Thursday, 17 April 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Boreham Wood 1

Conference South
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 562

As you’ll know, this site does not really specialise in sober reportage more a haphazard sketch, sometimes even a caricature, of the matchday experience. Thus one craves the ‘unusual’ to spark the synapses into writing something hopefully a little bit different. Frankly there’s only so many times one can find different ways of saying “coo, we’re still in with a chance of the play offs still, haven’t the boys done well.” This is, of course, a great problem to have.

As such, being presented with a penalty this past Saturday, which was awarded without us terrace dwellers having to angrily roar like a dog with its head caught in a tuba, was suitably unusual – and set me on the customary verbose, descriptive nonsense which has been pissing readers off for nine years now. My terrace associates were keen to point out to me though, quite correctly of course, that one does not need to appeal for a penalty, this not being cricket and, also correctly, that a light push it may have been, it was a push nonetheless. I am quite happy to put the record straight, respecting the opinions of my terrace brethren as I do. As I very occasionally do.

However, when you consider that we otherwise handsome fellas are the type of one-eyed bell-ends that bellow “HANDBALL” every time a leather panel hits a player anywhere above the ankle; for a penalty to be awarded whilst we were serenely pondering, like poets on a boating lake, is very much not the regular way of things and thus worthy of comment.

To be honest I could have done with something like it in this game against Boreham Wood, so I wouldn’t need to fall back on a ‘over-statements I have made’ section to fill the space. There was Danny Blanchett’s crisply incisive opener, plus the fact it’s a rare treat to see left back Blanch find the net at all; that was good. Then that they equalised in similarly efficient fashion; that wasn’t good. Not long after said equaliser, Benji Büchel was required to make a tremendous save as a powerfully hit shot swerved around like a bat curving around thick woodland chicanes. That was certainly a very welcome intervention.

After that, not much to report, but as we’ve said, the fact that our players are still standing and aren’t all stacked nine-deep on the physio’s treatment table is quite astonishing. We’re now down to four games to play in the final eight days, including a home game on Easter Monday against local rivals and likely champions Eastleigh, as well as games against Maidenhead and Tonbridge, both eagerly scrapping against relegation. We are still fifth and intend to keep it that way.

So, the going is getting really tough. Billy Ocean levels of tough. As such, we get going, or rather we keep going. We’ve ploughed through enough brick walls already to not fear a couple more. CHAAAAAAAARGE!!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Concord Rangers 0

Conference South
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 604

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of film about the First World War, being that it’s the hundredth anniversary since Archie Duke shot an ostrich cos he was hungry. Something like that anyway, damn my Curtis/Elton education, Michael Gove was right.

The images from that time are nasty of course, and I was grateful that I would likely not see anything so horrific and dreadful in my life time. That was at least what I thought until I saw Nic Ciardini’s performance here against Concord. You might think that’s a comparison too far, how can I possibly be so glib? Well, if you DO think that then you weren’t THERE maaaaan.

Of course, I am over-stating the case for effect, and being quite offensive with it, for which I apologise, but I’m genuinely unsure as to whether I’ve seen the like from a player of his calibre over the years. Every pass was over-or under-hit while his first touch was often like that of a teenager’s first introduction to a lady’s breast; he was either too nervous and awkward or far, FAR too grabby, like Rod Hull introducing Emu to Michael Parkinson’s face.

Now, many people say that Jesus was the great redeemer, but of course they were wrong, ‘football’ being the right answer. I’m really determined to get some angry letters this week, aren’t I? After emanating such filth and stink, what Nic should have been taking was every item of clothing in the ground to be rigorously dry cleaned. Instead, with ten or so minutes left, what he found himself taking was a penalty.

It was a relatively controversial award as well. Concord defender Steve King rose high in the air to head away a free-kick, and on his way down tapped Aristide Bassele softly on each shoulder as though giving him one of those mini ‘alright mate?’ massages that fellas do these days in lieu of a buttock tap. By the letter of the law, a push, but the type that is rarely punished in the penalty area. There was no desperate appeal from our lads and when the referee blew his whistle and gestured like an estate agent introducing some prospective buyers to a show home's breakfast bar, everyone ambled north of the area seemingly assuming he’d given a free-kick to Concord for backing in.

Once the reality sunk in for the Concord players they all grabbed their faces in such a way as to suggest they’d been painted by Edvard Munch, while our players reaction was as if the ref had chosen the moment to give his testicles an airing.

Of course, when we saw who was picking up the ball, then never mind the Concord players, it was our eyes that widened to the size of basketballs, jaws clanged to the floor like cartoon anvils and our mouths losing all their moisture. Like I say though, it only takes one moment to score a goal and to change your day, Nic’s crisp take beating Jamie Butler’s well-judged dive. He WAS redeemed and then, just in case he went and ruined it again, instantly substituted.

So, as with Bromley last Saturday, we played nowhere near our best yet ground out yet another 1-0 win. Vital too, as Concord are in the mix with us, Dover and Bath for that final play-off berth and had overtaken us in the week playing two games to our zero (yes, even in April we’re not immune to a postponement). Dover currently occupy fifth place after their midweek results but we still have games in hand as a result of our game against Maidenhead last Monday succumbing to a downpour close to kick off.

