Monday, 27 April 2015

Verwood Town v Whitchurch United

The long walk from dressing rooms to pitch passes an adventure playground at Verwood Town FC's Potterne Park. If only I'd put the flash on!
My last match report of the season, and the pressure's on! Winner of Onion Bag's Blog of the Year for two seasons running - could I make it a hat-trick? This is one of the many thoughts racing through my mind as I arrive at Verwood Town's Potterne Park 45 minutes before kick-off. I've not been at my best too often this season, and this inconsistency could cost me. Too many schoolboy errors (I should have put the flash on my camera for the photo above, for example. It's a good picture, but the players would have stood out more against the gloom with some artificial light...).

I needed to take a walk to calm down. Too self-critical by far. I bypass the ground - there's little happening there yet - the fellow at the pay hut is chewing the fat with a friend, but there appears to be little other activity. Ah, there's the entrance to Moors Valley Country Park. Memories of taking the children there a few years ago. My daughter got to ride on a pony, but my son was terrified of the pine cones. Moors Valley is full of pine cones, so it wasn't a good day out.

A pile of unsold programmes in the pay hut.
Verwood Town FC (1) 2 v 1 (0) Whitchurch United FC
Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division
Saturday 25th April 2015
Attendance: c40
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Pin badge: £3 (available at pay hut)
Colours: Red / black / red v All maroon with sky blue trim
National Grid reference: SU0907

The tea hatch/boardroom in a container at Verwood Town. Directors' seats laid out neatly in front. The fishing nets are for digging balls out of a nearby ditch.
A hundred yards in to the park and I hear the metallic thwick of golf club on golf ball, followed by a resigned harrumph as Foxy slices yet another one in to the rough. Jovial laughter and pats on the back from Foxy's mates - well, they seem pretty relaxed.

I sit down in the sunshine at a picnic table and listen to the Springtime birds calling for mates. There's the endless two note tooting of a male great tit. I look around and see him on a nearby bush, looking natty in a tidy black bib. He's looking good and sounding good - I'm sure he'll get a mate soon.

I feel a bit calmer now, so I get up and make my way back along the path towards the football ground. I pass by a pair of small girls on scooters, one of whom is asking mummy why it always takes so long to get where you're going, but hardly takes any time at all to get back again afterwards. These are the wisest words I've heard for weeks (and we're nearing the end of a general election campaign...). I've been wondering the same thing all my life and I still haven't come up with an answer.

Verwood Town's seated stand in Dennis the Menace red and black.
I take another look around before I enter the football ground. There's plenty going on in Potterne Park. There's the adventure playground full of twelve year old boys hanging from monkey bars. Over the other side of the path are dozens of smaller boys scurrying around like brightly coloured ants in their Chelsea, Man U and England shirts as they play some sort of supervised mini-football in a cage.

Then I notice a couple of tattooed men smoking and texting outside the changing rooms. These can't be Verwood or Whitchurch players, surely? Of course not - they're on the pitch behind me, warming up - these must be bored dads waiting to pick up their children.

Me? I put my collar up to stop my camera strap from chaffing my neck. I feel like a moth-eaten Elvis, but at least I'm a bit more relaxed now. Time to enter the stadium...

Rain clouds ahoy.
I was told in a comment on here a few months ago how friendly Verwood Town is, and my anonymous commenter was right. From the moment I handed over my cash at the pay hut (£10 for entrance, a programme and a pin badge), I was made to feel at home. Later on, the pay hut fellow came over to chat with me, and upon finding out that I liked photographing birds, he told me where I could go to find a family of short-eared owls. This has never happened to me at a professional club, and probably never will.

I'd been dithering all week about where to go for my final report. There were five relegation or promotion deciders in the Wessex League - I'd been tossing up between Andover Town v Fareham Town and Cowes Sports v Romsey Town for a few days, but decided I didn't want to see Fareham relegated (they pulled off their own version of The Great Escape by winning 1-0, as it happens), and nor did I want to see my Romsey Town boys lose at Cowes (which would have meant promotion for the Isle Of Wight club, which duly happened).

