Monday, 21 April 2014

Eastleigh v Basingstoke Town

The sign at the entrance to the car park at Eastleigh FC.
It felt dirty and wrong, like walking down to the Millbrook Chippy with fifteen quid in my pocket for the family dinner and diving in to Hidden Assets next door and spending our hard-earned cash on adult toys instead of Pukka Pies (Don't Compromise!). Ninety minutes inside the Silverlake Stadium, the home of Havant & Waterlooville's deadly rivals, Eastleigh FC. Ninety minutes which would, in all likelihood, see them promoted to the Conference National as champions.

How could I do this?

The stand and changing rooms at Eastleigh FC.
Eastleigh FC (0) 2 v 1 (0) Basingstoke Town FC
Friday April 18th 2014
Skrill Conference South
Attendance: 1,505
Admission: £12
Programme: Assumed one would be on sale in the club shop, but they were only available at the turnstile, where I failed to purchase one. I bought a badge for £2.50 instead.
Colours: Blue / white / blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU4417

The new three step terracing.
I like to see matches that have something important riding on them over the last few weeks of the season. My initial choice this weekend was to go to Farnham Town to see if Alton Town could get the win that they needed to help them in their fight against relegation - a new ground, a pleasant town, and the chance to cheer on one of my favourite teams. It was not to be, as the match was switched to Friday evening, and I was due to be busy elsewhere.

Also playing on Friday evening were Havant & Waterlooville, away at Weston-Super-Mare. The Hawks were in fifth place, the last play-off spot in Conference South, going in to this fixture. I've watched them many times this season and would rather relax and enjoy their matches than worry about what I'm going to write about afterwards. Anyway, Skif covers them brilliantly in his club-based blog here.

Other Hampshire clubs with something to play for on Saturday were Pompey, needing a win to be virtually certain of avoiding relegation to the Conference (and hence, local derbies with Eastleigh and potentially the Hawks); Aldershot Town, hosting Salisbury, needing points to avert a second successive relegation; and lower down, Fleet Town (travelling to Bridgwater in Somerset), Alresford Town, Sholing, Fawley, Andover Town, Petersfield Town and Eversley & California, all variously chasing championships, promotions or attempting to avoid relegation.

Eastleigh FC's executive boxes.
I've only featured Eastleigh and their opponents Basingstoke Town once each on here previously, so it was probably about time I wrote about them again. Even though I felt disgusted with myself.

£12 handed over to Havant & Waterlooville's big rivals. The Beasts. We don't really hate each other. It's not like the stupid stuff that goes on between Pompey and Saints. There's no scraps when the two sides meet. No bovver. We chat to each other on the terraces before a match, and again afterwards. Whilst the game is in motion, we'll exchange "banter", but it's all pretty tame and good-natured.

The Hawks and the Beasts meet on Easter Monday at Westleigh Park. In a way, I wanted Eastleigh to get the point they needed to secure promotion against Basingstoke. Perhaps the Eastleigh manager would then rest some of his better players against 'Avantlooville. Perhaps the players who were on the pitch would only play at 75%, mentally booking their holidays to the Costa Lottadosh.

If they could go 4-0 up against Basingstoke and then concede four to draw, they would have their point, but it would feel like a defeat. They'd feel a bit deflated. And I'd be entertained.

Yes, that's what I wanted to happen.

Eastleigh's drummer.
There was a big crowd at the Silverlake on Friday. Full to bursting with 1,505 souls crowded around the pitchside barriers. Eastleigh have the poorest stadium of all the Hampshire clubs in the Conference South - the Hawks, Farnborough and Basingstoke would all pass the gradings for the level above without any hassle. Gosport Borough might have a little work to do if they were promoted to the Conference National, but the Beasts...

To be fair, their ground has improved since the first time I visited. They now have a prefabricated three step terrace at the clubhouse end, which stretches almost halfway along behind the goal, which must have increased their relatively tiny capacity by a few hundred. But they have a lot to do over the summer to get their ground up to National standard. Plans include adding a new terrace all along the far side of the ground from the main stand. I presume that will be another prefab terrace, probably with around five steps. This would mean the roof either being removed or heightened on this side.

We did it! We won the league!
They have bought a new stand from Exeter RFC, which I believe will be erected over the summer, probably on the area of empty hard-standing at the opposite end to the clubhouse. However, they may also choose to demolish the current main stand and replace it with a new one which would stretch the majority of the length of the pitch. Lots to do before the new season starts.

The match against Basingstoke started slowly. It was as frustrating for the home fans as being stuck behind a Norbert Dentressangle juggernaut whilst driving up a twisty-turny, up-and-downy B road. Basingstoke were generally the better side, creating more chances than the homesters. But they blew it every time, blasting high, wide or not very handsome over and over again.

Even so, Eastleigh came the closest to scoring before half-time, when Jai Reason let fly from twenty yards, the ball hitting the crossbar, making it twang more than Duane Eddy playing his twangy guitar on Rebel Rouser.

A proud boy poses with Eastleigh's captain Glen Southam and the Conference South trophy.
It took until the 67th minute for Eastleigh to take the lead, Yemi Odubade hitting a right-footer from twenty yards which curved past the substitute keeper's left hand with the parabola of the average cucumber. The players went wild - they knew one goal would be enough at that stage. They leapt all over their noisy ultras at the seated end. Happy faces all round.

Ben Wright scored the second 15 minutes later. The players repeated their leaping celebrations, but this time, the pitchside barrier collapsed. The ref spotted the danger immediately and ordered the players away. As far as I know, no-one was hurt - it was more of a happy bundle, a giant squash of joy - but with the chairman of the Conference in attendance, along with several other bigwigs in the stand watching on, it appears that Eastleigh will have more work to do in the summer, replacing their rusty old barrier.

Basingstoke scored a tap-in in injury time - a goal they deserved, having had so many previous chances, but it was irrelevant. The final whistle went. The trophy was presented. The trophy was paraded. Ecstacy all around the stadium. Even I got caught up in it and had a wry smile, before I remembered where I was and put my poker face back on again.

The collapsed barrier.
Paul Paxford was there, capturing all the moments that were worth capturing. He was almost squashed under the collapsed barrier, but luckily just managed to avoid injury. His photos are here. The Echo covered the match here. There is a virtual tour of the ground from 2012 here - the electric Spitfires have both gone, sadly.

Before Monday's matches kick off, the following issues involving Hampshire clubs have been settled over the Easter weekend:
  • Conference South: Eastleigh champions and promoted.
  • Southern League South & West: Fleet Town relegated, or, more accurately, guaranteed a spot in the bottom two, which is normally a relegation position. However, due to Thatcham Town's resignation, they will probably be reprieved if they finish above Guildford City. Two matches to go for them.
  • Combined Counties Premier: Despite drawing at Farnham, other results sent Alton Town down. They may be transferred back to the Wessex League - it depends upon the FA's allocation panel.
  • Combined Counties Division One: Eversley & California got the point they needed for promotion.

I said I'd do 16 match reports at the start of the season. This was my 15th. The last one will come from Wembley on May 10th, as I complete my Vase journey with Sholing.

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