Monday, 23 October 2017

Baffins Milton Rovers v Radstock Town

The sign by the entrance at Baffins Milton Rovers.
You know that you've been doing something a long time when things that didn't even exist when you first started doing that thing not only exist but are doing very well indeed. I've got used to having workmates that weren't even born when I started work. It's only a matter of time now before I have a manager or a supervisor that's younger than my own children.

In football, at first it's quite exciting when you're 16 or 17 and players your age start breaking in to the first teams at big clubs. Then you get used to it in your twenties and you watch entire teams that are of the same generation as you. You grow up with them, feel their joy when things are going well, and their pain when they lose. If they play for your team, you might bump in to them at the local pub or club and share a beer with them and have a bit of banter (yes, it used to happen).

Then your generation start retiring, and suddenly you're desperately searching around to find that long-serving right-back at Mansfield Town, or the evergreen goalie who's warming the bench at his twenty-third professional club...the last two players in the entire Football League who are still older than you...

...And then you reach the age at which all the referees are younger than you and you have to accept that you're no Spring chicken any more.

The last turnstile from Fratton Park.
Baffins Milton Rovers FC (0) 1 v 0 (0) Radstock Town FC
Saturday 21st October 2017
Buildbase FA Vase First Round Proper
Attendance: 105
Admission: £5
Programme: £1 (I think - it may have been £6 admission with a free programme, not sure)
Colours: All blue v All red
National Grid reference: SU6703

Directors seats in the stand.
And so it goes with Hopping Around Hampshire. I've been doing this since January 2011, and guess what? Baffins Milton Rovers didn't even exist back then! Since forming later that year (as an amalgamation of two successful Sunday sides - Baffins Milton and Baffins Rovers), they have been Hampshire Premier Football League champions twice (in 2013-14 and 2015-16). They also won the league cup in the year that they failed to win the league.

Promotion to the Wessex League was obtained when their ground was deemed good enough. Last season, they scored 128 goals in 40 matches to finish runners-up behind Hamble Club to secure promotion to the Wessex Premier at the first attempt. This was the third season in a row that they had scored over 100 league goals. They reached the League Cup final at the first attempt as well, losing 2-1 to Sholing on a dry and bumpy pitch at AFC Portchester in May of this year.

This season, they have entered a national competition for the first time. Clubs have to spend at least one season playing in the FA Vase before they can compete in the FA Cup, so next year, there should be another "first" for the club as they enter the country's most famous competition for the initial time. In the meantime, they've beaten Cowes Sports and Selsey to reach the First Round Proper of the Vase.

FA Vase gold at the end of the rainbow for Baffins on Saturday.
In contrast to the newness of Baffins, Western League opponents Radstock Town (near-neighbours of Paulton Rovers, who I featured a few weeks ago) are a relatively ancient club, being formed in 1895. They've been competing in the FA Vase since 1975, but they'd never played a club from Hampshire in the competition before. I'll stick my neck out and say that Saturday was the furthest east they'd ever travelled to play a game in this competition (although they'd gone slightly further east in 1986 to play Havant Town in the FA Cup...).

If these two clubs were in the pop charts (yes, such a thing does still exist), Baffins would be the new kid on the block, say, Marshmello, and Radstock would be someone old and respectable...someone like Cliff Richard perhaps? If he's respectable? Not sure. How about Elton John then? Or Gilbert O'Sullivan? Is there anyone who is both old and respectable?!

Radstock Town win out on this occasion.
Baffins moved to their new ground in the summer of 2015. They moved all of one hundred yards from the pitch next door which is under the shadow of a giant adult's climbing frame (see the photos on the HAH Facebook page to view this structure). They shared these facilities by the Langstone Harbour wall with a local cricket club. It made sense to move if they were ever to progress, so with the backing of  their major sponsors Kendall (based at the wharf just to the north of the ground) and some grant money, they've been developing the new ground ever since. (It looked like this in August 2015).

As you enter, you click through the last of the turnstiles from Fratton Park (I wonder if it's the one that my dad used to lift me over to get me in to the ground for free back in the day?). There's another old Fratton Park turnstile at Havant & Waterlooville, but I don't know the whereabouts of the rest of them.

