Monday, 27 February 2017

Weymouth Reserves v Folland Sports

A pair of Weymouth FC crests adorn the Reception doors at the Bob Lucas. This is the way in for reserve games.
Do you remember when your birthdays used to be so exciting, a day you would look forward to for weeks beforehand, instead of it being yet another impossible number, yet another reminder of your finite mortality? Once a year, you would wake up early, leap out of bed and stumble, half-walking, half-running to your parents' bedroom, squawking incoherently at your mum and dad to remind them what day it was and to get up and FEED ME PRESENTS!

Dad would roll over, bleary-eyed, check his alarm clock, tell you it was only 4:30, and that it was far too early for that sort of thing. You'd have to go back to bed, but you couldn't sleep. You'd sit there reading comics for what seemed like days, until you heard stirring from the bedroom next door.

Then it was ALL ABOUT YOU for the rest of the day. Presents, cake, maybe a party, everyone making a fuss of you. And if it was the weekend or the school holidays, your birthday would be twice as good! As happy as a cat in sunshine on the best day of the year by far (until Christmas rolled around again...).

Game number one. The main stand at Dorchester Town FC.
Weymouth Reserves (2) 6 v 1 (0) Folland Sports FC
Saturday 25th February 2017
Sydenhams Wessex Football League Division One
Attendance: 108 (highest of the season so far)
Admission: £5
Programme: Available, but I didn't get one
Colours: Maroon / white / sky blue v All red
National Grid reference: SY6580

Game number two. Flags a-fluttering in the stiff breeze at the Bob Lucas Stadium.
I don't remember exactly when those feelings dissipated for me - some time during the awkward teenage years, I guess, but they do appear again occasionally. One such time was this weekend. A few weeks ago, whilst checking fixtures and kick-off times for the Wessex League on Full-Time, I noticed that Weymouth Reserves were starting their match against Folland Sports at 5:30 on Saturday. I'd marked this game down as a probable HAH trip anyway, due to the visitors being a Hampshire club. At first, I thought the kick-off time was annoying, as it would mean taking action photos in the dark (never easy to do well). But within ten seconds, I realised that I could probably see another game beforehand. A double!

Two matches one after the other! A double! An elusive and rare double! The only other time I'd seen more than one match in a day was at the Island Games in 2011!

Serious groundhoppers pursue doubles all the time. They will scan the fixtures and travel the length of the country for two matches in a day to make a long trip worthwhile. So I checked for nearby games and immediately spotted that Dorchester Town were at home to Slough Town in a 3 o'clock fixture. The double was on!

Hence my childlike excitement as the day drew nearer...

Weymouth FC's large stand.
Of course, you can do more than two matches in a day on organised groundhop weekends. Any football ground enthusiast who has the spare time and money will probably have been on at least one of these trips. A group of clubs in a particular league who are geographically close together will agree to staggered kick-off times throughout a weekend. In return, they can expect two to three hundred visitors to boost their coffers. If they provide a programme, a pin badge, food and beer, they can make as much money in one day as they can in ten normal matchdays.

The Wessex League were offered the chance to host one of these weekends, but turned the opportunity down. If they ever changed their minds, a Wessex Groundhop weekend would start on a Friday night at a ground near a main base with plenty of hotel rooms for all the distant visitors (say, Southampton). For example, Team Solent would host the opening fixture. On the Saturday, there would then be matches kicking off at 11am, 1:30, 4:30 and 7:45, so we might make our way up the Waterside, from Blackfield & Langley to Fawley to Hythe & Dibden to Totton & Eling. Then on the Sunday, there would be three more matches, starting at 11am, 1:30 and 4pm over the other side of the city at, for example, Sholing, Hamble Club and Folland Sports.

In return for a little disruption (possibly losing some players due to work commitments, for example), each club would make a tidy profit and gain some positive publicity locally - there would be plenty of local football fans potentially making first visits to each club, as well as all the distant groundhoppers that would be coming once and once only.

