Monday, 22 April 2013

41. Petersfield Town FC

A blue sky welcome to Petersfield Town FC.
His skill on the ball was unbelievable. His pace and vision were unnerving. His eye for goal was astonishing. We called him Mantis, as he resembled nothing less than a praying mantis in all its holy, spindly glory. He was our otherwise laconic, unflappable Chemistry teacher, all Ralph Coates comb over and thick-rimmed, milk bottle bottom glasses. Usually seen in a white lab coat, overseeing silly boys with Bunsen burners, on this occasion, he was strolling around Petersfield Town's Love Lane football ground, lording it over the Masters v Boys football match.

The hapless Jockey was there too, so-called because he had a bald patch that looked like a jockey's cap, but he couldn't trap a ball for toffee. It was Mantis that ruled the pitch, as tall and as gangly as Peter Crouch, but with a better knowledge of the Table of Elements. Was there nothing that Mantis couldn't do?

As well as me in the crowd that day, there may well have been the only boy that has gone on to be relatively well-known to the outside world: Simon Ings. I remember him wicket keeping and getting whacked in the face with a cricket ball once. There may have been a broken nose. There was certainly a lot of blood. He's moved on from this incident since.

Petersfield Town's old wooden stand.
Petersfield Town FC (2) 4 v 0 (0) Stockbridge FC
Saturday 20th April 2013
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 29 (headcount)
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Club shop: No
Colours: Red and black stripes / black / black v Blue and yellow stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7523

Inside the stand.
The Mantis match took place over thirty years ago. Not much has changed at Love Lane in the meantime, thank chuff. Everything is in place here to make it a perfectly fine Wessex League ground, safe and adequate for the usual sub-100 crowds. I've no doubt that if they were ever in a position to move up to the Southern League, the ground graders would make them knock down their old wooden stand and replace it with an identikit bland kit stand. Please, no.

The old stand was built by the supporters' club in 1962. There's the odd hole here and there, and it looks a little weatherworn, but so what? In this setting, nuzzling up to the pitch barrier at the bottom of the slope, framed by mature oaks, it looks like a much-treasured antique, as desirable to anyone who loves old football grounds as a hundred year old Steiff bear with a glass eye missing would be to a teddy bear collector. It's a lovable grandad of a stand, full of character, ready to tell you a tall story or two about the time that Petersfield won the FA Cup in 1932.

Opposite the stand is another home-made piece of cover, built at a crazy angle (see below), stanchions attached to the pitchside barrier. This lies in between the dugouts and the relatively modern clubhouse, built in 1980. Inside the clubhouse, there is a bar and a tea hatch. On the walls are photos of old Brylcreemed and bequiffed team line-ups from the 1950s and 1960s.

And with three rollers dotted around the ground, what's not to love about Love Lane?

The other home-made covered area at Petersfield Town. And no, I didn't tilt my camera!
You can approach the football ground from three directions, but only one of them by car. Love Lane has a no-car zone at its central point, so drivers have to arrive via the ring road to the west. The no-car zone has a sad story attached to it, as this was the last known resting place of Morgan the Tennis Ball. In the absence of a proper football to kick around at breaktime, Morgan the Tennis Ball was the second-years' match ball. Using a tennis ball should theoretically make the players kicking it more skilful, especially on a lumpy, muddy patch of grass, bestrewn with twigs and crab apples.

No comment on the heightened skill levels, but using a tennis ball was a good excuse to hack at the other kids' legs whilst pretending to tackle them. So many bruises, so much pain, so many muddy knees, so many despairing mothers...

One day, Morgan got booted over the hedge at the bottom of the school fields (more likely a sliced goal effort going out for what would have been a throw-in). Slithering down the muddy bank to the road below, it was normally fairly easy to locate Morgan, but on this sad occasion, he was nowhere to be found.

Perhaps he ended up in the football ground? It would have been a fitting final resting place for one so important in the development of our national game - after all, eight of the boys playing that fateful breaktime went on to become full-time professionals at a host of top clubs around the world.*

*No, they didn't. This is a lie.

