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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Alresford Town FC

Alresford Town 1 Phoenix Sports 2

Frosty patch at Alresford

View from the clubhouse at Alresford

Phoenix fly into next round

Alresford Town 1 Phoenix Sports 2

6th December 2014

I guess it kind of had to happen, the club I had put off visiting 2 weeks earlier due to a band of rain, were once again drawn at home. Needless to say, I had inadvertently thrown away all my directions, but it was no great hardship to do them again.
An absolutely glorious day without a cloud in the sky although extremely chilly. Due to there being no wind, it was absolutely fine if you wrapped up. Everywhere you went around London, there were hordes of people milling around dressed in Santa costumes, I'm sure it's all in a good cause.  
The trip to Winchester took under an hour on the train and I had to then find the bus station. My directions were spot on, but the town itself was absolutely heaving. The World and his wife had come out to Christmas shop, there were outdoor food stalls, street entertainment and any hopes of walking anywhere quickly went completely out of the window. But fortunately, the number 64 bus was loading passengers as I arrived at the bus station and the trip to Alreford was stress free along free moving roads with attractive countryside.
After the mayhem of Winchester, Alresford was like a breath of fresh air. Reasonably quiet, it's an attractive little town with pretty little shops that appeared to the casual observer to be independent and even the traditional stores like Tesco were small and in more attractive buildings than usual.
I found my lunch in a shop that just called itself 'Fish and chips' and bought a generous although at £2.20, expensive small portion of chips. Nice as they were, that's too much to pay. My return bus fare was over £6, maybe Winchester is just an expensive place to live.
It's less than a 5 minute walk from the town to the ground and is a straight road and easy to find. I was concerned on arrival to find that the pitch had a 20 yard long by 10 yard wide area that was still frosted over, however it was thankfully soft underneath and it just gave the pitch a weird look.
There is a pavillion building with a bar and some seating on the top floor and there is also a little seating below. There is also a tea hut and I was assured by a Phoenix fan that the pies were really good. Hardstanding on the near side and behind both goals, you can only go on the far side by viewing behind a large fence as there are public fields beyond, the view of the sun drenched hills was very pleasing on the eye.
The game was a cracker all be it with odd goings on. Alresford scored in only the second minute, Phoenix levelled on 20 mins and scored what turned out to be the winner right on half time. The game was stopped twice in the first half as the same loose dog was running around on the pitch. Then in the second half, the ball hit the referee in the head and he had to blow his whistle to stop the game and after receiving some treatment, restarted the game with a contested drop ball ,the ball fell to the left back who blasted it straight into exactly the same part of the head where the referee had just been hit. So he stopped the game again for some more treatment and we then got going again. After the final whistle, there was then a bench clearing fracas involving several players and managers. I was making my way to the exit so didn't see what set it off, ugly scenes none the less. Shame really, because this was a cracking and most enjoyable cup tie.    

