Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Alton Town v Tadley-Calleva

Rules and regulations: No roller blades, no petting, no diving...
Why does it always rain on a Friday evening? You're getting ready to go out with your mates, deciding which of your gladrags to wear. The psychedelic button-down collar shirt or a plain white T? Those big, baggy, gaudy Hawaiian shorts that you bought in Basingstoke last year or the classic boot-cut blue jeans?  Cowboy boots or slip-ons?

Then you look out of the window and it's tipping it down. Whatever you wear, nobody's going to see it under your anorak, so just grab the first thing that comes to hand. And your hair? It'll look like you've just been swimming through a muddy puddle within seconds, so don't bother gelling it up too much tonight.

Your only consolation is that it's the same for everyone.

And it's been like this for months now.

Sugar and sticks. Essential accoutrements for non-league tea.
Alton Town FC (0) 1 v 2 (0) Tadley-Calleva FC
Saturday 13th February 2016
Sydenhams Wessex League Division One
Attendance: 90-100
Admission: £6
Programme: £1
Colours: White / black / black v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU7240

Part of the old terrace at Alton Town FC's new (old) ground.
And then the rain continues in to Saturday...and Saturday is Football Day. If you're lucky enough to be young and fit, then you might be in a team. If you're a little older, you might be coaching that team, or you might be helping out in other ways - perhaps it's your job to make sure the programmes are back from the printers and there's enough pizza ordered for the players after the game and there's Battenburg and tea for the away officials and there's enough cash in the float in the till behind the bar for the inevitable first customer of the day who's only got a £20 note to pay for a packet of crisps and...and...and Saturday is Football Day and it's a busy day for everyone at the club.

But of course, the rain has been falling, clattering down now for 48 hours and the pitch has more water on it than Lake Baikal and there's no chance of the game being on today. The programmes are back from the printers, full of player profiles, manager's comments, the chairman's welcome, a photo of young Jake scoring the winner against the team from down the road the last time you played (which was 6 weeks ago now) and...and...and nobody's going to read any of it, because there won't be a match today.

And it's been like this for weeks now.

Months even.

Alton's Mo Nyamunga takes a goal kick. The new stand in the background.
It's the 16th of February today. Depending on the league, there are only ten or eleven Saturdays left until the final scheduled day of the season. Let's have a look at a league table or two...

Locally, in the Evo-Stik Southern League, Petersfield Town have played 23 of their scheduled 42 league matches, leaving them with 19 still to play. Their league has only another ten Saturdays left to run.

In the Sydenhams Wessex League (eleven Saturdays left), there are six clubs in each division who have still only played half of their league fixtures (or less) - Fareham Town have 22 matches still to play; Sholing and Moneyfields 21 each; Pewsey Vale, Horndean, Newport and Follands 20 apiece.

Some of these sides also have cup games to play. For example, Horndean's county cup game against Totton & Eling has been postponed eight times now. It gets rescheduled every week, and every week it rains some more and the fixture is off once again.

The solution for the latter two clubs has been to move the fixture to a neutral venue with no waterlogging issues. The chosen hosts? Alton Town.

Leaping over railings is an essential skill for Wessex League goalkeepers. Tadley's Tom Hindmarsh shows us how it should be done.
Why are Alton Town hosting a county cup game between two fellow Wessex League clubs? Because they have a brand-new 3G playing surface that cannot be waterlogged, that's why. This evening, Horndean and Totton & Eling will almost definitely play at the ninth time of asking (only heavy snow is likely to mean a postponement).

Alton moved in to their new home in December. Whilst all around them were calling games off, The Brewers were guaranteed to play if they were at home, and not just the first team - the reserves and age group teams have all carried on through December and January.

And the adult teams have done very well indeed on their new "plastic pitch" (as they were once disparagingly called) - 100% records so far for the firsts and ressies, which made Saturday a particularly tough assignment for Tadley.

However, Tadley-Calleva have their best squad in years - they only missed out on promotion to the Wessex Premier last season by a single point, and in Brett Denham they had the league's top scorer, so they started the season as favourites for the title.

It hasn't all gone to plan so far, as they went in to Saturday's game in ninth place, three places behind Alton (but with six games in hand over them). In the programme, Alton's manager was well aware that sixth place is usually good enough to qualify for the following season's FA Cup, so that a Top 6 finish had to be their aim - Tadley being one of their rivals for this objective.

Skidding on bunny fur.
The game was hard-fought, with lots of sliding tackles coming in. Once upon a time, a sliding tackle on an artificial pitch would have seen you losing several layers of leg skin. These days, the modern surfaces are more like shag pile carpets, so that a sliding tackle feels like skidding on soft rabbit fur - no danger of friction burns any more.