The stern Victorian school building looks down disapprovingly on the oiks playing association football.
If Morgan had ended up in the football ground, he might have kept on rolling, as there is a tremendous slope at Petersfield Town. The highest point is at the turnstiles, then the ground just drops away in all directions. Anyone taking a spirit level into the ground on a Saturday had better be prepared to lose their bubble.

Anyway, this reminds me: in my line of work, I get to see plenty of aerial photographs in 3-D. Over the last year or two, I've been digging out photos of as many grounds in Hampshire as I could find, and been measuring their slopes. I can now reveal the most slopy grounds in Hampshire, with accurate measurements!

Groundhoppers viewing the action from the old stand.
There are plenty of pan flat pitches around, suitable for a Ronnie O'Sullivan century break, for example, Saints (the pitch closest to sea level in the county, and thus the first to go when the ice melts), the two Totton pitches, and Tadley-Calleva's new build (the latter ground would be the county's highest above sea level at 104m above Newlyn Datum, except it's in Berkshire).

Several grounds have slopes of less than a metre, which is imperceptible to the naked eye. Amongst these are Winchester City (30cm), Pompey (a 30cm concave hump in the middle stretching the length of the pitch, which is noticeable from certain angles), Fareham Town and Moneyfields (both 50cm).

There are slopes of a metre or more at Sholing and Blackfield & Langley (both 1.0m), AFC Portchester (1.1m), and, becoming more obvious at 1.5m, Havant & Waterlooville.

The following five have the biggest slopes that I've been able to measure:*

Andover New Street 1.9m (corner to opposite corner)
Alresford Town, also 1.9m (side to side)
Hythe & Dibden 3.3m (end to end - approximately 10.5 feet in old money)
Petersfield Town 3.8m (clubhouse to opposite corner - over 12 feet)
Horndean, a vertigo-inducing 4.7m (corner to opposite corner - 15 and a half feet)

*I've not had access to stereo photography for Whitchurch United, Hartley Wintney or Fleet Town yet, all of whom have conspicuous slopes. Whitchurch and Fleet Town, in particular, must both be at least 2.5m. I've been able to accurately measure 24 of the 41 pitches that I've visited.

Callum Coker stands ready to poke home Petersfield's third goal.
The home team kicked up the slope in the first half, sun in their eyes, old stand to their left with only me in it for the first ten minutes. The spirit of Mantis was with them as they pummelled Stocky's goal. The inevitable first arrived on 38 minutes with a deft header from a curling free-kick from the left. This was followed two minutes later with a tap-in. The forward thought he hadn't scored, asking the lino why he was waving his flag - but he was pointing it towards the halfway line, which means "goal"..."Why's he disallowed it, ref? I wasn't offside!" "He hasn't, it was a goal!"

The third was scored after an hour or so, Callum Coker slotting in his 36th (or 37th - he may have scored the first...) of the season. The fourth came a minute from the end - the third tap-in of the game.

Stocky kept going. As their captain reminded them at 3-0 down, "Come on lads, we're playing for our cup final places in two weeks here!" Stockbridge play Andover New Street in the Andover Open Cup Final in a fortnight. This is not a tall story.

Petersfield Town look likely to finish fifth, a respectable position indeed, and their best for four years. They'll be happy with that.

Coincidentally, my fellow blogger, The Onion Bag, was also at this match. We didn't speak to one another, as we had no idea who the other was! His report is here. His photos are here.

Top secret tactics board inside Petersfield's dugout.
And that's that. The end. I left one of my favourite grounds until last. As my workmate said when we were discussing Romsey Town's prospects of staying up this season: "Yay! If we go down, there'll be a trip to Petersfield next season!" Indeed. It doesn't really matter what league or division you're in, so long as the football gives you a good day out.

Now, do I carry on, or do I stop right here?

Friday, 19 April 2013

40. Aldershot Town FC

Aldershot Town FC's welcome sign and a proper floodlight.
I was stood close to the gesticulating phoenix. I could see what he was doing - he was conducting the crowd, waving his fiery arms above his vicious beak in time to the military drum beat emanating from the East Bank Terrace, encouraging the noise.

And what a noise! The second-loudest fans in Hampshire singing, clapping and chanting, stood on by far the county's best terrace. "We are the left side! We are the right side! We are the middle! We are The East Bank! Aldershot!" The sound echoing off of the barrel roof, reverberating around the ground.