Goal number two after just six minutes. It was going to be a long old evening for Follands.
In the absence of an organised weekend, perhaps pairs of clubs could agree to staggered kick-off times for a kind of informal "mini-hop"? With agreement from the away clubs, Follands at 2pm followed by Hamble Club at 4:15 anyone? Publicise this on relevant websites and in the Echo and see how many people turn up. If the crowd (and therefore matchday income) triples or quadruples, another pair of neighbouring clubs should then try the same thing. In these days of falling interest in the non-league game, anything is worth trying to bring people in, I would have thought?

Anyway, back to my own informal double, and first stop was Dorchester Town. The Avenue Stadium was opened in 1990, so I don't know if it can still be described as a "new" ground in its 27th year. It's certainly aged well though. The seated stand has a pitched roof with a central gable which covers 710 white plastic seats. The rest of the ground comprises of five terraces, three of which are covered with pitched rooves. The fact that AFC Bournemouth played nine league matches at The Avenue whilst Dean Court was being redeveloped should indicate that The Magpies would have no trouble with the ground-graders should they ever move up the pyramid again. Unfortunately, at the moment, they're heading halfway to nowhere, with Saturday's 0-4 defeat to Slough leaving them close to the Southern Premier relegation zone. Lovely ground though.

James Franklyn of Folland Sports skins Weymouth Reserves full-back Will Gape.
Drizzle, light rain, gusty winds. Low clouds and darkness due half an hour earlier than normal. Forty minutes to drive the six miles to Weymouth's Wessex Ground (now the Bob Lucas Stadium). Up hill, down valley at sixty miles an hour. Weymouth's twinkling floodlights appeared over one of the bumps in the road before disappearing again just as quickly. It all added to the excitement of my double day.

I'd been chatting to Nathaniel (the Terrace Traveller) at Dorchester, and he was here again in the large car park. He'd had the same idea as me. I assumed there would be another dozen groundhoppers following us from Dorchester (I'd spotted several taking photos at The Avenue - a giveaway), but didn't recognise anyone else from the first game once we were inside the stadium.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Our first problem was how to enter the Bob Lucas. The turnstiles were unmanned and there didn't appear to be any other way in. Nathaniel suggested jumping over the turnstiles and finding a club official to pay once we were inside, but I poo-pooed that idea (I had visions of me getting one leg over the turnstile and promptly getting stuck. With hilarious consequences).

Eventually we spotted someone entering the double doors at Reception. We decided that was most likely to be our route in to the stadium, and it turned out that it was. £5 handed over at the box office window, as if we were entering a theatre. The Theatre Of Nightmares, as it would turn out for Follands.

Fantastic chip over the keeper from 30 yards by Follands' Jamie Dover (out of picture).
But what were Wessex League Folland Sports doing at Southern League Weymouth, I hear you ask? Was this a cup game? No, they were actually playing Weymouth's reserve team, who were promoted to the Wessex League from the Dorset Senior League during the summer.

This was a controversial promotion, as Weymouth Reserves are the first stiffs ever to play in the Wessex League. Other reserve sides in the Wessex catchment area all play in the Wyvern League (including neighbours Dorchester Town). At the Wessex League AGM, some clubs argued that a reserve team in the league could be the thin end of the wedge. If Weymouth were allowed in, then why not other reserves of higher-ranked clubs? But there was nothing anyone could do other than complain, as the FA's Leagues Committee allocate clubs to leagues, and so Weymouth Reserves were in.

Is the Bob Lucas Stadium the most impressive to host Wessex League football? Salisbury fans might argue otherwise, but the answer is almost certainly "yes". Built in 1987 on the site of the town's old speedway track, Weymouth FC have been playing here for 30 years now. Like The Avenue Stadium, it can no longer be described as new. Indeed, it has started to rust in places, the salty sea air not helping in this respect. With a capacity of 6,600 (800 seats), the Bob Lucas is bigger than some Football League stadiums.

The imposing stand has plastic seats in fading club colours. As at big rivals Dorchester, the rest of the ground is terraced, with large covers on each side. The terraces have crush barriers painted in maroon and yellow. It's another proper football ground, my second of the day.