The two teams cancelled each other out in the first half. Both wanted to win, but neither could do so. It was the second half when everything occurred that was worth mentioning. Alton's Ben Choularton scored the opener after 50 minutes. Being at the far end of the pitch, I didn't get a good view of what happened (there were players in my way), but apparently Ben took a potshot from distance which should have been saved, but wasn't. My spies tell me that the ball squirmed under Tom Hindmarsh's fingers and rolled over the line, but as I say, I was in completely the wrong place to see that one properly. My spies may have been telling porkies.

A couple of minutes later, Tadley came close to scoring when Alton's keeper, Mo Nyamunga pulled off a point blank save from a diving header. The home team then broke up the other end and Luke Perkins skimmed the top of the bar with a shot from 20 yards. The second half was as enthralling as the first half was dull.

I mentioned the weather at the start of the report. Well, have you noticed how the storms are being named this winter? They've been named in alphabetical order, starting with Abigail, then Barney, and so on. Did you know that they're not only alphabetical, but that they go Female - Male - Female - Male and so forth? Well, we've reached J next, and J will be Male.

Tadley's last-minute penalty miss which could have been oh-so crucial.
Will the next storm be Storm James? James Tennant of Tadley certainly created a stir when he equalised after 68 minutes. Sub Josh Drew bolted clear on the left and pulled a low cross back from the by-line which squeaked its way through a crowd of defenders and fell to Drew five yards out. He wasn't missing from there!

I got chatting to a local by the terrace after this. With ten minutes to go, neither of us could decide who was going to win this one. Tadley had the best chance after 87 minutes, when they were awarded a penalty at the Playground End. You can see what happened next in the photo above - sometimes a picture will tell the story better than I can...

Going in to injury time, both sides were still pressing for the winner. Nobody cared that they'd been playing in icy drizzle for the past hour and a half (okay, I cared - my hands and feet were freezing!). Tick tock went the clock, onto the 91st minute, and one last chance for the team from the Hampshire-Berkshire border, and it was one that counted, as Josh (aha, another potential Storm name!) Drew belted in the winner from close range.

It finished 2-1 to Tadley. Alton's home record in tatters, but hey-ho, on they'll go to the next game. A top six place is still theirs if they keep playing well. Both sides have a good chance of qualifying for the FA Cup next season, even if a promotion place might just be out of reach now.

The pitch markings vary in colour - the usual white lines are present, but there are brown lines, blue lines...
This was the third and final ground visit in my "New Ground Trilogy", following on from Hythe & Dibden and AFC Totton recently.

What's good and what's not so good about Alton's new Anstey Road Enclosure? Well, they've effectively moved "back home" after a quarter of a century away. The original Alton Town played here until they merged with Bass (Alton) FC, the local brewery team (hence their nickname). I've written about their travails with corporate behemoths Molson-Coors before, but the short and long of it is that they have moved back to their original ground, which was refurbished as part of the deal when the American corporation sold Town's previous ground for housing.

Junior side Alton United have been playing here for a few years - their first team play in the Aldershot & District League, but more importantly, there were many age group teams based here. Next season, Town and United will merge and become Alton FC, with all the various men's, women's and junior teams playing at the same venue, often with several matches going on in the same day, one after the other.

When I say the ground has been "refurbished", I mean that there are very few of the original structures remaining. There was an old wooden stand here, which has been replaced with a modern prefabricated structure. This has thoughtfully been placed on a concrete step, so that the views from the stand are much better than the usual prefabs which are usually placed at ground level, so that spectators struggle to see over the pitch railings if sat in the front row.

There's a space for wheelchair users under the roof as well, which is another nice touch (not every club remembers to do this).

On the far side of the ground is the original terrace, which varies in height between two steps and four steps. It's been reconcreted where necessary, so should last a few more years yet. The terrace is obviously a good thing, but not so good is the fact that there used to be a roof here, which was taken down during the rebuild. There are stanchions remaining from the old roof, so a new one could go up without too much effort, hopefully in the near future. It's always good to have at least two covered areas in a stadium - if the wind is driving rain straight in to the seated stand, it would be nice to have the option of moving to a more sheltered covered area.

The traditional HAH arty shot to end the article. Wet swings this time.
Another good day out (if a little cold) at the always-welcoming Alton Town. Their most well-known supporter, Michael, was there, but unfortunately, it appears that Sylvester doesn't come any more. Or maybe it was just too wet and cold for the big old moggy.

The 3G pitch has done wonders for Alton Town. It's a bit boring to photograph, I must admit, as it lacks texture, but that's the least of their concerns. When Storm James arrives, as surely Storm James will in the next week or two, Alton Town will carry on playing when all around them are sat at home watching Ceefax (or whatever the equivalent is now).