I suspect there was a man inside the phoenix (the arms were the giveaway - logically, if a phoenix is a bird, then it should have don't fool me that easily). He must have been able to see out of the beak - human eyes where a tongue should be - so when he turned to look at you, his big blue firebird eyes were pointing in another direction. Freaky and wrong. What do the children of Aldershot think of their mascot? I believe that if I was eight years old, I would have nightmares after returning from the Recreation Ground, but then, I was a peculiarly sensitive child. Perhaps the local kids are a hardier bunch.

Although much of the crowd would have had nightmares after Tuesday's game. Nightmares about relegation back to the Conference.

Home fans milling around the Recreation Ground's turnstiles at 7:25.
Aldershot Town FC (0) 0 v 2 (0) Southend United FC
Tuesday April 16th 2013
nPower Football League Division Four (none of this "League Two" nonsense, please)
Attendance: 2,568 (206 Southend fans)
Admission: £17
Programme: £3
Club shop: Yes, but it annoyingly shut 15 minutes before kick-off, just as I was walking up the ramp to enter.
Colours: Red / blue / white v All dark blue
National Grid reference: SU8650 / SU8750

The away supporters' entrance, reached via Redan Park.
The phoenix is Aldershot Town FC's mascot because they rose out of the ashes of the liquidated Aldershot FC in 1992. I know, I know, phoenixes are tiresomely predictable and unoriginal in these circumstances, much like prefixing a new club "AFC" or, nowadays, just "FC", but we'll let it go.

The original club were founded in 1926 as Aldershot Town, changing their name to Aldershot FC in 1932 upon election to the Football League. The war years were their most successful - being a garrison town, dozens of top players were stationed there, turning out for the club in various war leagues. If the club shop had stayed open for another five minutes, I would have bought Jack Rollin's book about their wartime history, Shots At War. I could then have listed all the stars that graced the Recreation Ground during those years. Next time I visit, I'll set off from home a bit earlier...

Joining the Football League in the same season as Chester FC, the duo's lack of promotions was a source of dismay for many years for their fans. As every schoolboy once knew, it was a race to see which of these clubs would go the longest without ever being promoted. In 1972/73, Aldershot broke their promotion duck, beating their northern counterparts to the old Third Division by just two seasons. They didn't last long there, coming back down in 1975/76 (with Tuesday's opponents as company).

Eleven years later, they beat the mighty Wolves in the play-offs to return to the third tier (going up with, amongst others, Southend United); two seasons further on, they were back down again (with, er, guess who as company...?).

Flag-waving fan passion at Aldershot Town...
When the old club were liquidated and resigned from the Football League, fans immediately formed a new Aldershot Town club, starting in the Isthmian League Third Division, five steps below where they'd just come from. It took sixteen years to rise up through the leagues to be promoted back to the Football League, creating record attendances at small clubs all over the south-east along the way (just about every club in the home counties' record high is against either the Shots or AFC Wimbledon).

They stepped gingerly up through the various leagues, like an timid dressage pony. Opponents on the way included Petersfield United, Cove, Basingstoke Town, Bashley and Farnborough Town, their near-neighbours and biggest rivals on their non-league travels. If you'd started following them in 1992 and went to every match, you would have seen the Shots play at well over two hundred different grounds. Superb groundhopping fun!

...and an equally passionate phoenix.
The Recreation Ground (or the EBB Stadium, as it is currently known - EBB being paper suppliers to the printing industry) is terrific. It has barely changed since the early 1970s, from whence I have an old Sun Soccerstamp showing the team lined up in front of the East Bank/North Terrace corner.

Entering via turnstiles on the High Street, the first thing you see are programme sellers sat at picnic tables under canopies. Behind them on a grass bank are several mature trees, reminding you that the ground is set within a public park. I believe you used to be able to walk through the park, past the football ground to the other side in the old days, but nowadays, access is restricted.

I entered the stadium itself at the north-east corner, and it was like stepping back in time with the large terrace in front of me, covered with a superb barrel roof. Built just after the Second World War, this is the East Bank. Raucous home fans occupy this terrace up until just over the halfway point, where a no-man's land begins, separating them from the away support. Within this otherwise empty area are a gaggle of red and blue ultras banners. Beyond these is the away fans' area, which contains two fully-grown deciduous trees, growing out of the terrace steps - I suspect this is unique in the Football League.

