Monday, 25 January 2016

Hythe & Dibden v Fleet Spurs

Hythe & Dibden Football Club, as viewed from the mound behind their new Clayfields ground.
I don't know if you were as obsessed with football as I was as a youngster, but I would live and breathe the game all day long. If I wasn't playing on the field over the back of our house with my friends, or making heroic one-handed saves as goalkeeper in my school football team, I would be in my bedroom reading Shoot! or playing Subbuteo. If I had no-one to play Subbuteo with, I'd play on my own - I'd use my index finger to flick one team, and my middle finger to flick the other (not a lot of difference between the two); however, if one team should be significantly better than the other in real life - say, Brazil versus Blackpool - then it would be right hand v left hand, with the right handed team invariably winning to make it more realistic.

I had one wall in my bedroom covered in expensive football wallpaper (limited edition, celebrating the FA Cup match between Pompey and Arsenal in 1971). Covering all four walls with this wallpaper would have been well out of my parents' budget, so the rest of my room had what would now be referred to as a typically kitsch and coveted (by hipsters) '70s design (concentric circles in different shades of green).

Anyway, the "football wall" was splattered with all sorts of memorabilia - pennants, plaques, Panini stickers - any club, anything football-related. My bedroom and cupboard doors would be hidden behind team posters from Shoot! Whenever a new club picture was published, I would take down the old one and replace it.

The silvery January sun shines down upon the players as they emerge from the dressing rooms for the first half.
Hythe & Dibden FC (1) 5 v 1 (1) Fleet Spurs FC
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Saturday 23rd January 2016
Attendance: 40-ish
Admission: £5
Programme: Not available due to all the recent postponements, but they would have posted me one for free if I'd left an address
Colours: Green / white / white v Dark blue and red / dark blue / dark blue
National Grid reference: SU4007

Hythe & Dibden brought their seating unit from Jones Lane. They spruced it up a bit, adding some extra wooden steps on this side.
I wasn't satisfied with real football clubs. I eventually had to invent my own. I would spend hours drawing maps of imaginary countries, plotting cities, towns and villages with interconnecting roads and railways; rivers with estuaries and islands; ferry routes to other countries in dashed lines across the sea...

Each settlement would have its own football club (the bigger cities, annotated with squares instead of ever-decreasing circles, would have more than one club). Each football club would have its own kits (home and away, outlines drawn in a book using a cardboard template and coloured in with felt-tip pens). The clubs would have nicknames, managers (inspired by names scouted from the telephone directory), and stadium names (with capacities).

These imaginary clubs would then be placed in divisions (four, obviously) and play each other home and away in competitions involving LogActa dice. Big matches, such as cup finals, would be played on the Subbuteo pitch on my bedroom floor. Occasionally, players would be knelt on and have both their ankles broken. With no substitutes in those days, it was just hard luck. The teams would just get on with it, uncomplainingly.

The portable shelter side with the changing rooms/clubhouse beyond.
Despite spending all this time inventing my fanciful football world, I never once designed an imaginary football stadium for any of my clubs. What would they have been like? Well, they would have been based upon my experiences gained in real life. As a regular at Fratton Park, riding down the Eastern Road on the back of my dad's scooter every other Saturday, hanging on to his midriff for dear life, I would have known that any stadium would have to have clackity wooden seats and crumbly terraces, for starters. A roof would be an optional luxury, especially at the away end.

Turnstiles? Yes, and if small boys could be passed over them to get in to the ground for free, all the better.

Floodlights? Of course, the bigger the better - enormous lattice towers with hundreds of bulbs attached at the top. Obviously, if spectators wanted to climb the lattice towers during a game to get a better view, that would be quite acceptable.

Toilets? Very necessary. However, they would have to be open to the elements. How else would the overpowering stench of urine be washed away if the rain couldn't get in?

A scoreboard at the back of the terrace? Well, duh! How else would we get to see the half-time scores if we didn't have a board lettered from A to Z which could be cross-referenced with the fixtures in the programme?

Optionally, supporters from my imaginary equivalents of Swindon or Bristol City would turn up and start a fight at the stadium's "Milton End".

So, my imaginary football stadiums would invariably all have been similar to Fratton Park in the 1970s. Some would be bigger, others would be smaller.

Ten little shelters all in a row.
If I'd created a portfolio of imaginary stadiums as a child, I could have wangled my way in to the design business as an adult. There have been many opportunities over the last couple of decades for aspiring architects to let their imaginations run wild as clubs have decided that their old stadia were looking a little tired, or that they needed a bigger capacity to increase revenues.