Will Fareham Town be the next club to install an artificial pitch? There are plans in the pipeline, so we'll see.

I haven't seen any other match reports or photos from this match, so no links to other sites this time out. However, I shall post a few more of my own pictures on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page, as has become my habit since I set it up a few weeks ago. Expect these to appear tomorrow (Wednesday), as I shall be off out to a match later this evening.

The next report is likely to be from a Southern League ground in Oxfordshire on the 27th February.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

AFC Totton v Evesham United

The impressive main stand at AFC Totton, as viewed from the road outside the complex.
Last summer, we went on a family camping trip to Suffolk. It was a nice campsite, situated on a smallholding on the edge of a village, run by a pair of hippified City dropouts. On one side of our tent, we were able to listen to a gaggle of turkeys gobbling and gibbering to each other all day long. Behind us, there was a field full of goats. Opposite them, three shy alpacas roamed around their spacious enclosure, keeping close to one another at all times, accompanied by a team of chickens, who were bossily kept in check by a huge cockerel, his leathery red wattle wobbling violently whenever he sensed danger.

Various aloof farm cats would come and visit us and make our tent their temporary home, occasionally deigning to let us stroke them. There were friendly dogs as well, always ready for a tail-wagging fuss. Like I said, a nice place to spend a few days (if you like that sort of thing).

In the evenings, as the sun went down, we would wander along the footpath which leads past the village churchyard (alive with bats), and down to the pub. After a couple of pints of Wherryman (straight from the barrel), we were ready for a pub game.

Parade of honour for Mike Gosney, breaking the record for first team appearances at AFC Totton.
AFC Totton (1) 2 v 2 (1) Evesham United FC
Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South & West
Saturday 30th January 2016
Attendance: 325
Admission: £9
Programme: £2
Colours: All blue v Red and white stripes / black / black
National Grid reference: SU3415

Evesham United fans watch from the far terrace.
We'd start off with a few games of dominoes. My family tell me this is a game of luck, however, I won far more than I lost, so I had to disagree with them. After the dominoes, it was time to get our 50p's out and for me and my son to take our place at the bar billiards table.

Now, bar billiards is a game I used to play with friends in Emsworth. This was a long time ago though, so I struggled to remember all the rules. Luckily, help was at hand, as one of the locals was only too happy to give us the lowdown.

In case you're unaware, bar billiards is played on a sloping green-baized table similar in size to a pool table with ball-shaped holes cut in to the cloth instead of the corners and sides. Placed at various points on the cloth are mushroom-shaped skittles. You win points when one ball hits another and then one or more balls drop down the holes. The holes are worth a differing amount of points according to their difficulty.

The rules vary from county to county, so our new friend related to us the Suffolk Rules. In Suffolk Rules, if you knock over a white skittle, you lose all your points for that go; if you knock over the black skittle, you lose ALL YOUR POINTS for the entire game up to that point. I've put this in capitals because he told us this with some relish. If you can imagine trying to play this game in a strange pub, not really knowing what you're doing, and this fellow was watching you like an eagle, just waiting for you to knock over the black skittle, so that he could announce to the whole pub (very loudly in his country burr) that you've LOST ALL YOUR POINTS! Not sure about the rest of the pub, but he found it all very entertaining.

I think you had to be there...

The second seated area at AFC Totton.
I was reminded of the old boy in the pub on Saturday. I was visiting AFC Totton for the second in HAH's "New Ground Trilogy", following on from Hythe & Dibden at Clayfields last week. Totton's Testwood Stadium was opened in February 2011, a month after I started writing Hopping Around Hampshire, and this is the first time I've featured it.

It was a special day, as before kick-off, Mike Gosney was presented with a silver plate and a bottle of champers by Lawrie McMenemy. Mike was going to be playing in his 387th game for the club, breaking the appearance record previously held by Mark Osman. He'd played in the first competitive match at the new Wembley in 2007, when Totton lost to Truro City in front of the largest-ever FA Vase final crowd - he's the only player still at the club from that day. He had a short time at Gosport Borough a couple of years ago, otherwise he's been loyal to Totton, scoring 174 goals mostly from the wing. I've seen him many times and always been impressed.

Manager Steve Hollick had said beforehand that they wanted to win this one for Gos, but it was going to be a tough game: visitors Evesham United had beaten The Stags 6-0 at their place in November.