Moving round from here, you come to the second-oldest stand in the county, the South Stand (built in 1929 - Fratton Park's South Stand is the oldest), which appears sprightly for its age at a distance. Beyond that is another open terrace. At the far end are police incident boxes, an electronic scoreboard, and a new prefabricated stand, opened just a few weeks ago.

Coming back towards the corner where I entered is the Main Stand, a mixture of terracing and seats, its roof painted in jaunty stripes. The Dalai Lama sat in its seats a few months ago when he held a congress for the many Buddhists in the area (there is a large population of Ghurkas in the Aldershot/Farnborough area).

As Simon Inglis said in The Football Grounds of Great Britain, the Recreation Ground is like "part of an arboretum, with the nicely mildewed air of its surrounds".

The jaunty stripey roof of Aldershot Town's North Stand.
On a global scale, Tuesday's match was as inconsequential as a cat's penis, but to many of Aldershot Town's fans, it was as huge as a horny bull elephant's, er, trunk - the most important match since they reached the Football League. Defeat would leave them four points adrift of safety with two matches left to play. They were up against mid-table Southend United (or the "Thames Estuary Galacticos" as the Shots fans call them, presumably for their perceived arrogance), a club which could neither be promoted nor relegated - a club which should have been ideal opponents with nothing left to play for except the avoidance of injury before flying off to more important matters in Ayia Napa over the summer.

It seemed just a matter of time before Aldershot scored in the first half - their opponents moping around the pitch like bored teenagers being forced to accompany their parents to a Michael Buble concert. But Town's players have forgotten how to score recently, whanging the odd shot willy-nilly goalwards, but never really threatening Southend's goalkeeper.

The closest they came was from a mishit cross by Michael Rankine, a muscly man made of liquid beef and strontium, which nearly sneaked under the bar, but Daniel Bentley pawed it away, much to the phoenix's displeasure.

The barrel roof over Aldershot Town's East Bank Terrace.
0-0 at half-time. The only spectator in the ground with a beak and a pointy tail looked as anxious as the rest of the crowd. The Shots had to break on through to the other side in the next 45 minutes, or it would be the end, my friend. The door to the Satanic underworld of Conference football was unlatched with a bloodsoaked sign sticky-taped to its knob, saying "This Way, Shots. Come And Join Us Down Here. It's Lovely And Warm. You Know You Want To".

I stood behind a man wearing a cap full of pin badges in the second half, which, as a fellow badge collector, was very distracting. He had original "Aldershot, Pick of the Pack" pins x2, and a Gomm ball badge, straight out of the '70s. I couldn't stop staring.

Two dismal refereeing decisions eventually did for the Shots. Decision number one was not to award a free-kick for an obvious foul in a goalmouth scramble which saw Barry Corr hammer the ball into the roof of the net from a yard out. Decision number two was the most preposterous penalty award I've ever seen, as an Aldershot defender made a clean tackle on Britt Assombalonga, knocking the ball out for a corner. As the appreciative clapping for this magnificent piece of defensive skill died down, it became apparent that the ref was pointing not towards the corner flag, but towards the penalty spot, with the Southend players bent over double laughing at the ludicrousness of it all. Either that, or they were thinking about their boss, Phil Brown, dressing up as the Orange Tango Man. He certainly wouldn't require any make-up.

The penalty was duly dispatched, as they say in proper match reports, with aplomb to the sound of much opprobrium from the East Bank. They had a point, unlike their team, who certainly deserved at least one. Robbed by the Essex Galacticos, who saw it as some sort of revenge for having the match here last season abandoned because of floodlight failure when 1-0 and a man up. The defeat in the rearranged match cost them promotion.

Aldershot Town were unlucky on Tuesday night. By the time you read this, they may well have been relegated...Dagenham & Redbridge (home) tomorrow; Rotherham United (away) next week. In mid-August, who knows? Eastleigh? Braintree Town? Good luck to them and their gesticulating phoenix. May his pointy tail be a little more perky this time tomorrow.

