Monday, 21 October 2013

Kidlington v Lymington Town

The entrance to Kidlington FC's car park.
Imagine it's 1973 all over again. It's Saturday lunchtime. You've just feasted on a creamy pile of ham and mushroom Toast Toppers. You're going out to watch a game of football, patched up denim jacket safely on, bar scarf tied around your wrist, your fashionably long hair freshly washed and waved. You were intending to head off towards Oxford United's Manor Ground for their Second Division match against Fulham* when you bump into your mate Dave. He's heading off to Kidlington, as he's heard the local village side are playing a Showbiz XI, and ELTON JOHN might be making an appearance!

Well, you'd spent all summer playing Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting over and over again on your Dansette. This could be a laugh, so you decide to go to Kidlington instead.

*Oxford and Fulham drew 0-0, so you didn't miss much.

They tried to hide this rusty old mower in the long grass, but I found it!
Kidlington FC (1) 5 v 1 (1) Lymington Town FC
Saturday 19th October 2013
FA Carlsberg Vase First Round Proper
Attendance: 50-60
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: All green v Red / black / black
National Grid reference: SP4813 / SP4913

Kidlington FC's covered seating area...
When you arrive at Kidlington's Yarnton Road ground, you find that the spectators are two or three deep around the roped-off pitch (you hear later that there were 2,500 people in attendance that day - still a ground record). You manage to stand behind a pair of short old fellas and manage to catch glimpses of the various celebrities as the game progresses.

The goalkeeper is dressed all in black - his name is Jess Conrad and he organises the Showbiz XI. He watched Russia's Lev Yashin on the telly as a boy and admired the way that he leapt through the air in his all-black kit, looking like Batman, so he copied his style.

Look over there! Isn't that Radio 1's Diddy David Hamilton hugging the wing? And over there - it's Record Breakers' Roy Castle trying to be the best, showing a lot of dedication to the cause! The midfield pairing looks familiar - isn't that comedian Jimmy Tarbuck and Easy Listening's Des O'Connor? Yes, you recognise Des from the Morecambe & Wise Show! Talking of which, isn't that Eric Morecambe himself over on the far side? He's taken his glasses off, but yes, that's him alright! You can't see Elton John anywhere...but hang on! That's gravel-voiced sex-god Rod Stewart up front, isn't it? Goodness me, no wonder there's so many people here!

Now, I've no proof that any of these celebrities were playing at Kidlington that day, but all of them did play for the Showbiz XI at some point around that time, so it was quite possible...

...and their covered standing.
So, what was Hopping Around Hampshire doing in Oxfordshire? Well, I'm following Hampshire sides in the FA Vase this season - doesn't matter where they play, so long as I can get there by 3pm. I started off at Hythe & Dibden for their first-ever home tie in the competition. I then travelled to Bracknell Town to see Hartley Wintney in action.

This time out, it was Lymington Town's turn in the spotlight. I'd had a choice of several different matches to go to, but I'd been offered a free beer in Kidlington's clubhouse by Jeremy, who volunteers at the club on a match day. So, how could I have gone anywhere else?

I spent a happy half hour both before and after the match chatting with Jeremy. He told me all about Kidlington Football Club. His son plays at centre-back, his wife volunteers in the tea hut on a match day, and he updates the club's Twitter account, amongst other things. Like a lot of clubs at this level, Kidlington rely on families like this to keep going. If you ever go to Kidlington, ask for Jeremy and say I sent you. He'll be pleased to see you.

Jeremy's son, Christien Turner, attempts to block a rare Lymington shot.
Kidlington's ground backs on to the Oxford Canal. There's a bridge over the canal from where you can just about see the dugouts and the floodlights if you peer through the foliage at the right angle.

You enter the ground via the pay shed, which is just beyond the red brick clubhouse. The tea hatch is immediately to your right, where you can buy sandwiches, chocolate bars, crisps and beverages. Walking around the ground clockwise, you come straight to the covered standing area, which is placed next to a corner flag, as there is no other space for it to go at that end.