To the right are temporary buildings for changing rooms, a bar/kitchen and a toilet. There's a new, more permanent structure being built which will be the new clubhouse. I suspect this will be open for business before the end of the season.

There's a gate which prevents access to the far side of the ground (making the stadium effectively three-sided, despite the fact there's hard-standing down the Eastern Road side of the ground). On the harbour side is a brand new homemade, roofed two-step terrace (which came in handy when rain fell in the second half). Next to this is a 120 seat stand with black and white tip-up plastic seats. All very impressive, as this was just a roped-off playing field two years ago.

The 120-seater stand and the new terrace at Baffins Milton Rovers.
The match was a game of attrition, as games between Wessex and Western League sides often are. There was nothing dirty, just everyone putting in their all in difficult, windy conditions, thanks to Storm Brian literally blowing a gale. Victims of Storm Brian included one of the corner flags, which blew over just before the match started, and several foam scaffold protectors which had been placed over the railings, presumably to prevent injury to any spectators that happen to be leaning on them. One or two of these lengths of foam fluttered on to the pitch during play before deciding that they actually felt a little safer where they'd come from and returned to the barriers like shy and regretful cockapoos.

There was little meaningful action for the first half-hour as players got used to the conditions. Goal-kicks from one end would fly out for a goal-kick at the other end unless the keeper took a little tap-kick, whilst kicking in to the wind too high meant that the ball would swing round at alarming angles and nobody could predict where it would come down again.

Eventually, the shots on target started arriving, with Radstock, with Storm Brian behind them, having the majority of efforts. Tom Boyle, Baffins' England Deaf international keeper, had to get down smartly a couple of times to prevent the team from Somerset going ahead before half-time.

The second half carried on in much the same vein, but this time Baffins had the wind behind them. To the permanent background sound of whistles coming from the rigging of the yachts in the neighbouring boatyard (home to the likes of Basil and Bagpuss...), the home side pressed on looking for what increasingly looked like the single goal which would bring victory.

After 70 minutes, the breakthrough came. A low ball through the middle caught Radstock's goalie by surprise. It must have moved in the wind, as he fumbled on the edge of his area. Joel Jackson was there to pick up the dropped ball, and he couldn't miss the resultant open goal from 15 yards. Cue elaborate celebrations - some sort of dance moves (to an imaginary Marshmello tune?) followed by handshakes and hair ruffles with his team-mates, followed by high-fives with the fans behind the goal.

Joel Jackson gives high fives to the supporters behind the goal after scoring the winner.
A hard-fought but deserved victory for Baffins at the height of Storm Brian. Their reward is another home tie, this time against struggling South West Peninsula League side Cullompton Rangers, who caused one of the major upsets of the round by winning away at AFC Portchester on Saturday.

The other Hampshire clubs that remain in the Vase after Saturday's ties are amongst the final 128 clubs that survive nationwide. The Second Round Proper will be played on Saturday 11th November. Unfortunately, due to family commitments, I won't be at any of the following games...but you could be! Other than Baffins, here are the fixtures:

Christchurch v Fareham Town
Team Solent v Tavistock
Exmouth Town v Blackfield & Langley (for the second season running!)
Sholing v Wellington
Hamble Club v Brockenhurst
Portland United or Horndean v Royal Wootton Bassett Town

Also in the draw from the Wessex League are Newport (IW), who will be home to Hengrove Athletic.

The round after this one is due to be played on December 2nd, so I'm hoping a few of "our" sides get through so I can feature one of them that weekend.

England international Tom Boyle gives the thumbs up as he leaves the pitch.
There was a photographer from Radstock Town at the match. I assume he was concentrating on taking pictures of his team. I focussed mainly on the Baffins players. More of my photos can be found on the Hopping Around Hampshire Facebook page, which can be found here. Sholing's Keith Legg has added pictures from his club's tie at Highworth Town on the same page. If anybody else has photos of their own Hampshire-based club, feel free to post them there. I'd be interested in seeing them, as would a few others.

For the next HAH (on November 4th), I'll be back on the trail of the Hampshire Intermediate Cup, at one of our local recreation ground-based clubs. See you in a fortnight.

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