In the end, I decided against excitement and went for a meaningless game at Verwood instead. After all, I'd already seen Petersfield's promotion celebrations and I have Havant & Waterlooville's play-off matches to come (and I may go to Fratton Park for the Hampshire Senior Cup final between Sholing and Gosport Borough on May 5th as well).

So, I'm not averse to excitement - just not today.

Watching from a grassy knoll at Verwood Town.
The teams duly delivered on the lack of excitement. I'm not saying they weren't trying - they were - it was just the general vibe. There were plenty of chances, the majority of them falling to the home side, but several of their shots went over the goal, over the boundary fence, and in to a ditch which runs behind the ground.

I'd noticed a pair of fishing nets leaning up against the boardroom container as I walked in and had wondered what they were used for - there's no river flowing behind the ground, no man in a coracle needed to fetch wayward shots, as used to happen at Shrewsbury's Gay Meadow. When one ball landed in the ditch and a club volunteer picked up a fishing net, it clicked. It was a device to save his back. A minute or two later, he had come back, ball in net, ready for it to be used again in anger.

It may have been this exact ball that ended up rippling Whitchurch's goal net after 20 minutes. Jordan Fisk was in the right place on the edge of the six-yard box to volley in a loose bouncing ball. Sweet as chutney.

Whitchurch United on the attack in the second half rain.
The same player scored an almost identical goal on the hour to double Verwood's lead. I can't call this one "sweet as chutney" again, so how about "smooth as a masala" this time? I was told that this was a dangerous scoreline for the home side, as they'd let two goal leads slip so often recently. The home fans wouldn't be entirely comfortable with the situation until the ref had blown his final whistle.

The next chance that Whitchurch had to get a goal back was a free-kick right on the edge of the opposition's penalty area, to the far left of the box. Perfect for a right-footer to curl one in to the top corner. Unfortunately, the right-footer that stepped forward to take it was their goalkeeper, Brad Snelling. I can understand his frustration at never getting the opportunity to score (as I played in goal myself), but us goalies should know that we are between the sticks for a reason - we can't shoot for toffee. Sure enough, the free-kick was blasted so high and so wide that I thought I heard Foxy going "Yaroo!" on the golf course a quarter of a mile away as the ball whacked him on the back of the bonce.

On 82 minutes, I heard a home fan complain that the game had "lost its fizz". On 83 minutes, Whitchurch got a goal back. Danny Phillips nodded in a looping header across goal and just inside the far post.

As is usual on the last day of the season, people were discussing scores coming in from other grounds. I got to hear all the news from the relegation and promotion matches in the Wessex League, but nothing from elsewhere. Screw you and your irritating narcissism, Premier League! Not everyone is as obsessed with you as you'd love to think...I got the impression that nobody from Verwood wanted to lose their annual local derbies with Christchurch, and that Tadley-Calleva were "Whitchurch Reserves" (presumably this information came from an away fan). Well, Christchurch ended up in a relegation spot, and Whitchurch Reserves missed out on promotion to Cowes Sports.

A delicious spread awaits club officials in the boardroom. Battenburg, sponge cake, biscuits and something mysterious covered in foil.
Photos from the game can be found on Verwood Town's excellent website here. I have to say that whenever I've been thinking about going to a new Wessex League ground over the last few years, I've quite often looked at VT's website to check out their pictures so I have an idea of what to expect. It's a valuable resource.

I shall be back again in a couple of weeks with the latest end of season roller round-up. Then I shall post sporadically throughout the summer - perhaps some statistical stuff this year - before returning in August for a new season of hopping around Hampshire and nearby counties.

Now, have I done enough to get that hat-trick of awards from Onion Bag?


  1. I really enjoy dipping into this blog from time to time - it's a great read Andy! Also, is there any possibility that the elusive Bridermere was Bridgemary? (Probably obvious enough for you to have already considered.)

  2. Hello Dave, nice to hear from you! My e-mail address has changed since we were last in contact - it now has no dot where there used to be one...

    I fear the Bridermere question will be one that will never be solved :-(