Past the corner flag and looking to your left, there is a communal allotment garden, full of enormous cabbages and curly kale at this time of year. Glance to your right and you see three dugouts - two large new brick dugouts painted in British racing green, with a disused dugout inbetween, painted in pale mint green.

There is nothing but hard standing at the top end of the ground, other than a grassy area where passing dog owners can exercise their pets (a public footpath runs around the pitch - total dog-count on Saturday was 5). Walk three-quarters of the way along the final side of the ground and you reach the seated stand part way between the halfway line and the corner flag. Behind the stand is a row of tall trees which hides the nearby housing estate.

The weather on Saturday was 90% overcast, 9.5% sunny spells, 0.5% rainbows. It was a relatively warm day, but even so, I have to say, it was good to see so many people following their mum's the government's advice by wearing jumpers.

Enhanced colour trickery reveals a pretty rainbow over Kidlington.
Kidlington are the longest-serving members of the Hellenic League, having joined in 1954, the year after its formation. The league was originally going to be called the Coronation League, but the FA refused to sanction this name, so the founders named it in the Greek style of many of the surrounding leagues (see the Isthmian League, Spartan League, Athenian League, etc). If only the recently-renamed Kent League had followed the same naming convention, the Southern Counties East League might have ended up being the Peloponnese League or something similar. Too tricky to spell, I suppose.

The Hellenic League is effectively an Inbetweeners League with shifting boundaries. It's for clubs who are too far east for the Western League, too far west for any of the various London leagues, too far north for the Wessex, and too far south for the Midlands leagues. It has generally been centred around Oxford though, which is why Kidlington have remained there whilst so many other clubs have switched to other leagues.

Over the years, Kidlington have played over 130 different clubs in the Hellenic League, some of whom have gone on to better things (see Brackley Town, Forest Green Rovers, etc), whilst many others have disappeared (too many to mention, but Rivet Sports, Ernest Turner Sports, Smiths Industries are just some). Full Hellenic League tables up until 2007 can be found in the book Non-League Football Tables 1889-2007; tables from 1988 onwards can be found online here.

Dench wheels! (I believe that means "lovely bicycle")
I spoke about writing match reports with Jeremy, who sometimes does the job for Kidlington's website. We both agreed it wasn't an easy job. His method is to take notes on his phone as the match progresses and type them up afterwards without too much editing. My method is to try and memorise every major incident and then promptly forget them as soon as I get home. No change for me this week then...

Lymington had won away at East Cowes Victoria Athletic in the previous round, and their league form has been better than average so far, so they had travelled with hope in their hearts. After eight minutes, they were leading, as Shane Sims snaked his way around Kiddy's defence in the shape of the letter S, before slotting the ball right-footed under the advancing keeper. That was as good as it got for Lymington though, as the home side started applying more and more pressure.

After 35 minutes, Lymo's keeper made an extraordinary save to palm a goalbound header over the bar, but from the resulting corner, Kidlington took the lead with a close-range shot by two players at the same time - one of which was Jeremy's son Christien, who claimed afterwards that it was his goal. I'd let them have half a goal each, to be fair. Might mess up the club's goal stats though.

The second half was all Kidlington. Tommy Castles scored a 25 minute hat-trick, then the fifth was added in the 97th minute by Michael Duerden (making his total for the match 1.5*). By that point Lymington were knackered and just wanted to jump on the coach and go home. They'd been down to ten men for the last half hour after their left-back had headbutted a Kidlington player right in front of the ref. Red card and walk of shame for that man.

*Edit: Michael explains that the first goal was his in the Comments below. Of Kiddy's five goals on Saturday, there were officially three for Castles, two for Duerden, and none for Turner.

