Monday, 17 October 2016

Locks Heath v Paulsgrove

Locks Heath FC.
I was away doing a work-related course last week. It was hard going. Me and my colleague were mixed in with a group of very focussed MSc students, who were used to the academic life. Me, I hadn't done anything as brain-scorchingly difficult as this since I left school, many moons ago.

Highlights of the week? Not many. I managed to persuade my work pal to go and watch a match on Tuesday evening - Kempston Rovers v Chipstead in an FA Trophy replay on the west side of Bedford. It was okay, but at 1-0 going in to the final minute, I was willing Chipstead not to equalise and force extra-time. They duly hit the post and then Kempston broke upfield to settle the match with a second goal.

There was a trip to the cinema, a beer or two, but little else to do in the cultural ghost town of Bedford. Breakfast time was a highlight when I could mix Corn Flakes with Coco Pops and add a few tinned grapefruit slices, washed down with a small orange juice for my "continental breakfast". It was a relief when Friday came around and we'd seemingly finished our mini-course earlier than advertised at 2pm. Brilliant! Time to escape! Let's turn off the computer, pack our bags and say our goodbyes.

Then our tutor produced an exam paper...

The sun still shines as the two teams emerge from the dressing rooms.
Locks Heath FC (0) 0 v 3 (1) Paulsgrove FC
Saturday October 15th 2016
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier League Cup 2nd Round
Attendance: 15-ish
Admission: None
Programme: No
Colours: Red & black / black / black v All dark blue
National Grid reference: SU5205

Well, that's the last we'll see of any blue sky this Saturday. Wan light from now on.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. An exam paper! You mean, I had to remember all that algebra, all those difficult to understand concepts, and regurgitate them on to paper? Wasn't it enough that I'd managed to stay awake during all those dry, lengthy tutorials? Don't I get a certificate for not snoring whilst teacher was speaking?

Apparently not.

An hour of mental agony ensued. I remembered all those times when it really mattered at the end of the school year, when my mind would go blank as soon as I was presented with a paper full of questions. Ask me to name 50 Football League teams in 60 seconds in a pub with no pressure attached, and I can do it - do the same thing on a paper in a pressure situation, and I'll be stuck after 20.

Feeling punch drunk when the hour was up, I did surprisingly okay - 29 out of 50 - probably a C or a D, so I've not really changed since school, when I would merrily write about the Vietnam War for 40 minutes before realising that I should have written about the Korean situation instead. Rip it up and start again.

Paulsgrove attacking the Leafy End.
So what if I went to university now, perhaps to study Sports Journalism for three years? What would one of my match reports look like if written to a deadline? I'd probably have to write in a certain style and stop after a certain number of words. There's obviously a skill in writing a succinct match report to a deadline. Could I do it?

I decided to give it a go this morning. I gave myself 20 minutes to knock out a 300 word report on Saturday's Hampshire League Cup match between Locks Heath and Paulsgrove. The resulting piece of "journalism" follows in bold with comments on my own work in square brackets.

Midfield action.

Three-star Paulsgrove came out on top at a rain-lashed Locks Heath Rec yesterday in a one-sided league cup tie. On paper, these two sides looked well matched, both ensconced in mid-table, but despite there being only one goal in it for the majority of the match, there was never any real doubt about who was going to win this one.

[Three-star? Oh dear, this type of phrase is only used when a team scores five - they'd be five-star Paulsgrove - much more impressive! Three stars makes them look a bit average. And why did I use the word "ensconced"? That's not a football word! "Marooned" in mid-table, perhaps, but not ensconced! There's an imaginary dictionary of football words that journalists use, and ensconced is definitely not in it!]

As the match got under way, it was hard to tell the two teams apart, with Locks Heath wearing red on the front, but with black backs, making it look as though they were playing in all black whenever their players were facing the other way. Paulsgrove turned up in all dark blue. I wondered if they might be asked to change in to training bibs by the ref, but the players seemed happy with the situation and carried on as they were.