The old South Stand at Aldershot Town.
Apologies for the relatively poor photography this time out. From experience, I know that stewards at the bigger clubs tend to bug you if you're taking photos with a decent camera, so I didn't take my best one. My second-best camera broke when I dropped it down some steps in Oldham recently; thus, I took my third-choice camera, which doesn't take particularly good pictures in the dark, all blurry and grainy and meh. The top photo and the picture of the away supporters' entrance were taken on my way to Eversley & California at Easter. There are plenty of better pictures of the Recreation Ground if you do a search, for example, here. Both club websites had reports and photos from the match, as well as their respective local newspapers.

One more to go, and that will be that!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

39. United Services Portsmouth FC

Spring awakening at United Services Portsmouth FC.
It's all about the history.

The Landport Gate, one of the original entrances to Old Portsmouth, is right next to the big concrete stand at United Services Portsmouth. On September 14th 1805, Nelson passed through this gate on his way to HMS Victory to set sail for the Battle of Trafalgar. It was to be the day of his last walk on dry land before embarkation. At that time, the old city of Portsmouth would have been protected by moats and drawbridges, which, if the drawbridges hadn't been dismantled in the 1860s, would now be under the United Services football pitch (don't tell Time Team, or they'll be there digging a trench before you can whistle Jolly Jack Tar).

Modern history is represented by Portsmouth's first important football team, Royal Artillery FC, who played on what was known as The Men's Pitch at the tail end of the 19th century, reaching the final of the Amateur Cup in 1896. Without the army team, modern Pompey wouldn't have had their nickname or their most famous song - with some historians believing it may be the world's oldest surviving football chant.

The Landport Gate at United Services Portsmouth.
United Services Portsmouth FC 1 (1) v (4) 5 Tadley-Calleva FC
Saturday 6th April 2013
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 24
Admission: £4
Programme: £1
Colours: All blue v Yellow / black / black
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SZ6399

Spectacular surroundings and a tractor to admire.
So, Royal Artillery FC played here 120 years ago. They were the first football team in Portsmouth to draw significant crowds (up to 8,000 on occasions). These were the people who first sung the Pompey Chimes.

The United Services Ground (now HMS Temeraire) is a few hundred yards distant from Portsmouth Guildhall. The original town hall was built in 1890. Its clock could be heard chiming from the football ground. It is said that RA's fans would mimic the chimes at 4 o'clock to remind the referee to blow the final whistle. According to the 1900/01 official handbook of Portsmouth FC, the chant went like this:

"Play up Pompey!
Just one more goal!
Make tracks! What ho!
Hallo! Hallo!"

The words have changed over the years, but the tune has remained the same. When RA were harshly forced to disband over claims of professionalism, many of their fans transferred their allegiance to the newly-formed Portsmouth FC, taking what were known as the Town Hall Chimes with them.

Steeplechase water jump with the large concrete stand beyond.
The word "Pompey" was also first used for the Royal Artillery team, eventually transferring to both Portsmouth FC and the city as a whole. The word is first recorded in the Harwich and Dovercourt Free Press on February 25th 1899, when The Gunners travelled to Essex to take on Harwich & Parkeston in an Amateur Cup 3rd round tie:

"Portsmouth RA, who are known in their own neighbourhood as Pompey, have undoubtedly a good record, and their name strikes terror to East Anglian teams, but what's in a name, as Shakespeare has it".

There are several explanations as to where the word "Pompey" originates. The three mentioned in the book Glory Gunners, by Kevin Smith (which is where I have sourced the information about Royal Artillery FC), are:

1. One year, the Royal Artillery were asked to line the route for the queen's birthday parade. They protested that a senior regiment should not be doing this - they should be proudly marching. Lining the route was a job for firemen in Paris for the Bastille Day parade. The next time the football club took to the field, they were teased with the cry of "Here come the Pompiers!"

2. The French warship Le Pompee was the guardship for Portsmouth Harbour when Britain and France were at war.

3. A group of sailors who climbed Pompey's Pillar in Egypt in 1781 became known as "Pompey's Boys".

I have seen other explanations - one had something to do with a talkative parrot. I suspect that no-one will ever know the word's origination with any degree of certainty.