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

East Preston FC

East Preston 0 Flackwell Heath 8

Dugouts and inaccessible far side

Tea hut at East Preston

Flack attack

East Preston 0 Flackwell Heath 8

Up until the Thursday before the game, I had planned to visit Alresford near Winchester. Before the usual weekly pattern of weather intervened, dry until Thursday, heavy rain on Friday and more threatened on the Saturday. The weather forecast on Friday showed a batch of rain right over where I was due to go, so I shifted my plans to visit Westfields near Woking. Woke up Saturday and the batch of rain had moved and was also now above Woking. Deep sigh, re-arranged my plans yet again and ended up on the Sussex coast. Groundhopping can be exhusting at times!
Usual shenanigans with my first train from Welwyn Garden City. 11 minutes late getting in, the World and his wife were going into London to Christmas shop and yet the train company decided that a four carriage train was more than sufficient. I pitied the folk trying to get on a jam-packed train at Potters Bar who were greeted with the PA announcement, "If you cannot get on the train, move clear of the doors". Shocking service!
The good thing about travelling from Victoria is that there is a Ladbokes at the station, always good when you have time to kill. Buyoed on by my 4 winners when I had visited Plumpton racecourse earlier in the week, I called into the bookies to place an afternoon flutter on an unsuspecting course, at least I tried to, but some over-keen member of staff had jammed so many pens in the dispatcher that they were wedged together and you actually couldn't get one out. I eventually secured a pen, placed my bet and happily headed off for my next train.
This train had 12 carriages and there barely seemed to be anybody on it. The journey pretty much passed me by as I got engrossed listening to the latest 'phenom' Serial podcast on my i-pod. Actually well worth  listen if you like crime drama.
On arriving at Angmering station, it was a straightforward 10-15 minute walk to the ground. I spotted a chippy but was gutted to find that it was closed until 5pm.
As I walked up the path to the ground, you pass a child's play area and there were a handful of teenagers curled up in one of the swings, smoking and attempting to look menacing. There second half cry over the fence insulting the linesman pretty much summed up their combined intelligence. 
Needless to say it started raining within minutes of me arriving but it only lasted for about 5 minutes and the rest of the afternoon remained dry and the temperature was comfortable.
A good sized clubhouse, a medium sized stand on the near side and another small area which you could stand under cover. The far side is not accessible for spectators unless you come equipped with a machete and strong walking boots. 
A neat little tea hut was extremely efficient, I ordered a cheesburger and chips which came quickly and was of a very acceptable standard.
Despite all the recent rain, the pitch was in excellent condition.
Fair play to a group of kids, aged about 12 who chanted for East Preston throughout the game, even when there team was letting in goals what seemed like every 2 minutes.
A fairly even first half although Flackwell Heath created the better chances, they finally broke through on 33 mins and got another 5 minutes later.
The second half was played with the sound of distant drums. I think it was some sort of drum society practicing in a hall somewhere and to be fair, they weren't at all bad.
The games defining moment came 2 minutes into the second half when the East Preston left back was sent off for a second yellow. They held on for another 15 minutes, but once the 3rd went in, the floodgates opened and Flackwell Heath came away with an extraordinary 0-8 victory.
Most unexpected result and considering when I woke up that morning, East Preston wasn't even in my thinking, I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.


Sunday, November 02, 2014

Woodbridge Town FC

Woodbridge Town 0 Huntingdon Town 3

Far side with high fencing

Memorial bench inside the ground

Woodbridge Hunted down

Woodbridge Town 0 Huntingdon Town 3

After missing the first couple of rounds this season due to being away, it was great to get back on the Vase trail.
I started my journey at Welwyn North station, a typical example of a village railway station where people walk their dogs along the platform as a cut through and talk across the rails to neighbours waiting on the opposite platform, hard to believe it's only 30 minutes journey from central London.
I changed at Cambridge where they had a lot of exits open that I'd not only never seen before, I never even knew they existed. They must have trebled their station staff just to man these exits.
I found a seat and as invariably happens, I got the noisiest party in the carriage come and sit at the seats behind mine. This timeit was three university cinema studies students, I think I tolerated about 10 minutes of listening to how great they were before I just couldn't take any more and put my ear phones in.
The final leg of the journey was one stop from Ipswich to Woodbridge. This is a lovely little branch line full of views of rivers and lakes and miles of unspoilt country.
For a change, I actually found my bearings almost immediately and set off on the 20 minute walk to the ground. My hoping for a chip shop was in vain and in fact, I never passed any shops at all.
The walk was all uphill which never bothers me as it means it's all downhill after the game, I hate having it the other way!
I passed a swimming pool and actually couldn't think of another groundhop where I've done this. I was happily walking up the hill when I suddenly realised that the pavement stopped, there was a footpath on the other side of the road set back slightly, but it was 100 yards behind me - A simple sign would have been nice.
But I made the sensible choice and re-traced my steps 100 yards and actually found the ground without a single problem.
It was the most gloriously sunny and warm day, ridiculous for November but I was not complaining for a minute.
I found a gate that looked like the entrance but it was locked, I could also see a few people in the clubhouse bar, but again the door was locked. So I sat at a picnic table and messed around on my phone for a while as it was only 2pm.
When 25 minutes later there was still no sign of life, I decided to explore to see if I could find another way into the bar. All doors were padlocked until hidden in a corner, I spotted the actual entrance t the ground which I had walked right past without spotting. Once in the ground, I still couldn't figure out how to get into the bar area until a local put me out of my misery.
Worth the wait as I found a really efficient, well marked food hatch and ordered a cheesburger with chips. This was actually cooked to order and although I had to wait about 10 mins, the end result was excellent with hot chips, clearly cooked in fresh oil and a good burger. The barman kindly hal opened my can of Coke, but didn't do it properly, I had to push the tab down with my finger and then risked slicing my mouth open every time I had a sip.
A reasonable ground with a little stand next to a covered standing area and high fences to stop the ball flying on to a busy major road that runs parallel with the far side.
Huntingon were much the better side here, scored a couple in the first half and another in the first minute of the second half. Woodbridge were plucky in the second half especially after they'd made their substitutions but never seriously threatened to get back into it.
A friendly club positioned at the end of a very pleasant little housing estate.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sholing lift the cup

