Monday, 21 January 2013

QK Southampton's Winter Wonderland

QK Southampton's snowy welcome sign.
QK (or Queen's Keep) FC are my local Hampshire Premier League club. They used to play at the Civil Service Ground in Shirley, sharing the space with Ordnance Survey FC - however, when that open space was sold, they were forced to move. They now play at the Lordshill Recreation Ground on the edge of the large Millbrook estate, approximately a ten-minute walk from Team Solent's new sporting complex. The differences between the two clubs' homes are obvious: QK's ground is open for anyone to walk through, and attracts all the local vandals, thieves, graffiti "artists" and druggies (who use the dugouts as shelters when they're doing whatever it is that druggies do); whereas Team Solent's ground is safely enclosed and - so far - is untroubled by the local ne'er-do-wells.

QK applied for promotion to the Wessex League last season, but were denied on the grounds that they have no floodlights, no seats and no covered spectator facilities - all of which would cost a great deal of money, and would doubtless either be stolen, broken or set on fire within weeks of being erected anyway.

So, plenty of disadvantages playing here. One advantage for me, however, is that it's easy to walk around and take photos, so when the snow fell this weekend, it was the obvious destination for me and my camera. This is what I found...

Snow melting outside the rock solid, burglar-proof, fireproof container where the groundsman's equipment is kept. Beyond that, QK's café/changing room area, equally well-protected.

Padlocked goalpost in the snow.

QK's dugouts.

Millbrook Towers, and what appears to be smoke rising from two fires on the estate.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Romsey Town Snowman

The Romsey Town snowman, suitably dressed up for an afternoon at The By-Pass Ground.
Another Saturday, another match off - this time due to the heavy snow. This week, my intention was to visit a club whose nickname is The Magpies - you can guess what colours they play in! They're not the only club with an unoriginal nickname though. How many teams that play in red call themselves The Robins, for example?

My personal favourite nickname is The Bloods (Droylsden FC). Very gothic! Proof that you don't have to be called The Robins, just because you have a red breast!

I had a ponder about the nickname of the Wessex League team that I occasionally watch when I'm not elsewhere in the county (Romsey Town). I didn't know it, so I checked on their website, flicked through an old programme, found their entry in the Non-League Club luck! They don't appear to have one at all! I guess the closest they have to a nickname would be "Town", but I was sure they could do better...

Romsey Town play in white, so the easiest nickname to apply would be The Lilywhites, which is probably the most common name for a club that plays in such a strip. However, looking at the snowman that I built with my children on Friday - wearing my Romsey Town bar scarf - I thought that "The Snowmen" would be a grand nickname! I'm having second thoughts now though - it doesn't sound ruffty-tufty enough to be a proper nickname... I don't suppose it would ever catch on.

We'll stick with "Town" then.

Monday, 7 January 2013

33. Team Solent FC

I cannot tell a lie - it was a gloomy Saturday afternoon at Team Solent!
I detest mindless vandalism. The only acceptable vandalism is that done by oneself whilst cooking (ah, the charcoaly taste of those burnt sausages every time I switch the grill on...). Done by others, it is, at the very least, irritating. So it was when I checked the Non-League Matters forum on Friday to see which matches were off the following day, and, like a freshly-filletted mackerel, was gutted to find that my intended destination, Eversley & California, had had their pitch ripped to shreds by mindless vandals over the festive period. I checked their Twitter feed for confirmation, and sure enough, their match had been switched to opponents Knaphill, which, being in Surrey, would not be a Hampshire hopping experience. Gah!

As I spend all week previous to a match studying my intended destination so that I can swottily show off in the match report, I was miffed. I had to choose an alternative destination at short notice and settled on my nearest club at level 10 or above, Team Solent. I walk or drive past their stadium nearly every working day, so I know the area well. Unfortunately, the club itself isn't so well-known to me, so my usual honey-barrel of random facts and tidbits may be lacking in this report.

So, writing this, I feel like a student walking in to an exam hall having done no revision. Thus, if I can achieve a D+ or better for this particular piece of "sports journalism", I'll be over the moon.


One of two identical stands at Team Solent, each seating around 45 spectators.
Team Solent FC (3) 4 v 0 (0) Whitchurch United FC
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Saturday 5th January 2013
Attendance: 40-ish
Admission: £4
Programme: £1 (good, but I'd be disappointed if it wasn't decent from a university offering degrees in sports journalism!)
Club shop: No
Colours: All red v All blue
National Grid reference: SU3714

Entering the gladiatorial arena at five to three.
So, facts...

Team Solent FC is the student football club of Solent University, Southampton's second university. Previously an art college (up until 1984), then an institute of higher education, it is what many snobs might call "not a proper university". Having been to "not a proper university" myself, I can assure you that I'm not one of these toffee-nosed yahoos.

The university offers qualifications which it claims are relevant to the job market (as opposed to, say, Latin or Ancient History, much-beloved subjects of "proper" universities), for example, a BA (Hons) in Football Studies, or various qualifications in personal fitness training. I would imagine that several of Team Solent's players are studying subjects such as these. Thus, if you attend one of their games, you are highly likely to be watching a team of future PE teachers and personal trainers.

Local lad made good, Craig David, is an honorary doctor of music.