When I say that architects could have used their imaginations, well, when the only differences between the homogenous modern bowls at Leicester, Middlesbrough, Derby, etc, are in the colours of their seats, then their imaginations could have done with a bit of stimulation, to say the least. I don't envy anyone who feels they have to visit all of these identikit new arenas to complete "The 92" any more, whereas I used to be so jealous. Give me the quirks of Filbert Street, Ayresome Park or the Baseball Ground any day. I don't care how "tired" or uncomfortable they were.

At least they had character.

Nice pose for the photographer after scoring the first goal!
What's all this got to do with Hythe & Dibden? Well, they moved to a new ground last season. They used to play at Jones Lane, which is three-quarters of a mile (centre spot to centre spot) from their new home at Clayfields. I liked their remarkably sloped Jones Lane ground. It was within a public park and it was rather picturesque, overhung by leafy tree branches. They had small areas of cover dotted around at random underneath the trees, with park benches at either end for anybody who wished to sit on them and read a newspaper whilst a match was going on.

Unfortunately, they had to share with the local cricket club, which caused problems. For starters, they couldn't play home games at the start of the football season, as they had to wait for the cricket season to finish before they could move back in. The ground was three-sided to allow for the cricket square and sited a fair distance from the changing rooms. Being in a public park, they couldn't enclose the pitch, so it was difficult to stop people from watching without paying. The lack of enclosure would also stop them from progressing up the leagues if they ever won the Wessex League. Oh, and they had to take down the railings encircling the pitch and the floodlights on one side at the end of the season and put them all back up again at the start of the next.

They had to move really, and Clayfields was available. There were already two pitches here with a changing room and clubhouse complex, so two major obstacles to moving were already in situ (although the changing rooms needed more work than expected when it was discovered that a tree root was growing in an awkward place).

Of course, my fantasy football ground design of  crumbling terraces and huge lattice-towered floodlights would be impractical at the level that Hythe & Dibden play at, so their finished ground is sensible rather than spectacular, as you would expect. They had a portable stand and removable units of cover at Jones Lane, so they just had to rent a lorry to move them down the road. With hard standing readied for the portable stand, they just positioned it and spruced it up a bit. Ditto for the quirky shelters, which now stand ten in a row on the south side of the pitch, lined up like soldiers, all painted in khaki green.

A tussle for the ball in midfield. Watch where you're putting that hand, mister!
I've watched Hythe & Dibden play several times, and there always seem to be plenty of goals. When I first saw them, the goals were generally scored by the opposition, but they've been gradually improving over the time I've been writing this blog, such that they would have had genuine aspirations of promotion this season. Indeed, they still could go up to the Wessex Premier, but they'll  have to win nearly all their matches between now and the end of the season to achieve that aim.

If they play like they did on Saturday every week, then they'll have a chance. They were on a run of four league wins, but with the wet and then frosty weather that we've had over the last few weeks, this was their first game of 2016. They started with a rocket, scoring after just two minutes. A corner was only half-cleared and fell to Nick Dwyer on the edge of the area. With all the pent-up frustration of sitting around at home for the last five or six football-free Saturdays, he wound his shooting leg up and just let it go with the force of an uncoiling spring. Fleet's keeper never stood a chance. Dwyer then spotted a photographer (me) and gave a celebratory cartwheel for me to capture (hmm, I nearly got it...), followed by the pose which I've shown above.

It was an open game. After 20 minutes or so, Spurs got their equaliser after a defensive mix-up, the ball landing at the feet of Sam Knowles, who confidently stroked the ball past Jon Page in Hythe's goal.

As the sun disappeared behind the clouds for the last time before a sunset which never came, each side took it in turns to attack the other in what resembled a basketball match at times, but there were no more goals in the first half.

Seun Olabiyi takes on Fleet Spurs's Lloyd Jones.
If I'd been playing this match as a game of Subbuteo on my own on my bedroom floor in the 70s, I would have used the same hand for both teams in the first half. However, it was very much "right hand" for Hythe and "left hand" for Fleet in the second as the home side became more and more dominant. They retook the lead with a penalty after 47 minutes, taker Steven Green having to ignore the dual distractions of a group of small children rushing over to the outer fence to watch him (leaving their own game on the outer pitch for a few minutes), and the crash-smash-tinkle of a disinterested local using the glass recycling facility in the car park just as he nonchalantly poked the ball past Mark Appleby in Fleet's goal.

There's no slope at Clayfields, as there used to be on Hythe's old pitch, but with an embankment behind the far goal, it appeared to be all uphill for the away team, who didn't have any subs on their bench to replace anyone who was injured or flagging. The Watersiders went 3-1 and then 4-1 up in quick succession, firstly through Merl Wright, and then Seun Olabiyi, who, with the keeper stranded, sidestepped two defenders to make space for himself to fire home from close range after 75 minutes.

As I waited for the photogenic sunset which never came, substitute Sean Parker completed the scoring in injury time to make it an emphatic 5-1 victory for the boys in green.

