Monday, 18 August 2014

Horsham YMCA v Alton Town

The entrance to Horsham YMCA's Gorings Mead ground.
The goal that won this FA Cup tie for Horsham YMCA was an absolute corker. 80 minutes gone, the scores level at 2-2, with both sides having had several clear opportunities to win the game. A throw-in ten yards from the corner flag on YM's left. Two quick passes and the ball was rolling out to the home side's rollicking centre-half, Luke Gedling. A swift shuffle of the feet and the ball was in front of him, on his right, 25 yards from goal.

With no defender close enough to block, he let fly with a jet-propelled blast. You could sense a vapour trail behind it as the ball smashed in to the top left-hand corner, stretching the net so far back that it could have been cut down and remodelled as an XXXL string vest.

If there had been a terrace of 5,000 home fans behind the goal (instead of a row of suburban gardens full of rhubarb and runner beans), the crowd would have gone more bonkers than Dizzee Rascal after a wild evening necking nineteen Sunny Ds. The players would have rushed towards them, bundling over each other, shirts stripped off, swinging them round their heads like helicopter rotor blades. Some fans would have responded by breaking through the lines of stewards and joining in the bouncing on-pitch victory dance.

What actually happened was that there was some polite applause from the 70-odd people scattered around the pitch, then the old fella next to me turned round to his mate and said:

"That's the first thing he's got right all afternoon."

The Victor Gladwish Stand.
Horsham YMCA (0) 3 v 2 (1) Alton Town FC
FA Cup (with Budweiser) Extra Preliminary Round
Saturday 16th August 2014
Attendance: 77
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: White / black / red v Purple / white / white
National Grid reference: TQ1729 / TQ1730

The Andy Piper Terrace.
The last time I saw Alton Town was the inspirational occasion when nearly 500 people turned up to their home ground to protest against their less-than-friendly corporate landlords, Molson Coors. It appears as though the North American brewing giant eventually got the message after this match and agreed to delay the football club's eviction from their ground whilst another site in the town was refurbished ready for them to move in and carry on playing at the same level.

The proposals to build 85 new houses on the football ground and to move the club to a nearby facility are currently going through the planning process. You can look at the proposals on this site. The housing application's number is 30667/015; that of the redevelopment of Alton United's ground to accommodate their neighbours is 52457/002. Plenty of objections on the grounds of the council and the brewery ignoring the 1935 covenant to keep the land as open space; plenty more objections for other reasons. You can make up your own mind if you have a look.

Groundsharers Horsham FC's abandoned club shop.
The Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was born near Horsham. There is a fountain in the town centre dedicated to him which has been voted the Ugliest Fountain In The World (who on earth votes in these polls?!). I rather liked it. It looks like a golden Petey Piranha from Nintendo's Mario games.

Shelley was an unpopular figure with the establishment during his lifetime due to his forthright views on overthrowing the corrupt and bankrupt old boy's network in order to build a new world, based on non-violence and increasing connections with the natural world. His poem, Ode To The West Wind, was an analogy about blowing away the materialism of the greedy and beginning all over again, all of us at one with nature.

Having recently read about the Tory MP, Mark Simmonds, who is stepping down from Parliament because he can't live on a minister's wage, plus £173,000 in expenses, plus £50,000 from a private healthcare company for a nominal 40 hours of work per year, whilst voting for benefit cuts and wage freezes for the rest of us (the sort of man who would tell us that "money doesn't grow on magic money trees" - unless you're him, of course...), I can see that Shelley may have had a point.

On first inspection, a mediaeval torture instrument. In actuality, Horsham YMCA's ball retrieving tool.
Horsham YMCA share their Gorings Mead ground with their traditionally more successful neighbours, Horsham FC, who used to play literally just over the fence behind the Andy Piper terrace. By all accounts, it was a classic old non-league ground, with an art deco stand and acres of crumbling terraces. David Bauckham (in The Non-League Football Grounds of Sussex) and Kerry Miller (in The History of Non-League Football Grounds) both loved the old Queen Street stadium. Miller called it "a match for any ground in the country". Sadly, they sold the ground for development in 2008, hoping to move in to a new, purpose-built stadium on the edge of town. Six years on, they're still waiting. A warning for Alton Town and any other clubs that have to move.