The view from daffodil knoll.
Finding your way in to the United Services ground isn't easy. The football pitch is visible from St George's Road: I could see Tadley-Calleva warming up at twenty to three from the pavement near the Landport Gate. You need to walk all the way to the far side of the naval playing fields to the entrance of HMS Temeraire, where the sentries at the barrier will let you in if you say you're going to the match.

From here, walk to the left, through the car park, up a short flight of steps, around the large building on your right, down another flight of steps and through an open gate to the athletics/football stadium.

At two minutes to three, United Services' manager, Bob Brady, wanders around the stadium collecting entrance money and handing out programmes to the attendees. Yes, that's right, the home team's manager does this as the match is kicking off! Not something that Guy Whittingham has to worry about! Bob also lets you know where to go for tea at half-time "although you'll have to make it yourself!"

Floodlights taller than "The Lipstick" skyscraper!
I'm not sure if Bob was back at the dugouts by the time that Tadley-Calleva had scored the first goal of the match at 3:01. He may still have been busy selling programmes at 3:05 when the Callevans scored their second with Services all at sea. Goal number three was scored at 3:08, but this time it was for the home side - Mark Robinson had the ball funnelled through to him in the right-hand channel, from where he calmly skimmed the ball beyond Tadley's keeper to make it 1-2.

It was sink or swim time for Services after 15 minutes, as Tadders went 3-1 up with a torpedo from the edge of the box. But they couldn't turn the tide, as the marauding away team scored their fourth after 28 minutes, Grant Powell sidefooting home from six yards from a cross from the right, just where the old moat used to be.

4-1 to Tadley at half-time, an ocean of difference between the two sides. A rum do for Services, as they shipped goal after goal at a rate of knots during the half. The first half had to be written off as water under the bridge. It would be all hands on deck for the second period.

A rare attack for United Services.
United Services were formed in 1962 as Portsmouth Royal Navy FC, but a few years ago, the option of playing for the club was thrown open to members of the other services, plus civilians, so in 2004/05, they changed their name to United Services Portsmouth (the same as the well-established rugby club which plays nearby).

Before 2012/13 started, the naval players in the squad would have hoped this season would be plain sailing; the army members would have been gunning for top spot; and the air force would be looking to be flying high in the table. It hasn't worked out that way, promotion chances wrecked early on, with the club long since adrift in mid-table.

As the ref blew his whistle for the start of the second half, I heard the four o'clock chimes ringing out from the Guildhall clock. I fancied I could hear the ghosts of the old Royal Artillery fans singing along with their original Town Hall Chimes, but the sound was soon drowned out by the heavy traffic. I listened out for the Pompey crowd, who can be very raucous indeed, but by all accounts, their 0-0 draw with Stevenage, taking place at the same time as this match, was rather uninspiring. The surrounding background noises from the thousands of vehicles streaming in to and out of the nearby shopping centre would have made it hard to hear the Pompey crowd, even if they'd just gone 4-1 up against Saints, virtually ensuring their rival's relegation (ah, those were the days...!).

Tadley-Calleva scored their fifth, and the final goal of the game halfway through the second half, a hat-trick goal for Daniel Vickers, with a chip over the keeper, as delicate as any of the spring flowers blooming around the ground in the warm sunshine. The Magnificent Callevans then partook of a post-match huddle most cordial in the shadow of the Landport Gate, before setting off on their trusty steeds back to their north Hampshire homes for a hearty meal of venison washed down with a flagon of mead or two (possibly).

A train approaches Portsmouth Harbour Station during the second half.
An exceedingly pleasant day, which was made even more marvellous by a pre-match visit to Southsea's new record shop, Pie & Vinyl. Two teeny-weeny rooms, the first containing six small tables and a tiny kitchen serving up a selection of superb pies - the best I've ever tasted! The back room is crammed with vinyl (and a few CDs). On one wall is a stuffed fox, on another is an owl, checking your choices with its serious eyes. I thought I saw it blink with satisfaction when I picked up my shiny new Seapony album. That's one indiepoppin' owl!

Two more grounds to visit this season!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

38. Eversley & California FC

Eversley & California's 1st team play on Pitch 1 (beyond the indoor cricket centre).
So, before travelling to Eversley, the only thing I knew about the village was that it was the childhood home of Laura Marling - and the only two things that I knew about Laura Marling was that she is the secret crush of all those serious twenty-something men that look like Mr Tumnus the Faun (minus the horizontal ears), and that the cheery chappy from Noah & The Whale wrote an entire album about their break-up.