The sun shines through the home dugout.
This is supposed to be the first in a trilogy of "new grounds" on HAH. If the weather is kind, part two will be from a match this weekend, with the final part coming two weeks later, on February 13th.

In the meantime, I shall post another 30 or so photos from this game on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook group page. They will be available to view tomorrow (Tuesday) evening.

I've not seen any other reports from this game on the web, so this may be the only written record of it. If I've got any players' names wrong, let me know and I'll change them. It wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be the last...

See you next week.

Sunday, 17 January 2016


Pewsey Vale. Dangerous.
There have been many postponements recently. There always are at this time of the year. You hear various influential people calling for a winter break, but what if we had a month off during December and January and the weather was fine? It can rain non-stop for a month at any time of the year now that the climate has changed. Three years ago, we had frozen pitches in March. So, unless football becomes a summer game, we should carry on scheduling fixtures all through the winter. In my opinion.

I have no problem with postponed games. If the referee decides that a football pitch is dangerous, he has to call the game off. Whether or not the ref can be sued if a player sustains a bad injury due to the state of the pitch, I don't actually know, but this is the excuse given in marginal cases.

There were many games called off on Saturday morning. I had planned on going to Hythe & Dibden for the first HAH report of 2016, but I heard through social media that the match had been postponed at around 10.30. The early postponement was good, as it prevented opponents Andover New Street from travelling and wasting their time.

When it got to lunchtime and I'd seen that Pewsey Vale's match with Ringwood Town hadn't been called off, I decided to change tack and go there instead. I intentionally arrived there early, parking up in Pewsey by 2.15, just in case there had been a late postponement - I could then have got back in my car and driven to nearby Devizes or Westbury to watch their one of their matches instead.

Gaerwen. Not dangerous.
And so, I was the first paying customer at Pewsey on Saturday. I chatted to the gateman and congratulated him on the state of the pitch. He said they'd worked really hard to get the game on that morning, and I could tell. If ever a pitch resembled a bowling green at this time of the season, it was Pewsey's on Saturday.

The players were warming up at either end of the pitch, happily passing balls to one another, one touch, two touches, pass, just like the professionals. The ref was chatting to his two assistants, but I thought nothing of it. I went in to the clubhouse and had a cup of tea. I wasn't charged, as the woman pouring the tea out said that the urn wasn't quite hot enough yet (it tasted great to me). On the table in front of the urn was a large pile of rolls, all ready for today's hungry spectators. I finished my tea and wandered outside. It was twenty to two and the players were still warming up.

I pootled slowly round the pitch, looking for potentially interesting angles to take photos from during the match. It was as I reached the far corner that I noticed one of the club officials picking up one of the corner flags. He then walked across the pitch and pulled out another. I thought it was odd, but it was ten to three and the players were still warming up.

Being a bit dim, the penny still hadn't dropped as I got back to the clubhouse and saw the gateman waving at me. He was giving me my money back - it still hadn't clicked what was going on. I asked if today's match was now free, but he replied (of course) that, no, the game had just been called off because the surface was too dangerous to play on.

It transpired that a tiny area by one corner flag was still a little frosty. This part of the pitch was so dangerous that Pewsey's team carried on with what had turned in to a training session down by this corner as Ringwood's players trudged off, disconsolate, having spent well over an hour travelling to this distant corner of Wiltshire. They'd wasted their time, I'd wasted my time, but mostly, Pewsey's club officials had wasted hours of their time working to get the match on and believing that they'd produced a perfectly playable surface.

Alresford Town. Not dangerous.
It wasn't the only game called off late on Saturday - Pompey fans had reached Birmingham by the time that Accrington called their game off at 10am. Bashley's players were boarding their coach to Cheltenham when the news came through from Bishop's Cleeve that their game had fallen foul of the frost.

Okay, these things happen. But, shouldn't there be a rule to the effect that if a game hasn't been called off by the time that the away team have set off, then it should go ahead regardless (unless conditions have dramatically changed in the meantime). Thus, at Pewsey, the away team's travelling time + an hour's changing and warming up time once they'd arrived would be about two and a half hours. The latest time that this game should have been called off (and communicated to Ringwood and the league) was half past twelve.

The contrast between Alresford Town's frozen pitch against Phoenix Sports last season; the mudbath at Gaerwen FC on Anglesey last weekend (where I'd been whilst taking my son back to university) and this weekend's bowling green at Pewsey was stark. Nobody got injured at frosty Alresford or puddle-strewn and muddy Gaerwen. On the contrary, the players just got on with the game and loved every minute of it. If refs really can be sued over injuries sustained on barely frosted pitches, then modern life really is rubbish.

In the meantime, Pewsey Vale have only played twelve league matches all season. They have another 22 to fit in with only 15 Saturdays left to go. And they're not the only ones suffering from this 21st century insanity.

I shall try again next week...