Mike Gosney chats with some fans during a break in play.
It was 11th versus 8th. Evesham have arguably underperformed this season, dropping down from last season's runners-up spot. Perhaps they've found it hard to recover from their play-off semi-final defeat against Larkhall Athletic? On the other hand, Totton seem to be on their way back after a couple of difficult seasons when they could have gone out of business with large debts. They'd only been beaten once in their last seven games.

It was the away team who started stronger, taking the lead after 13 minutes, Adam Mann heading in a precise cross from six yards. At this stage, Evesham had THREE POINTS.

Five minutes later, they were down to ONE POINT as Totton equalised. Nick Watts picked the ball up in his stride from a long throw by keeper Steve Mowthorpe. He ran half the length of the pitch leaving his pursuers behind like a cheetah being chased by [insert slower animals here]. As he approached the byline, he zipped over a cross for Nathaniel Sherborne to power in with his head at the back post for 1-1.

The game was quite even up until half-time, both sides having further chances to score.

The ref enjoys the celebrations following AFC Totton's second goal.
It was the next goal which made me chuckle inside, as I thought about the old boy in Suffolk. I could just imagine him standing behind the goal at the far end, letting the Evesham defence know (in no uncertain terms) that YOU'VE LOST ALL YOUR POINTS. It was a good goal too - the best of the match - as Sherborne pinged a superb pass from under the shadow of the stand for Watts to once again take in his stride. This time, he placed the ball accurately in to the far corner beyond the outstretched fingers of the Evesham keeper.

As every bar billiards player knows, you can lose all your points during the game, but there's always time to retrieve some of them. And so it proved, as Evesham equalised a few minutes later. Mann was again sniffing around the six-yard line as a cross came in. This time, he shot low and hard. Mowthorpe appeared to make a decent save, but the twenty or so away fans behind the goal yelled for a goal as they believed the ball had crossed the line. The referee agreed and it was 2-2.

There is a match highlights video here. The goal/not-a-goal controversy is inconclusive. See what you think...

One last big effort towards the end of the game with the scores at level pegging.
As I mentioned previously, I've not featured a match from this stadium before - so what's it like? Well, Groundtastic magazine liked it so much that they gave it their Non-League Ground Of The Year award in 2011 (if you want to read the article, you will find it in issue 65 (Summer 2011)).

They liked the main stand, describing it as "tall and bold". It's certainly the main focal point. It can be seen clearly from the road which passes the ground. Every time I drive past it, I have to turn my head and admire it. There's plenty of legroom and the steepness - or rake - of the stand means that there's little chance of sitting behind a tall person and not being able to see anything.

Groundtastic also liked the fact that they'd recycled their old stand, bringing it from the old ground, 1.3 miles away at Testwood Park (now 84 houses and flats called The Mallards - prices up to £386,000 if you're interested in moving there). The old stand is long and shallow, and similarly to a lot of other grounds, the view of the pitch is obscured by railings if you sit in the front two rows of blue bench seats. When the new ground was built by Linden Homes (who bought AFC Totton's and Totton & Eling's former grounds for housing - 106 addresses now at T&E's Southern Gardens at an average of £200,000 each), I think they should have placed this stand on at least one step of concrete - too late now, unfortunately.

The Mallards, Totton. Formerly a football ground.
The best thing about the ground for me is the extensive terracing on all four sides, of all different shapes and sizes - rare in Hampshire. If I was a regular here, I'm sure I'd have "my own patch". A slight criticism of this terracing from Groundtastic was that the low stand obscures a small corner of the pitch from one of the quirky bits of terrace, but I stood there for a bit and it didn't bother me - the portion of missing pitch is minuscule.

Aside from this minor criticism, Groundtastic also commented on the claustrophobic narrowness of the walkways between the pitch railings and the terrace railings, which was fair enough - it's all a bit "After you, Claude" when meeting someone coming in the opposite direction.

An observation for future development would be the possible provision of a covered and elevated area for wheelchair and mobility scooter users. There is potentially space for this between the old stand and the terrace at the entrance end. If a wheelchair user came to watch a match at Testwood, there is plenty of flat standing around the pitch perimeter, but as with the front benches in the old stand, the railings obscure the view without some sort of elevation.

But do I like this ground? Yes, I do. It's not perfect, but it's way better than it could have been - the main stand being particularly well designed. Oh, and I loved the club shop and the spacious bar and the clean toilets...

I'll be back.

One of the stewards watches on as Totton attack the far end.
As an addendum, according to my statistics, AFC Totton have yet to be beaten when I've covered them, although this was the first time they've failed to win.

More reports from this entertaining game can be found here and here.

I shall put up some more photos from the match on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page shortly.

The next report should be in two weeks from a Wessex League stadium. The " New Ground Trilogy" Part 3. This one should be safe from possible weather-related postponements.