Sholing 1 West Auckland 0

Teams line up

Wembley way - How fantastic for fans of the clubs to see this.

Sholing 1 West Auckland 0

Don't ever knock Facebook! All I did was like a post from Chris Berezai saying that he was going to the Vase final and about 5 minutes later I got a message asking if I'd like a complimentary ticket, a free programme, access to Club Wembley and cushioned seats in line with the half way line. I had intended to buy a ticket at the gate so this was a nice bonus - Thanks Chris.
The game was a bit of a bore fest really although the last 20 minutes were okay as West Auckland threw the 'kitchen sink' at Sholing after they'd scored with a deflected shot that flew over the keeper.
The end of another Vase campaign, my favourite memories being the chips near Odd Down, the unbelievable storm at Hanworth Villa and the most glorious day at Eastbourne which effectively brought an end to the winter rainy season. Already looking forward to the draw for next season....

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Eastbourne United FC

Eastbourne United 2 Ampthill Town 1

Eastbourne dugouts

Bourne Again

Eastbourne United 2 Ampthill Town 1

The more grounds you visit, the trickier it gets at this stage of a competition. I did Sholing in the last round, I did St Andrews in a league match last year and Dunston was just too expensive. I'd also visited Eastbourne United but not for about 25 years. So off I went with a spring in my step as the rains finally relented and a lovely day was forecast. I actually never even checked the internet before leaving to confirm that it was on, just like the old days!
I had the pleasure of my wife's company on my first train to London, this made this leg more tolerable as once again we were 15 minutes late arriving into King's Cross. Note to First capital connect - What's the point in apologising if the very same thing is going to happen again next week?
Any train to Brighton is always entertaining, it's always full of weird and wonderful characters. Brighton definitely has a unique population, my one issue is that whenever I need to change there, the connection is 5 minutes or less to find and board my next train. So once again, I belted up the platform like a lunatic and jumped on my Eastbourne train with 1 minute to spare.
My parents used to own a bungalow in Polegate and I had a nostalgic stop at the station, looking up roads that I hadn't walked on since the late 1980's - Doesn't seem to have changed at all!
Eastbourne was packed, everyone seemed to be out and why not on the most perfect of early Spring days. I was spoiled for choice with eating establishments but eventually settled on a cafe down a back street, usually the sort of place I love. I probably should have been suspicious when the cafe didn't seem to have a name. There were half a dozen delightful customers who all seemed to have special needs but were loving their lunch and each others company. The Eastern European lady serving was also a delight with banter and remarks that made all her customers seem special,. Sadly, my cottage pie with chips was once of the poorer lunches I've had on my travels. The chips were fine, but the cottage pie, billed as home made, although hot, tasted processed and also tasted like there was a spoonful of salt in every mouthful. Seeing a lovely fish restaurant just after leaving the cafe almost made me weep.
The afternoon was simply glorious, wall to wall sunshine and warm with only a gentle breeze. I actually sat on the beach for a few minutes, tossed a few pebbles and fired off a few texts. The walk along the seafront firmly put all those months of rain behind me and made me feel completely refreshed.
I'm sure when I went to the ground before, it was open and I'd love to have a tweet from anyone who knows if this was the case. It would have been some time in the 80's that I visited. Now it is surrounded by a wooden fence, there are two little stands on the near side and hard standing. A big clubhouse and also a never portakabin that housed the refreshment hatch.
Amptill are from the higher step, yet Eastbourne have been pounding all opposition. A fascinating match in prospect.
The game was dramatic throughout with a real cup tie feel, the referee was excellent in my neutral opinion although he had to put up with the usual histrionics from both teams.
Amptill had most of the early possession and looked really lively. They ended up going behind to an outrageous 30 yard volley from the right touchline that flew over the keepers head. I was right next to the guy when he hit it and I'm still unsure whether it was a shot or ended cross. Whatever it was, it was spectacular!