Fellow blogger Nathaniel Holland (The Terrace Traveller) watches the players leaving the pitch at the end of the game.
I'm not trying to avoid writing about the match, I'm really not, but nobody from Follands is going to want to read this. I could just move on and write about something else, or just stop here, but I feel obliged to mention the game in passing:

Okay, a Positive: Follands have a young team who haven't been playing with each other for very long. Last week, they won 6-3.

Minor Negative: This week, they lost 6-1 against a group of players who are all hoping to play three steps higher in the Southern League in the near future - some of them have already played for Weymouth's first team this season in cup competitions.

Positive: Goalkeeper Callam McGeorge made a terrific penalty save two minutes in to the second half to prevent Conor Jevon securing his hat-trick.

Negative: It rained hard during a ten minute spell in the second half when Weymouth scored their fourth, fifth and sixth goals. Just before the fourth went in, Weymouth's keeper made a terrific fingertip save to deny Follands scoring with a 35 yard screamer. So nearly 3-2, and it could all have been different.

Another Positive: Follands' Jamie Dover scored the best goal of the match, lobbing Ashley Weeks from 30 yards from near the right touchline. Weeks got tangled in the net and had to be rescued by the referee.

Three positives against two negatives for Follands. They'll learn from this match and come back mentally stronger.

On a personal note, I loved the two grounds on Saturday, but I have to warn anybody thinking of going to either stadium who collects programmes that Dorchester's can only be bought outside the main entrance. Once inside the stadium, I wasn't allowed back out to buy one. Whereas Weymouth Reserves had a programme, but they only seemed to be printing them out on demand at the box office for anybody who asked for one.

Luckily, I'm not too fussed about purchasing a programme, but I do like to buy a pin badge if there's one available. I was expecting one at Dorchester, but their club shop was shut, and there were none available elsewhere in the ground. And at Weymouth, you can buy them at first team games from their club shop. However, the shop doesn't open for reserve matches. As a nine-year-old, I'd have been devastated, but I've mellowed out a bit since then.

EDIT: Weymouth Reserves secretary has offered to send me a badge, which is very kind. So many nice people at this level of football.

And here's one of those Weymouth players, being congratulated by some young fans.
Nathaniel will probably be writing about both this game and the previous one at Dorchester Town on his Terrace Traveller blog.

I shall be uploading another 40 or so photos from the day on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page this evening.

I will also be updating my Wessex League Story Map with information from Weymouth Reserves this evening. If anybody uses this map and is aware of any wrong links, postcodes, whatever, please let me know and I shall fix them.

My next two reports will be from matches on March 4th and the 18th, so in seven days or so, there will be some words and pictures from a Hampshire Premier Football League game, so long as the wet weather forecast for the coming week doesn't ruin my plans.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Paulsgrove v Colden Common

Watching Paulsgrove attacking in the first half.
We all do it. We all daydream about what we'd do if we suddenly had millions of pounds to spend. A lottery win, an unexpected bequeathment from a rich great-uncle, a hand-me-down banking job in the City of London...

What would you do with a £20million windfall from the National Lottery or Great-Uncle Moneybags? Probably the same as me. There'd be the dream home, followed by a fast car or two, never-ending holidays. A massive room with a pool table, a bar with all my favourite beers on hand pumps, and an old-style reconditioned vinyl jukebox in the corner stuffed with rock n roll, punk and soul classics. My friends would come over and we'd have parties lasting for days.

But it would be hard to spend it all on me and the family and friends, so I'd also give a big wedge to charity - homeless cats, dogs for the deaf and blind, rescued donkeys (cue jokes about Saints or Pompey, according to which club you support...), orphaned children, the sick and needy, cures for every disease...

And still I'd have millions left over.

Paulsgrove celebrate their first goal with the Portsdown Hill chalk pits in the background.

Paulsgrove FC (1) 2 v 1 (0) Colden Common FC
Puma Engineering Hampshire Premier Football League Senior Division
Saturday 11th February 2017
Attendance: About 20
Admission: £0
Programme: No
Colours: All dark blue v Red and white stripes / black / red
National Grid reference: SU6305

My design for a new stand at Paulsgrove FC. May never be built.
As much as I'd like to theoretically party all day and all night, all of the time, it's not in my nature. I'm a creative man at heart, so I'd have to have something else to fill my time. I like to write and take photos, hence the existence of HAH. But as a child, I also enjoyed designing and inventing things. I may well go back to that.