I obtained the first fact from the book Never Mind the Bollards - A Road Trip Around England's Rock 'n' Roll Landmarks. The fact that the village of Eversley ("The glade of the wild boar" - described as a gathering of fourteen homesteads in the Domesday Book, and there aren't many more than that now...) made it in to this book was a little surprising, considering all the larger towns and villages that have no entry. In football fan terminology, Eversley is just a small town in Yateley, which in turn, is just a small town in Farnborough, which in turn, is just a small town in get the idea.

Anyway, Southsea is in the book (the pier burning down during the filming of Tommy); Andover also (home of The Troggs); Southampton has Craig David; and Benny Hill is mentioned with his milk round in Eastleigh (hence his song Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West). Hampshire truly is a musical hotbed, and Eversley is now a part of this tradition.

Halfway line flag and official Combined Counties Football League ball. In the distance, hoppers and conveyors at an active gravel pit.
Eversley & California FC (1) 2 v 1 (0) Banstead Athletic FC
Saturday 30th March 2013
Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League Division One
Attendance: 27 (headcount, which would have included club officials, so paying customers probably less than 20)
Admission: £5 (included free programme)
Colours: Yellow and blue stripes / blue / blue v All red
Club shop: No
National Grid reference: SU7961

Eversley & California's seated stand.
Mercury Prize-nominated Laura Marling wrote the song Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) about Eversley. It's not the only pop music connection to the village, as the football team play in the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties Football League - Cherry Red being a record label and distributor. Created in the days of punk, and having made their money through selling shedloads of Dead Kennedys albums, Cherry Red are probably best known for their 750,000-selling Pillows and Prayers compilation, which sold for 99p and featured Everything But The Girl, amongst others.

As football lovers, they have released over fifty football-related albums, including clubcentric offerings for many British football teams, Pompey and Saints being amongst them. Saturday was my first ever Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League match (Cove and Hartley Wintney were visited for FA Cup ties). To celebrate, I did think about listing my ten favourite Cherry Red albums, but decided my readership wouldn't have the foggiest idea what I was writing about*.

Suffice to say that CDs by The Servants, The Chesterf!elds, The Flatmates, Felt, and various Cramps-inspired compilations are much-treasured around these parts. But names such as Van der Graaf Generator, Suzi Quatro, The Osmonds, 10cc, Isaac Hayes, Laurel Aitken also all feature on the Cherry Red advert carried in all Combined Counties League programmes, making it the coolest league in England.

*No change there then!

Not a great view from the seats!
Despite being in existence since 1910, Eversley FC only entered the Combined Counties League in 2009/10. Previously, they played in the Aldershot & District League. They merged with the California FC youth club in April 2012 to create the current Eversley & California FC combo (California being a suburb of nearby Wokingham - if you thought they'd merged with the gigantic American state, then you were wrong).

They are very much in Step 5/6 border territory, as a mile to the north, Finchampstead play in the Hellenic League. A couple of miles to the south and east, Fleet Spurs inhabit the Wessex League.

Eversley & California are the most westerly members of the CCL, but if they were in the Hellenic League, they would be the most southerly inhabitants of that league (and would face potential trips to Gloucestershire). If they were in the Wessex, they would be obliged to take expensive trips to the Isle of Wight at least a couple of times each season (which surely must put off Cove and Hartley Wintney from applying to join a league which contains most of their Hampshire rivals). It's a Bermuda Triangle of cost versus tradition decisions for the clubs in this area.

They have chosen to play in a league which mostly contains clubs from Surrey and South London, which probably cuts down on their overall travelling costs compared to the other two options.

A newly-delivered kit stand, all ready for action in Eversley & California's car park.
The Eversley Sports Association Ground is still very new. You certainly won't find it in any books of historic non-league stadiums. It's so new that their prefabricated terrace had only just been delivered during the week of my visit, and was sitting in the club car park, awaiting directions for erection.