[The match kicked off late because there were no corner flags - that might have been a more interesting titbit than the colour clash. I should have cut this. I may have lost a few marks in my imaginary journalism exam here.]

Corner for Locks Heath.
Paulsgrove took the lead after a sustained spell of early pressure paid off when Locks Heath’s keeper unluckily punched a flighted corner ball in to his own net after 13 minutes. He was called in to action again shortly afterwards, making a fine reaction save to push a point-blank shot from Paulsgrove’s number 9 on to the post.

[This is better, although I should have asked for a teamsheet so that I could have named the goalkeeper and Paulsgrove's number 9. Then again, perhaps Locks Heath's custodian would prefer to remain anonymous?]

The match had kicked off in sunshine, but rain clouds soon moved in from the south-west, obscuring the view of the Isle of Wight, which had been clearly visible from the far side of the pitch. Spectators huddled together beneath trees as the rain became heavier and heavier and the players became wetter and wetter as the match progressed.

[Hmmm, this is a bit flowery for a match report. I can get away with this on a blog as a bit of background colour, but this would have been edited out in a newspaper before publication. I'd used the words "rain-lashed" in the first sentence, which would be good enough. People without an emotional attachment to the players (team-mates, friends, relations and club officials) all disappeared when the rain became unbearable]

Rainy day in Hampshire.
It took until the 80th minute for Paulsgrove to extend their lead, debutant Craig Ralph shimmying past a pair of Locks Heath defenders on the left side of the box before unleashing a powerful shot which nestled in the far corner.

[I missed out an hour of the match here, as if nothing else happened in this period. There were shots, saves and yellow cards during the missing sixty minutes. I should have noted some of these down and reported them. However, that last paragraph is passable, with plenty of "football words" (shimmying, unleashing and nestled are all good). That's got to be worth an "A" in my imaginary journalism exam]

As Locks Heath pushed forward looking for a consolation goal, they were caught again on the break, Jim Hird finishing a slick passing move by sliding the ball in from six yards for a thoroughly deserved 3-0 victory. New manager Rich Bessey will be well pleased with his start at the club, winning two and drawing one of his first three games, scoring ten and conceding only one in the process. Paulsgrove will be a hard team to beat this season.

[Wow, I finished on a high here! Plenty of "football words" and a mention of the manager's excellent start - it looks as if I'd done some homework! I probably should have talked more about Locks Heath - the whole report seems a little biased towards Paulsgrove, but then they were the better team on the day]

Non-league dog watches on.
What do you think? I suspect I'd have failed my journalism exam with this piece - I did it in 20 minutes, but was 82 words over the limit, and I wandered off the path a little bit in to my usual world of whimsy. At least I didn't mention how many non-league dogs were passing by during the match (several).

I normally give a ground description for anybody that's not previously visited a place that I write about, but on this occasion, I'll let the pictures describe Locks Heath Rec. There will be another 40 or so photos on the HAH Facebook page to accompany this post.

It's been a pleasure visiting Clanfield and Locks Heath in the last two weeks. I'll feature more Hampshire League clubs throughout the season. In the meantime, I'll be back with another game on either the 5th or 12th November - I haven't decided where yet - it depends on the FA Vase draw and/or the as yet unpublished fixtures for the Hampshire League.

Upwards and onwards.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Clanfield v QK Southampton

The welcome sign at Peel Park, home of Clanfield FC.
I'm in a rush. There's no time. Places to go, people to see...

It's a short one this week. Just a ground description and a perfunctory match report. I hope you don't mind too much.

No seats at Clanfield. Unless you bring your own bicycle saddles.
Clanfield FC (1) 3 v 2 (0) QK Southampton FC
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Saturday 8th October 2016
Attendance: Varied throughout the match as dads and lads came and went - generally around 15-20
Admission: None
Programme: None
Colours: Blue and black stripes / black / black v Yellow / black / yellow
National Grid reference: SU7016

QK Southampton on the ball.
I promised I'd visit a few Hampshire Premier Football League grounds this season, and this looked like the most interesting game in the league this week, as second-placed Clanfield entertained fifth-placed QK Southampton.