I might spend a day or two inventing a new improved potato peeler or a cleverly-engineered nut cracker. I'd also like to help some of my local football clubs by improving their infrastructure. If a Wessex or Hampshire League club needed a new stand, I'd design it for them, then give them the money to go ahead and build it.

To this end, I spent a little time this week designing a new stand for Paulsgrove FC (see the illustration above). Paulsgrove are one of many clubs in the Hampshire League who have nowhere for spectators to sit or stand to keep dry when it rains, so it would be a useful addition to their ground.

Time for a drink.
It didn't need to be a big structure - enough room for 30-40 people, so I designed a small stand with three concrete steps. The front step would be reserved for chairs - these would be removable and put in place before kick-off and then stored away in the changing room block when not being used. The back two steps would be used by those wishing to stand. So far, so normal.

The most unusual feature of the stand would be on the roof, where I placed two turrets. Why? Because Portsmouth has a long military history - the Roman-era Portchester Castle isn't far from Paulsgrove, and there are several forts overlooking the city up on Portsdown Hill. The turrets would firstly reflect this history, but secondly, the stand could also be used as play equipment for local children when there was no match on.

They could climb up on to the roof of the stand via a safe ladder, and depart the roof on a slide. To thwart any bad kids who might want to break the stand or set it on fire, the whole thing would be made of tungsten.

Sadly, I guess I will never be rich and my stand will never be built, consigned to live on in my whimsical world and nowhere else, so back to the real world...

One of Colden Common's subs wondering whether he'll get a run out today.
As mentioned previously, Paulsgrove have no cover, other than their indestructible dugouts. The pitch has a blue and white metal rail surround with a concrete path beyond that. Dog walkers and other members of the public come and go during the match as one side of hard standing doubles up as a public footpath connecting some playing fields to the west with Marsden Road to the east. The dog walkers pass the heavily fortified changing rooms/tea room building (help yourself to a drink at half-time for a small donation) and over the small bumpy car park. If you travel to Paulsgrove FC by car, it's unlikely you'll be able to park here, but there is plenty of room outside on Marsden Road.

Looking around, you'll see Portsdown Hill with its Victorian chalk pits and secret military installations to the north; and to the south, Tesco, McDonalds, the M27, the massive heap full of rubbish that used to greet visitors to Portsmouth (now landscaped), and yacht masts belonging to the citizens of Port Solent (which usually includes the homes of several Pompey players). And then there's the railway track which runs parallel to the ground - two footballs were booted over the fence on to the track during the match - replacing these balls must be Paulsgrove's biggest expense.

The exclusive nature of Port Solent sits at variance with the council estate in which the club is based. Built quickly and cheaply in the immediate post-war period to house returning servicemen and civilians bombed out of their Portsmouth homes during the war, Paulsgrove has a reputation which can be summed up as "rough, tough and mind your hubcaps" if the internet is to be believed. Having had family live nearby, I know the place reasonably well, and yes, whilst there's undoubtedly some bad eggs, I've never had any problems there, so, as always, don't necessarily believe what you read - make your own minds up (this applies to everything in life).

Close but not quite, as Colden Common hit the inside of the post and the ball runs along the line before being cleared.
Both Paulsgrove and Colden Common had had a slow start to the season, but lately, both have been on excellent runs. Paulsgrove were last beaten in the league in mid-November, whilst their visitors hadn't lost since December 3rd. So, on paper, this looked like it could be a much better game than the mid-table positions of the two combatants suggested.

Common had a full complement of players, including several with recent Wessex League experience at Romsey Town and Whitchurch United, whilst Paulsgrove were struggling to fill their bench, with injuries and other availability issues causing problems for their management team. However, what the Grove lacked in strength in depth, they made up for in team spirit. Common were never given time to settle on the ball - there would always be a Grove player niggling away at their ankles or putting in a hefty (but fair) challenge.