Amptill took a roasting from their coaching staff at half time, audible to all around the tea area as they hadn't closed their windows. I was astounded when they took off their most dangerous looking forward, although it was just after their left back was sent off for two yellows and could have been tactical. I clearly know very little as Ampthill equalised shortly afterwards with a 20 yard volley from a corner hot to the edge of the area at the far post. 
I had no idea which way this tie would go now but Eastbourne got the winner on 77 mins as a header into the area was bundled home.
Amptill threw the kitchen sink at Eastbourne for the last 10 minutes and the Eqstbourne keeper made a couple of desperate saves. Another Amptill defender was sent off right at the death for a second yellow but this was too late to have any impact on the result.
So the Eastbourne bandwagon keeps rolling on and I thoroughly enjoyed my day by the seaside.   

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sholing FC

Sholing 1 Larkhall Athletic 0

Clubhouse at Sholing FC

Sholing takeaway

Shole survivors

Solent 1 Larkhall Athletic 0  aet

Finally, for the first time in 6 weeks, my first choice of game was on. The rain had finally relented for a few days, the sun was out and I headed off to the south coast on a pleasant day. I chose to travel to Solent station and walk from there, the journey to Southampton was unremarkable. I feared the worst as a group of 8 student hockey players got on my carriage and sat as a  group just in front of me. But to be fair, their behaviour was immaculate, they chatted, bantered, ate, made phone calls but they weren't loud and their language completely acceptable. They were a credit and I hope they won their hockey match at Southampton university. Bizarrely, at Southampton station, on the platform opposite mine, a young lady in ballerina costume was running along the platform, leaping into the air and being photographed by a friend. It seemed a remarkably dodgy thing to do as she was running along the yellow line on the edge of the platform, one slip or dodgy landing and it could have had a very  messy end. The photographer didn't seem to be much cop either as she must have repeated the jump about 8 times until I lost sight of them as a train pulled in.
The ground is about a 25 minute walk from Solent station mostly along the Portsmouth road. I broke the walk having spied the Solent takeaway on the other side of the road, a mixture of Chinese food and normal fish and chips grub. The sausage and chips were more than acceptable and cleverly wrapped in a sort of boat shape and I munched happily for the rest of the walk.
I had spent most of the walk following another guy who had got off at Sholing station and at the ground I discovered that he was a fellow hopper from Ipswich, it's always good to spend time chatting to fellow hoppers about their experiences and the grounds that they've visited.
The ground itself was alittle disappointing to be honest. There is a small stand and small covered standing area on the far side, the rest of the ground is a bit featureless with hardstanding, rail and high fenceing. The clubhouse is tiny although I understand that plans are afoot to improve this facility.
There's a tea hut along a sort of alley which supposedly does the greatest burgers in non-league football according to the PA announcer although I'll have to take their word for that. I did find all the staff and volunteers to be incredibly friendly and welcoming and they all seemed to be really enjoying their day and success in this competition.
The PA announcer was worth the admission money alone. Desperately keen, he spent the whole afternoon whooping up the fans and although it seemed a little over the top for a crowd of only just over 300, he was very entertaining and cannot be faulted for effort.
The match itself was a bit of a stalemate. Larkhall had a couple of efforts hooked off the line but other that that, there were a few long range efforts tipped over the bar and not a lot else. You're never going to score if you don't shoot!
Extra time was inevitable but fortunately, limbs were getting tired and the game finally opened up. 10 mins into the first period, Sholing scored with a nice angled finish as a striker got in front of his defender. A few players worthy of mention. The Larkhall number 9 ran his socks off and didn't deserve to be on the losing team. The Sholing number 6 wasn't pretty to watch, I'm sure is a nightmare to play against, but was bloody effective and the Sholing number 16 who put his foot on the ball, spread the game and despite one fairly horrendous lunge, was the one player whose game was really pleasing on the eye, I wish he'd been on the whole 90 mins.
Not the gretest of grounds, not the greatest of games but so good to finally have a normal Saturday again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hanworth Villa FC