Clanfield is a village at the furthest point of the Portsmouth / Havant conurbation, protruding finger-like in to the South Downs National Park, which gives it a very rural feel. On three sides of the ground, there are hills visible - the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn just beginning to mix with the different shades of agricultural green and brown to make the backdrop to this game a veritable riot of colour.

To the east, Chalton Windmill looks down on proceedings with a slightly saddened air. A windmill without sails is like a daddy long legs without any legs - it's just wrong. The club feature the windmill on their badge, but with sails, making it look much more chipper.

A close shave for QK.
Clanfield's ground is basic, as you'd expect at the 11th tier of English football. Set on the local recreation ground, the pitch slopes in every direction all at once, but generally downwards from the entrance towards the far end.

There is a small car park provided for users of the recreation ground, which was almost full even with less than twenty people watching the game. Next to the car park is a pavilion which houses the changing rooms and a small room with a tea hatch (half-time tea and a Mars Bar at only £1 was my only expense of the day). There are tables in this room, one of which had a bowl of Frazzles placed upon it at the end of the match for hospitality purposes. I was so tempted to take one on my way out, but I kept my discipline and left them all alone.

The local kids watch the match from their elevated half-pipes.
The pitch has a rail along the right-hand side, with a tarmacced path running parallel to it which joins the entrance with a skateboard park at the far end. The local kids were enjoying their Saturday afternoon, blasting out Nirvana whilst the match was going on, like an errant tannoy announcer who's forgotten to turn off the half-time musical entertainment. Here we are now, entertain us!

The top end and the left-hand side are roped off, with the far end open. Beyond the rope on the left is another pitch, with a playground beyond that. No dogs are allowed on the recreation ground, so no photos of contented pooches this week.

Chalton Windmill up on Windmill Down. It's lost its sails.
I missed photographing the first goal, as I wasn't ready (lucky I don't get paid for this...). Ashley Fisher ran through on goal and slotted the ball home from 18 yards after only two minutes. At this early stage, it looked like it could be a tough afternoon for the visitors from the Millbrook area of Southampton, but they weren't to be overwhelmed. Indeed, they were arguably the better side for the rest of the first half. More possession, but with little penetration, leaving the home keeper with little to do.

The arty pic.
In the second half, there was little to choose between the two teams as the entertainment level went up a notch. QK got their equaliser after 50 minutes, Joe Griggs firing home after the ball wasn't cleared properly from a corner. They extended their lead 15 minutes later, George Callard latching on to a sloppy back pass to race clear and whack the ball beyond goalkeeper Tim Jackson's reach.

Then it started raining. And raining. I retired to the pavilion, where I stood beneath the overhanging eaves. Other, more hardy souls, put their umbrellas up and carried on watching in the downpour.

Kicking downhill in the teeming rain, Clanfield had their chances, but with ten minutes to go, it looked like QK were going to hang on to record a surprise victory. However, it wasn't to be, Mike Newman equalising for the home side. A win for Clanfield would put them top if leaders Hayling United faltered, so they kept looking for another goal.

I'd been joined under the eaves by some of the skatepark kids, one of whom asked his friend what was the best atmosphere he'd ever experienced at a Clanfield match. He replied that it was the game against United Services, to which the first boy agreed. It was as he spoke that the home side won the game, Lucas Lothian smashing in the 92nd minute heartbreaker for QK.

With no time left for QK to make a comeback, it was time to celebrate for the villagers. Later on, they found out that Hayling had only drawn, so Lothian's last minute strike had indeed put Clanfield on top of the league.

Time to tidy away the corner flags. Until next week.
I shall visit another club from the same league next Saturday. If the match is half as entertaining as this one, it will be a happy day.

There will be another 40 or so photos on the HAH Facebook page shortly.

Enjoy your next match, wherever that may be.