Tidying away the goals post-match.
So, Oxfordshire's Kidlington were in the draw for the Second Round Proper of the Vase, which was published on Monday lunchtime. Also there were Hartley Wintney, who beat Petersfield Town on Saturday to progress. Leaving the competition at the First Round Proper stage were Hythe & Dibden, who lost 4-1 at Alresford Town.

The remaining Hampshire teams were drawn thusly for the next round:

Erith Town v Hartley Wintney
Rye United v Newhaven / Cove
Folland Sports v Sholing
Verwood Town v Alresford Town
Blackfield & Langley v Oxford City Nomads
Odd Down v Moneyfields / Christchurch
Fareham Town v Bitton
AFC Portchester v Shepton Mallet

Erith and Rye are probably too far for me to go (as I don't usually have access to the family car until after 1pm). However, I hope to be at one of the other matches on November 16th.

Kidlington will play at home to Tavistock in the "Round of 128" (as FIFA would probably insist on calling it if they were in charge). I hope they get a big crowd for that one. Probably not as big as the 2,500 that turned up to see Diddy David Hamilton and friends in 1973, but fingers crossed for 100+. Thank you to Jeremy and the club for putting up with me on Saturday. I expect we'll meet again one day.

Photos and a report from Saturday's match can be found on Kidlington's website here and here.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Hartley Wintney v Clevedon Town

A sign with the times.
To be fair to Clevedon's keeper, there were mitigating circumstances. There was the elbow in his midriff, tipping him off-balance. Another referee on another day would have blown for a foul, but not today. Then there was the low watery sun in his eyes - a sort of hazy alien sunlight that would normally only be seen in an Isaac Asimov-inspired science fiction world - kind of yellow, kind of orange, kind of distracting.

Then again, he may have been thinking about his wonder save from a few seconds earlier. How would he describe it to his family upon his return to Somerset? How high had he leapt? How fast was the ball travelling? Like a fisherman's catch, it was more and more impressive the more he thought about it.

Perhaps he'd been distracted by something more prosaic, like thinking about what he'd have for dinner that evening? Or maybe he'd bumped in to ex-TVS newsreader Chris Peacock in the clubhouse and had just realised why his name was so funny to teenage boys. Did he have a brother called Drew? Did he call his dad Pop?

Whatever the reason, it didn't change a thing. The ball had slipped out of his gloves and was now resting beside the goalpost, a few inches over the goal line. 1-0 to Hartley Wintney.

This way to FA Cup fun.
Hartley Wintney FC (0) 1 v 1 (0) Clevedon Town FC
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round (with Budweiser)
Saturday 12th October 2013
Attendance: 410
Admission: £6
Programme: Unfortunately sold out when I arrived, but I know from my previous visit that they are excellent value for money at £1.
Colours: All orange v Blue and white stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7656

And you will know us by the trail of bread...Hartley Wintney's thatched duck house.
Saturday was only the second time that Hartley Wintney had ever reached the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. I'd seen them on the previous occasion two years ago when they'd lost 4-0 at neighbours Basingstoke Town. That time out, they were massive underdogs, being three levels below their opponents and were well beaten.

This time saw them at home to a club in the relegation zone of the league immediately above, so they must have been confident of a win which would see them in the draw for the final round before Football League clubs enter the competition. The likes of Aldershot Town, Edgar-Davids-Barnet or Luton Town potentially awaited Saturday's winners.

Hartley Wintney FC's clubhouse at half-time on Saturday.
Even so, it was still a David versus Goliath situation. Or, if you prefer to avoid the usual cliche, choose one from any of these expressions:
  • Men v monsters
  • Chimpanzees v mountain gorillas
  • Gorillas v Godzilla
  • Hobbits v trolls
  • The first tiny primitive mammals v tyrannosaurus rex
  • Underpants v vicious wood ants
How about the tiny Hants village with a thatched duck house in the village pond versus the mighty Somerset metropolis by the sea?

Or we could stick with David versus Goliath.