The Gorings Mead (and not Gorings Meadow, as it's called by the Bing mapbots on Bing Maps) football ground is situated at the end of a cul-de-sac. If arriving by foot, you walk through the open gate and turn right to go through the turnstile, manned by a fellow who used to follow Silsden in the North West Counties League before he moved to Sussex.

Turn left from the wooden turnstile hut and you walk behind a goal, along the road which leads to the ample club car park. Turning right at the corner flag, there are two small standard portable stands, one terraced, the other seated. Behind these is the clubhouse with a bar, tea station and toilets. Charlie's portable snack bar (not open last Saturday) sits behind the away dugout. Beyond Charlie's is the main stand, named in honour of Victor Gladwish. Five rows of blue plastic seats and one row of red. Plenty of room for everyone.

Around the rest of the pitch is hard standing, until you come to the small five step terrace, named in honour of former player Andy Piper. This is where the old men were standing who were unimpressed with the winning wonder goal. I stood there for some of the match, sucking on liquorice toffees and loving the FA Cup. The Real FA Cup, indeed.

A superb volley from Alton Town's Ash Peck.
YM have owned their ground since 1929, and can remain owners, so long as there is "no noxious or offensive business". With no bookings or sendings-off on Saturday, they're safely in charge of their own destiny for a little while longer.

I was rather taken with the home side's kit. White shirts, black shorts, red socks. It was like an obscure mid-European tricolour flag. During a lull in play, I tried thinking about which clubs play in similar three-colour outfits. Well, there's Pompey, obviously, with their classic blue/white/red get-up (the same as France until FIFA made up that ridiculous rule about countries playing in one colour only for the benefit of...well, whom exactly?); Carlisle United play in a similar kit this season (back to their glory days of Ray Train and Chris Balderstone leading them to the top of the league, if only for a few days in 1974); there's Man Utd (red/white/black)...then I got bored and had another liquorice toffee.

It never ceases to amaze me how big the sky is. Humans are tiny in comparison.
So much happened during the match on Saturday. Apparently, there were 25 shots on goal during the game, split evenly for the first 80 minutes or so.

The first goal came halfway through the first half, when YM's keeper made a right cock-up of a clearance down by his own corner flag, slicing the ball across the penalty area and straight to Alton's Matt Jackson, who couldn't believe his own luck as he easily side-footed home from 18 yards, dead centre. Alton deserved to be in front at half-time, having had several other good chances in the first 45, including a stunning volley from Ash Peck which was parried up into the air and caught again before it dropped over the line by the orange-shirted Simon Lockwood in YM's goal.

After dominating the early part of the second half, YM equalised when Liam Hunter sidefooted home a cross from Dan Sullivan (I'm doing this report from my own notes, by the way - I've not copied any other report - I decided keeping notes of all the germain incidents in a match would be a good idea partway through last season, instead of relying on my wobbly memory...).

Two minutes later, Alton retook the lead from a free header from six yards out by the bearded centre-back Tom Green. Alton's lead lasted five minutes before Hunter scored his deflected second.

Their second goal was to be the last time the purple-shirted visitors would bother the back of the net, although they came mighty close just before YM scored the winner when a point-blank shot was blocked on the line by the outstanding defender Dan Evans (a rumbustuous mountain of a man that the old fellas on the terrace heartily approved of).

YM grew in confidence as Alton became more ragged. Cries of "Slow it down!" and "Settle!" from the YM team followed the decisive goal. These tactics worked as the Sussex County League team progressed to a Preliminary Round tie against Redhill in a fortnight at the expense of the battling Altonians.

The sign above the terrace.
There is a match report which doesn't ramble on about poetry and politicians on Horsham YMCA's website here. Many photos from the game can be seen on both their site and copied directly on to Alton Town's website here.

And I didn't mention The Village People at all. Not once.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Christchurch v Blackfield & Langley

The entrance to Christchurch FC's Hurn Bridge Sports Ground stadium.
The Rules Of Hopping Around Hampshire:

1. Each match I report on has to feature at least one club from Hampshire. Doesn't matter if they're home or away. Doesn't matter if I've been to a ground a dozen times before. Nothing else matters apart from the Hampshire thing. Gives the blog a structure.