The home side duly took the lead on 14 minutes when Harry Griffin picked up a through pass 35 yards out which bisected Common's centre-backs. He took ten strides forward and calmly stroked the ball past the onrushing keeper Ben Goble for his second goal in two games since signing for the club.

Common's best chance to equalise in the first half was caught on camera (above). It looked nailed on when Ben Thomson lofted the ball over the advancing keeper. But the ball hit the inside of the post and ran slowly back up the slope without crossing the line before a Grove defender got there first and smashed it away to safety. Cursed luck for the away side or good fortune for the home team? Take your pick. There was more to come at that end in the second half...

Common score from the halfway line. Beckham-esque!
The second half was the story of two contrasting goals - one sublime, the other highly controversial. Common had been pressing well and deserved an equaliser, but it came in an unexpected fashion after 57 minutes. Paulsgrove's goalie cleared the ball upfield, but it went straight to Common's midfield maestro Dave Egerton near the centre-circle. He glanced up, spotted the keeper off his line, and promptly lofted the ball back, one bounce, dead centre, net rippling, nice one!

And that could have been that in what was a very even game. There weren't a great number of chances as most of the action was concentrated in midfield. A draw looked likely, but on 85 minutes, it all kicked off. Paulsgrove's Josh Cripps took aim from the edge of the box. His shot bounced awkwardly in front of Goble, who got a hand to the ball, but not quite enough to stop it completely. It dribbled out of his grasp and as he desperately dived backwards to retrieve the ball...well, did it cross the line or not?

I'm neutral, so I'll present the evidence as I saw it:

The main exhibit is the photo below. If you zoom in on the goalkeeper, is there daylight between the ball and the goal-line? I honestly don't know!

Also in the photo, you can see two home supporters raising their arms in celebration. They obviously had a great view. Would they both be celebrating like that if the ball hadn't crossed the line? I think if they weren't sure, their hands might be on their heads or over their faces.

Paulsgrove's centre-forward is also celebrating, but did he have as good a view as the supporters? And was he holding up his hand more in hope than expectation? Again, I don't know!

The club linesman was on the right-hand side as we look. With the goalkeeper's body in the way, there is no way he could have seen whether the ball crossed the line or not, even if he was positioned perfectly in that split second.

Of course, the only person whose opinion really matters is the referee. As you can see from the photo, he had a small gap between the Paulsgrove player and the Common keeper through which he could see the ball. In his opinion, with the view that he had, the ball had crossed the line, so that should have been that. However, as Paulsgrove ran off for their celebratory hugs, the ref was surrounded by protesting Common players who insisted it wasn't a goal. Right-back Henry Bragginton (number 2 in the photo, who had a decent view of the situation) was sent off for arguing too vehemently.

As I say, I'm neutral, and I was obviously a long way away, so I'm not committing either way! The evidence is there in the photo. If you'd like to make up your own minds, feel free to do so, but the referee's decision is final, so nothing will change.

Blimey, it's like Match of the Day on here this week! Their pundits would have loved this!

Anyway, it was blooming cold, my fingers and feet were both numb, so I was glad the final whistle went a few minutes later. Back to the car (hubcaps still intact, unsurprisingly), and home to warm up in front of a roaring log fire.

Did it? Didn't it? Can't quite tell if the ball crossed the line here for the winning goal, but Paulsgrove's fans seem to think so.
I wasn't the only cameraman at Paulsgrove on Saturday. Colden Common are one of the few clubs in the Hampshire League with a dedicated lensman. His snaps and a match report may be seen on Common's website here. As I always do these days, I shall publish another 40 or so pictures on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page later this evening.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just popping out to visit my Great-Uncle Moneybags to change his will to make sure he's warm and comfortable, then on my way home, I need to pick up a Euro Millions lottery ticket. I'll be back on here in a fortnight, when I'll feature one of the two Wessex League grounds that I've yet to write about. (Unless I'm a multi-millionaire by then, in which case, it's all round mine for a paaaaartyyyyy!!!!)