to a real-life Pompey hero!), not knowing what I would ask him. I was picked and had to say the first thing that occurred to me. Mind quickly whirring through Shoot!'s Focus On weekly feature (er, what are your miscellaneous likes and dislikes, Micky? No, no, I can't ask that - I'm not sure what "miscellaneous" means!), I settled on "Who was your hardest opponent?" (yes, yes, that's what you're supposed to ask a footballer!).

His reply? Norman Hunter! Micky now works for the Faith and Football charity.

Winchester City's tea and ice cream emporium.
As I intend to follow the FA Cup as far as I can go again this season (only visiting grounds in Hampshire that I'd not previously reported from), I only had two choices for my groundhop this weekend. My initial choice was Sholing v East Cowes Victoria Athletic - this would have meant not having to think too much to fill up the word count to a reasonable level - all I would need to do was type the Isle of Wight club's full name a few times and voila! One thousand words in no time at all!

However, this match was brought forward to Friday night (presumably to avoid Saints' home debut in the Premiership). I was busy at a wedding reception on that evening, so the only choice remaining was Winchester City v Alton Town, but that was okay.

There were a few people at the wedding reception who work for the BBC in Southampton (not that I recognised any of them, despite being told that one of them files regular reports on South Today). A chat with one of the weather girls would have been useful, perhaps Winchester-born Alexis Green (grade 8 on the trumpet!), or Sarah Farmer (owns a huge number of cookery books!), or even Reham Khan (massive shoe collection!), as I wasn't sure what the weather had in store for Saturday. None of them were at the reception though - I suppose they were all too busy hunched over charts with compasses and rulers, predicting the south's weather for the next five days, desperately trying to disprove Bob Dylan's old theory that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Winchester City's Bus Shelter Stand.
Walking to the ground from the city centre, rain started falling...and falling, heavier and heavier. Then there was lightning (very very frightening). I could have gone to a fancy dress party dressed as a drowned rat.

Five minutes before kick-off, the word from the tea hut was that the match should still go ahead, as, despite there being rivers of mud flowing around the surrounding gravel running track, the pitch tends to drain quickly and efficiently. They were right.

Alton had conceded fourteen goals in their first three league matches, so I was expecting a big home win. However, the match was surprisingly close. Winchester were attacking more, but tripping over their bootlaces as soon as they caught sight of goal. In fact, it was Alton who took the lead after half an hour - or at least, they thought they had from a low shot from the edge of the box. Annoyingly for them, their number 10 was goalhanging directly in front of Winchester's keeper, and the linesman disallowed the goal.

The road to Wembley is now closed for Alton Town.
The second half started badly for Alton Town. An early corner was headed in, much to their chagrin, as they believed that the forward had used a defender's shoulders to lever himself up a Zigic or two. In Portsmouth, we call this type of goal a "Rickie Lambert", after his similar effort at Fratton Park last season.

The underdogs still weren't out of it, as they hit the bar with a tremendous looping shot at around the hour mark. The killer blow for them came when Winchester's experienced old pro manager Guy Butters (who believes that the gaffer can make a 5-10% difference to a team - I agree, either way!) sent on substitute James Taylor (no, not the James Taylor, one-hit wonder in the UK in 1971 with You've Got A cue list of footballers who share names with famous musicians, starting with ex-Preston defender Michael Jackson...).

No, this wasn't the James Taylor, but THE James Taylor, Havant & Waterlooville's record scorer. Fifteen minutes and two classy Taylor goals later, the ref blew the whistle on Alton Town's FA Cup adventure for this season. Winchester City will take on Yate Town at home next week in the First Qualifying Round. Four more victories, and they will be in the First Round Proper in November.

Flag in the club shop "not for sale".
For a virtual tour of the Denplan City Ground, see this blog. For hundreds of excellent match shots from the ground, see Pitchside Photography (who has also been at one or two local FA Cup matches already this season, including Alton's win over Bradford Town in the previous round). There's another report of this game here (includes a photo of Winchester's first goal).

Okay, that's twenty-six clubs visited and reported upon. In these matches, I have seen 99 goals, at an average of...oh, I don't know! Maths was never my strongest subject! Anyway, the next goal I witness will bring up the century. Exciting!

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