2. Rules two to six aren't really rules at all; they're more aims. So, rule/aim number two is that I shall try to write sixteen match reports in 2014/15 (the same as last season). The monthly split is likely to be two in each calendar month between August and November, then one each in December and January, followed by another two per month in February, March and April. It seems about the right number. If I did this every week, it would become more of an obligation than a pleasurable hobby. I need to stay sane.

3. Just like last season, I shall follow Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase until the last one is knocked out (subject to me being available to do so - family has to come first). More structure to the blog, and a little more predictability for my readers as to when to expect a new match report (usually the Monday or Tuesday after a Saturday match - it takes me a couple of days to get my act together to choose and edit the photos and then write the report itself).

The main stand glowing in the mid-evening sunshine.
Christchurch FC (0) 1 v 2 (0) Blackfield & Langley FC
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Wednesday 6th August 2014
Attendance: 100+ (I forgot to count - could have been as many as 150)
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: All blue v Green and white hoops / green / white
National Grid reference: SZ1297 (with small portions in SZ1296, SZ1396 and SZ1397)

The second seated area at Christchurch.
More rules/aims:

4. There are eight grounds in the Wessex League that I've yet to visit (all in Wiltshire and Dorset). I aim to drop in on at least four of these in 2014/15, completing the league in 2015/16.

5. At the beginning of 2014/15, there were twelve Hampshire clubs down to level 10 (out of the 42* that I've written about thus far) that I'd only featured once since I started HAH. I should like to report on at least six of these clubs this season, if possible. This will depend a lot on the vagaries of the fixture list (especially cup draws) and my availability on particular weekends.

6. If I'm not compiling a report for HAH, then I shall be cheering on either Pompey, Havant & Waterlooville or Romsey Town. These are my "days off".

*I have to have a cut-off point, and the lower divisions of the Wessex and Combined Counties leagues at level 10 is it. Hayling United and Stockbridge have sadly recently dropped below level 10. Hence I now feature only 40 clubs.

Blackfield & Langley win this aerial duel.
Let's begin...

...and a great start to 2014/15 for The Rules, as I visit one of the four Wessex League grounds that I was aiming to do, and feature Blackfield & Langley for only the second time. Two ticks in one game. Go me!

So, Christchurch FC were formed in 1885, which made them one of the oldest clubs in Hampshire before the local government reorganisation of 1974 moved them in to Dorset. They played at the Barrack Road Recreation Ground until 1984. Not being familiar with the town, I had a look on aerial photography to see if the old football pitch was still there, and the first piece of open land that I spotted that could have been a football ground until thirty years ago had now been covered by a skate park.

My Tony Hawk-inspired imagination then went in to overdrive mode as I picked out a shadow or two on the half-pipes. Kids doing heel-flips and half-flips where there was once Hampshire League action! Were the other kids watching them secretly hoping that they'd fall off their skateboards and pick up an amusing injury (nothing too serious, but hopefully something involving yelps of pain and a little blood...)? Mobile phone cameras whirring away, would there be an unfortunate incident to post up on social media later?

Then I thought about the age profile of Christchurch (one of the oldest towns in Britain, due to the large numbers of bungalow-bound retirees in the area - Highcliffe ward has the highest proportion of elderly residents in the UK at 69%), and hoped that the shadows I'd spotted weren't actually overactive 80-year-olds being cheered on by fellow pensioners. More hip replacement operations coming up, I feared.

Once my imagination had calmed down, I had a look at the nearby road name and realised that the recreation ground I was looking at wasn't actually on Barrack Road. There appears to be a cricket pitch at Christchurch's old stomping park. No pensioners' skate park, thank chuff.