No spectators beyond this point is what it says.
I had commentary provided for me during the first half by three knowledgable ten year old boys who came and stood next to me. Evidently, they played for one of the club's many young person's teams as they chatted amongst themselves about their playing exploits. "I played up front last week and scored three goals". "I played in goal and we won 8-0".

They reminded me of myself at a similar age - they knew which league Hartley played in, as well as all their opponents. They knew all about Camberley and Badshot Lea and Havant & Waterlooville - they'd been unlucky to lose to the Hawks on Tuesday evening - "only 3-0 against a team from three divisions above us!" They were looking forward to going to Molineux in a later round of the FA Cup, as the game was bound to be televised.

The main talking point of the first half was when Hartley's full-back was sent off when the ball hit his face and rebounded on to his hand on the goal line. The ref awarded a penalty, which was saved by Hartley's keeper. The boys weren't impressed by the referee's decision and thought the save was justice done. They were definitely on their way to Wolverhampton now...

What happened next?
No inadvertent commentary in the second half for me as I stood between two older fans, one of whom was on the phone telling someone about the size of the crowd and how there were so many people here he'd never seen before - after all, when you're part of a crowd of fifty or so regulars, you do get to recognise everyone. Some of them become mates, others nodding acquaintances. You're part of an exclusive gang of mostly middle-aged and older men. I was one of 350 or so outsiders and interlopers in the crowd of 410 (we were all made to feel welcome though, may I add).

Going down to ten men didn't affect Hartley Wintney adversely. Indeed, it had the opposite effect as the sending off had been harsh in their eyes. It was like watching a game of pinball as the ball pinged from one end of the pitch to the other, both sides having chance after chance, but nothing went right until Clevedon's keeper had his nightmare moment ten minutes into the second period.

Some of the crowd of 410 watching from Hartley Wintney's stand.
From that point onwards, Hartley's players began to tire and the West Country side had more and more opportunites. My notebook reveals a double block on the line after 58 minutes; the outside of the post being shaved after 61; Hartley's keeper making a save that Joe Hart would have been proud of from a bouncing header after 65 minutes...and so it went on.

With ten minutes remaining, the homesters were resembling the first tiny shrew-like proto-mammals, their primitive legs and lungs knackered after being relentlessly pursued by vicious giant carnivores. It was almost inevitable that Clevedon would equalise, and so they did, via a deflected long-range shot. The ten-year-olds had spotted that Town's number 11 was their most effective player - it was he that stuck his foot out to score.

That wasn't the end of the action, as Mr Notebook tells me that Clevedon hit the post again; they then had four shots in succession blocked by brave defenders' bodies; and finally, number 11 was adjudged by the ref to have dived to try and win a penalty with two minutes remaining. The ref booked him.

And so it finished 1-1. A nitroglycerine rocket-powered stormer of a cup tie. To be replayed just two days later with the whole of the Hartley team having to take a half day off of work to travel to the West Country. Surely they'd blown their big chance?

The fire exit. Or the entrance to an enchanted world?
A match report from the Basingstoke Gazette can be read here. One from Clevedon Town's website (with photos) here. Andy the Photographer took many photos, which can be found here. If you look carefully at Andy's photos, you can see the handball for Clevedon's penalty and Hartley Wintney's goal in freeze-frame slow-mo. There were at least four other people taking photos, but I've not located any of theirs online yet.

The replay is going on as I write on Monday evening. Hartley's Twitter feed tells me that the half-time score is 2-0 to Clevedon. The winners will be at home to either Grays Athletic or Daventry Town in the final qualifying round.

Edit: extraordinary goings-on in the replay according to Twitter. The Row (Hartley Wintney's nickname) came back to win 4-3 with a penalty in the 96th minute! The village team with the thatched duck house will be playing, quite unbelievably, in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in a fortnight! They could yet be playing at Molineux or Bramall Lane or Fratton Park in early November. Quite extraordinary. It's going to be quite an occasion on October 26th.

Be there.