Hanworth Villa 2 Eastbourne United 7 aet

Training pitch and dugout

Three flames in Feltham

Hans off, Hans on

Hanworth Villa 2 Eastbourne United 7 aet

For the second week running I had planned to go to Hanwell Town, for the second week running it failed a pitch inspection at 10am. But at the same time I discovered that match was off, I saw a tweet saying that Hansworth had passed a pitch inspection. I quicjly printed off a map, made a note of where & when to catch trains and set off for the town of Feltham. The train journey was straightforward and for once, the replacement bus service started from my destination, my sympathies did go out to the 50 or so miserable looking passengers, standing bewildered outside an unknown railway station, waiting for a clapped out bus with a miserable driver.
Lots of shops in the area of the station and a variety of potential lunch choices. I wandered up and down the High street and eventually plumped for the Three flames grill. This is basically a cafe that does kebabs, burgers, pies, simple meals and all-day breakfasts. There was table service and I ordered the all-day breakfast and a mug of tea. The food arrived quickly, was hot and although there were no thrills, it all tasted really good and at  very reasonably price. People were flooding in and there was barely a free table, always a good sign!
I had about a 25 minute walk to the ground along three roads that seemed never-ending, I'm sure there must be a more direct route.
On arrival at the ground, I entered the clubhouse which was packed with people and housed both a bar and tea-point. I soon ventured out to the ground itself. There is a small stand and small covered shed on the near side, a small wood behind one goal, a training pitch on the far side of the match pitch and a white rail, although there didn't seem to be any advertising boards! The wind was starting to pick up and there wasn't a lot of protection. Nice to bump into several other ground-hoppers and I thoroughly enjoyed their company throughout the afternoon.
When this game kicked off, I had no inclination of just what an extraordinary afternoon this would turn out to be.
Eastbourne scored twice in the first half and adapted best to the dramatically increasing wind. The second half saw Hanworth get one and then equalise just before the most incrdible storm I've ever seen at a football match. The first time I have ever run for the solace of the clubhouse, the roof was ripped off a marquet and as the rain turned to hail, the referee had no option but to take the players off. Fortunately, they were able to come back on after about 5 mins but the pitch had now turned into a real pudding.
In extra time, Eastbourne scored an amazing 5 times, Hanworth lost their centre forward with a suspected broken foot and then lost their centre half to a red card for a last man tackle, 2 supporters almost got into a full on fight and I saw the best goal I've seen for many a year as the Eastbourne left back went on a 40 yard run, slipping 4 or 5 tackles to score a great goal.
As I left the ground, the wind had died to about 10 mph and there were stars in the sky.
Amazing how fate sometimes send you in the direction of a most extraordinary cup-tie.