An tennis umpire's structure? One of those ladders you have to climb to get on an aeroplane? Whatever it is, not something you see at every football ground.
Talking of cricket pitches, Christchurch FC share their current ground with Dorset CCC (and the Bournemouth FA). The cricket pitch and indoor training facility are on the right as you enter the Hurn Bridge Sports Ground through the football club's turnstiles. I sniffed out a roller on the far side of the cricket pitch almost immediately, but waited until it was dark until I nonchalantly wandered over to indulge in my slightly odd hobby of photographing groundsmen's equipment. Sometimes, I'm a bit shy about it, but with a two second exposure...I think I've already taken my roller photo of the season!

Walking clockwise around the pitch, immediately to the left of the turnstiles is the refreshments hut (tea, burgers, bacon rolls, Kit Kats and condiments). Beyond that, at the first corner is a rusty roller and three sticks stuck in a brick - probably a makeshift wicket for the cricketers, but not something I was expecting to see...

Beneath some conifers on the left-hand side is the main stand - built in 1995, made of breezeblocks and metal with blue plastic seats. In the middle is the announcer's box, and above this is an electronic scoreboard (not switched on during Wednesday's game). Next to the stand are the curious steps (see the photo above). Hard standing surrounds the rest of the pitch until you reach the second set of seats, attached to a club building.

On two sides of the ground is dense woodland which reminded me quite strongly of the Forbidden Forest which surrounds Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novels. I half expected to see a herd of bow and arrow-wielding centaurs emerge from the woods, chasing a swarm of angry giant spiders. In reality, the only animals I saw peaking out of the undergrowth were a timid pair of bunnies.

The main stand after dark.
I suspect the first half of this match will be one of the least exciting I shall see this season. It would have been the proverbial "Last game on Match Of The Day" (we're talking about 0-0 draws between Birmingham/Bolton/Stoke/Middlesbrough/Sunderland/Wigan here). Actually, I take that back - there was a disallowed goal for Blackfield (offside), and a decent save by the away keeper when a Christchurch player nearly lobbed one in to the top corner.

Apart from this though, not a lot happened. I spent the half listening to aeroplane engines buzzing and gyrating at nearby Hurn Airport, hoping that a jumbo jet would take off and head straight towards us, low down and silhouetted by the setting sun. If I could have taken a photo of this happening at the exact same moment as the ball rippled the back of the net with the outsmarted keeper flying through the air, arms akimbo, precisely mimicking the enormous metal beast overhead, I could have put my camera down, wiped my palms together, grinning from ear to ear, knowing that I'd taken the ultimate match photo.

Of course, all the planes that took off during the match headed off in the opposite direction.

And the sunset wasn't that great.

And I was nowhere near the nets when the three goals were scored.

My first roller of the new season! Admittedly next to the cricket pitch, but I wasn't going to pass it by without a photo, was I?!
The worthwhile action began in the 67th minute when Christchurch's Matt Dodd headed in the opening goal from a well-worked corner. Just reward for the home side's defensive heroics. After a 4-0 defeat the previous Friday against Verwood Town, the home team's fans must have been expecting a thrashing against one of the league's big spenders. But the boys in blue were superb for 85 minutes, effectively keeping the Watersiders away from their danger area as if they'd set up some sort of magical magnetic forcefield on the edge of their 18 yard line. Or as if they'd borrowed a collection of invisibilty cloaks off of Harry Potter and were playing with extra unseen defenders.

The last five minutes were more frenzied than level 26 on Doctor Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. There was "a tangle of legs", according to X-Church's Lee Clark as he left the pitch after being shown a red card for denying Jamie Musselwhite a clear shot on goal. Penalty to the Yeovil Town lookalikes, converted with aplomb by Blackfield's Dave Ewen.

Within a minute, Musselwhite had dibbed one in from a yard out to make it 2-1. A sad end to Christchurch's brave performance, but Blackfield were grinning more than eleven Cheshire cats who had stolen not only the home side's cream, but had eaten a week's worth of Whiskas Supermeat on top.

Summer football. T-shirts. Shorts. Twinkly floodlights.
A proper match report from Christchurch's excellent website can be found here.

Will The Rules Of Hopping Around Hampshire be like a childhood diary and fizzle out after the first month? All enthusiasm and good intentions, obsessed and worried over before being suddenly forgotten? Quite possibly, but right now The Rules are Important and Will Be Adhered To.

Let me know when I lapse, won't you?