Pre-match handshakes, as seen from the stand nearest the entrance.
Talking of music, the only people that are students at Solent Uni that I've knowingly met are a group of friendly indiepop musicians called The Notes (number 39 on my all-time Last fm chart, level with Bo Diddley!), none of whom like football, so I wasn't expecting to see them there on Saturday!

So, if their fellow students (and there are 17,000 of them) don't go to watch their mates play on a Saturday afternoon, who does go? It would be creepy (and annoying) to go around asking everyone why they were attending the match, so I gathered my information from visual observation and earwigging:

Well, there were at least two Sydenhams League officials in their long quilted anoraks - a common sight at Wessex League grounds. I'm always a little scared of them, as they look like old bus inspectors or stern schoolmasters - if I have my camera out, I fully expect them to give me a shout of "You boy! What do you think you're doing?!" So far, this has not actually happened.

The usual club officials were there - Team Solent's wear red and black waterproof trackie tops; I presume there were some from Whitchurch as well, but they must have been in disguise - unless they were the small group of people wearing red and white Whitchurch United bar scarves, which were so new they could only have been Christmas presents. Oh, imagine opening a soft parcel on Christmas morning, fully prepared for the crushing disappointment of a pair of socks, and finding a lovingly-knitted Whitchurch United bar scarf! What an excellent gift that would be! #iwantone

A midfield tussle in front of some curious wood-panelled residences.
More facts!

Millbrook Towers is Southampton's tallest building. At 24 storeys high (or 25, depending upon which article you read!), it just eclipses nearby Redbridge Towers in giddiness-inducing tallness. You can see both tower blocks from Test Park - Redbridge can be seen in the photo above, just poking its nose above the wood-panelled buildings - it's the block that sits at the end of the M271 as you enter Southampton from the west.

More visible is Millbrook Towers, which can be seen in two of the other photos here. The red and white stripey tank room at the building's pinnacle, which is visible for miles around, was painted at the start of this season to celebrate Saints' return to the Premiership. It was opened by French* footballing legend Matthew Le Tissier. Red and white stripes? Don't they know that Saints play in Liverpool's 1980s kit now?

* My son thought Matt was French! I know he's from Guernsey really! Coincidentally, he appeared on the front of Team Solent's programme on Saturday as well. I believe a Saints veterans team officially opened the ground a few months ago. If anything needs opening in Southampton, Matt Le Tissier will be there with a smile and a pair of giant ribbon-cutting scissors!

Some dastardly ouching spotted by the referee's assistant.
The match, between the league leaders and the team in fifth place (a win on Saturday would have kept Whitchurch in with a promotion shout - defeat would leave them realistically too far behind the three runaway leaders to go up this season), was decided by dead ball situations. The visiting villagers were easily as good as their hosts for the first half an hour, but three goals in fifteen minutes before half-time ruined their day out in the big city.

Team Solent's first came direct from a 25-yard free-kick - goal-a-game "Deadly" Declan Edwards blasted a low shot past the Whitchurch wall and in off the right-hand post.

Number two was also direct from a free-kick, but this time near the halfway line - it may have even been from the foul shown in the photo above - my memory isn't what it once was. Team Solent's right-back walloped what I presume was meant as a cross towards the back post. The ball arced over the keeper's desperately paddling arms in to the top corner for a flukey one.

Number three was a penalty, awarded for a foul on the left side of the box. Deadly Declan Edwards had no trouble slotting that one away to the keeper's right.

A Whitchurch free-kick under the Test Park floodlights. Millbrook Towers beyond.
More supporters:

Overheard during the second half - a call of "Grandad!" from one of the ballboys. So, grandad was there, chatting to one of Team Solent's subs during his stretchy-calfy warm-up routine.

The home team's goalkeeper's family were also there - his brother looking after at least one of the custodian's small children, who wanted to see her daddy during a break in play. Daddy, being a hard-hearted pro, had to wave her away. I'm sure he would have made it up to her later though.

Daddy was busier during the second half, but Whitchurch still couldn't score. Indeed, five minutes into the half, Edwards completed his hat-trick, shooting home from eight yards after yet another free-kick. This fourth goal meant that Team Solent had scored half of the eighteen goals in Whitchurch's goals against column this season after a 5-0 away win in September (another fact!).

The only other action worth writing about was a last minute penalty for Team Solent, for which I stood behind the goal, hoping that Whitchurch's keeper would make a spectacular save for the camera. He dived the right way (for me), but the Team Solent player hoofed his pen to the other side of the goal, it hit the top of the bar and the ball ended up outside the ground. I took a photo anyway, but it was dark, blurry and out of focus. Deleted.

Oh, and one more supporter:

Me, the only obvious groundhopper at Saturday's match. I think that accounts for almost everyone now...

Pretend that you've won the FA Cup by inserting your face in to one of these figures' hollow heads!
[Reader's voice: "Thanks for all the interesting facts Andy! Not enough made-up nonsense this week though. Have a C-"] Aw, thank you! I'll accept that with glee!

One more fact then, just for you:

There are several university teams competing in the pyramid, but they cannot be promoted above non-league's step five! This means that if Team Solent go up to the Wessex League's Premier Division this season, that is as far as they are allowed to go. All down to the Team Bath debacle of a few seasons ago, when the University of Bath's football team were promoted to Conference South, and next to nobody went to watch them...

I have detailed plans for the rest of the season. If the weather and mindless vandals can just behave themselves for four more months, I can complete this quest by the end of April! #icandoit #gome