The car park itself would be ideal for toy soldiers to play war games in. Hundreds of potholes, which could have been formed by miniature Airfix bombers dropping their small but deadly loads across the roadway, would make brilliant hiding places for 1:100 scale brave Tommy soldiers with their deadly plastic war machines to advance without fear on unsuspecting enemies. Ka-boom! Take that, you cruel and black-hearted non-nation-specific* adversaries!

Moving on from the car park, you pass the changing room/tea bar building and then a large indoor cricket centre on your left. The final structure before the football pitch is a small pay shed. Beyond this is the main, railed pitch that the first team play on (there are several more pitches to your right, one of which was being used by the A team on Saturday, playing against a team in black and white stripes).

The main features of interest can be seen in my photos. The floodlight poles are new, only erected in the past couple of weeks. The three poles on the disused gravel pit side are outside the rails, whereas the three on the stand side are inside, which means that the pitch has had to be shifted over towards the old gravel pits by a couple of yards to lessen the chances of players smacking into the poles (ouch!).

*Don't want to annoy any of my international readers! Incidentally, the only armies I have are hidden up my sleevies.

This concreted area is presumably where the new terrace will go? Perhaps the seats will be moved at the same time?
Coincidentally, considering Laura Marling's song about Eversley, there were a few flakes of snow in the air during the match against Banstead Athletic on Saturday. I stood over the more exposed side, although this did mean that the north-easterly wind was blowing on to my back, rather than my face. The fellow stood nearest me was dressed all in black, with his snorkel hood up, looking like a goth eskimo. He went to rescue a stray ball at one point during the first half. Booted over a low fence, it landed on some thick, clay mud, used to infill the former gravel pit on this side.

Next to the mud was a disagreeable brown pond, which nevertheless attracted birds from time to time. I had binoculars with me, so during breaks in play, I spotted five pied wagtails, a pair of Canada geese and a pair of mallards (and if the chap who was on Pointless recently is reading this, who thought that mallards were "ground birds", may I remind him that mallards are actually ducks).

Young, fast-growing trees have been planted all around the ground, so in a few years, it won't be quite so exposed. According to her song, Laura wants to come back to Eversley when she's old, so the ESA will have matured a bit by then, along with her.

Groovy moves! Banstead Athletic's keeper saved this point-blank effort.
I'm sure that if Mark "Lawro" Lawrenson was commentating on this match with Banstead Athletic, he'd adapt his "hilarious" joke about it not being fair that Liverpool had to play both Havant AND Waterlooville in the FA Cup to fit this game. You see, Banstead Athletic had found it hard to contain BOTH Eversley AND California during the first half (if Lawro ever considers retiring, I'm ready to step in). E&C took the lead through Chris Fox after ten minutes, and it looked like the floodgates might open (goal floodgates, not any floodgates attached to the dirty neighbouring pond, thank goodness).

But Banstead started to play better after this, and E&C then found it hard to contain them - if aliens had landed and watched this game during the second half (instead of kidnapping everyone present and conducting agonising experiments on our puny human bodies, which is far more likely), they wouldn't have known that E&C were third in the league (a promotion position) and that Banstead were third from bottom. Indeed, the away team equalised five minutes in to the second half - for E&C, the goal was akin to being caught walking out of Sainsbury's with an unpaid-for pizza in their shopping bag and not knowing about it, alarm going off and being summoned by a stern-looking security guard, such was the shock on the faces of the home team (it's okay though, the woman at the till had put one pizza through twice, so that the unpaid-for pizza had actually been paid for - the security guard put the alarm going off down to their magnetic charisma).

E&C eventually recovered from their pizza incident and won the game five minutes from the end, when Banstead's centre-half and goalie had an "after you, Claude"* moment, and Neil Williams nipped in to steal the ball and wallop home from six yards. You can see how pleased he was in the photo below, celebrating as if he was in front of a crowd of 30,000, instead of...well, it was just me standing at that end just then!

*Thanks to Lawro for that phrase!

Eversley & California's Neil Williams celebrates his late winning goal at the Active Gravel Pit End.
The only other match report I've seen resides on a CCL forum here. There was another groundhopper present taking photos, but I have failed to locate them anywhere on the internet.

All of which leaves me with just three more grounds to visit in the final four weeks of the season. I'm so close to doing this thing!