Thus it remains in our hands. It’s still very tough with six games to play in thirteen days but the way this team is surmounting all (well, most) obstacles, when individuals having a shocker can still be the match-winner, I’m certainly not going to bet against them.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Bromley 0

Conference South
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 576

In the last week, we strolled to a scoreless point at Chelmsford, and followed that up with two further away games, a 1-0 defeat at Staines Town on Tuesday and a deflating 3-1 bump at Sutton United. We’d been waiting for this moment, for our brave boys to hit the wall and the eight games a week to finally take a big bat to their over-exerted legs.

However, just as we can think we can relax and stop getting ourselves at it about the pipedream playoffs, just as we think we can enjoy the rest of the season with a resigned yet contented shrug, they only go and ruin it all by winning again. Gits.

Earlier in the season we went to Bromley and were given an examination as thorough as any crime scene. We had no answer to it. Ruthless efficiency was their raison d'être, and they comfortably led the Conference South by ten points at Christmas, only to then sink faster than the Lusitania once the de-facto-winter-break rains had passed. However, given they’ve only been required to play two games a week to our three, one might imagine they spied this game as an opportunity to claw back some of the ground they’ve lost to new leaders Eastleigh, and indeed Sutton, in the past couple of months.

With good reason too as we spent the first half looking not only tired, but out of sorts, delivering our least cohesive performance since the debacle at Gosport back in February. Benji Büchel, “Liechtenstein’s number one”, was once again required to impress between our sticks, with the crossbar also doing some of the work, as Bromley pressed repeatedly.

However just as we believed we were doing well to be getting to half time at 0-0, we did even better. An excellent ball by Nic Ciardini reached our lively loanee Aristide Bassele, who beat two defenders with his pace and charged down upon Bromley keeper Joe Welch. A cheeky feint to the keeper’s left unsteadied the gloved goon, and with the side of the heel, Steed brushed home with all the confidence of a Hyde Park squirrel fresh off a line of cocaine.

With this keeper and this goalscorer currently on loan from ‘em, AFC Bournemouth have been really spoiling us. Although they only send us things that sound vaguely similar, in the gift hamper with Büchel and Bassele was some Bassett’s, a Boost and a Babybel. Thus we spread out our picnic blanket for our second half cheese n’ sweets party, knowing full well that a sourer taste could easily follow.

Whilst being much improved from the first half, and having a few opportunities on the break, nothing made Welch work particularly hard in the second period, although a Nic Ciardini belt skidded mightily close to the far post. Once again though we dug in, made life difficult for a Bromley side who, like a new-build railway network, have a fundamental need for points.

No let up from them and we had to hustle and continue to show the spirit that has allowed us to overcome most of our hurdles in the past month, and in doing so fortune favoured the brave. Late in the game, Louis Dennis dropped a header, unmarked and from close range, over our keeper only for the ball to hit the bar, then the post, then ricochet back into Benji’s clutches like a baby being dropped from a burning building into a relieved fireman’s arms.

So, once more, we held on when it might have been easier for our lads to drop to the floor to suck their thumbs and have a well-earned nap. We expected set-backs within this fixture congestion, and have had them, but not nearly as many as we thought. The last time we had a set of games on this scale the pattern was that after a four game winning start, low scoring draws and defeats by and large became the norm. This time round 1-0 winning grinders are very clearly dominating the median.

With this result, and Dover being pegged back to 2-2 at Bishop’s Stortford, courtesy a 90th minute penalty, we have dipped our toes into those warm play-off waters for the first time. Fifth place. Aaaaah, that feels good. Not that we can relax of course, there remains three weeks and seven fixtures still to go.

As much as the play-offs are like slipping into the hot tub, the floors around it are filled with the impatient, aggressively demanding their turn. Dover Athletic, Concord Rangers and a few others are all scrabbling around to get a bit of purchase on our swimming trunks and pull us right back out of the temperate soak. It’s going to be all kicking out, sharpened elbows, limbs akimbo, for the next twenty one days, like some hideous merging of Game of Thrones and a game of Twister.

Gird your loins people, and get ready, for we have territory to defend.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Chelmsford City 0 Havant & Waterlooville 0

Conference South
Melbourne Stadium, Chelmsford
att. 613

In 1964, pop art provocateur Andy Warhol released Empire. It was an eight hour silent film consisting of one continuous but slow-motion shot of the top of the Empire State Building. Despite this, Empire still contained slightly more incident than this game here at Chelmsford.

Actually that’s doing it a disservice, given that our loan keeper Benji Büchel had to make an immense point-blank save very early on in the game. After that though, we were thumbing through parish newsletters and books on the history of shelves just to, y’know, keep our adrenaline levels up.

However given the punishing schedule we’ve had for the last month, I’ll certainly take a 0-0 draw away from home that’s light on action but heavy on work ethic. No complaints from me. Although it doesn’t really give one much to write about. However seeing as this was our last fixture in the month of March, perhaps we should take some time to look back at what’s gone on the past four weeks.

At the start of this month, we had just experienced the biggest disappointment in this clubs history; our hearts as broken as our faces were brave. A trip to Wembley had been denied to us all, players and fans, and all we could do was look forward, and indeed up. At that point we still had half a season still to play, ten games behind on some clubs and a whole lot of catching up to do. To be even spoken of in the same conversation as ‘the play offs’ seemed too tall an order, requiring a superhuman effort to get us through three games per week, especially with the exact weight of that FA Trophy disappointment still an unknown.

However the response has been as close to ideal as you could wish. We have mounted the seemingly insurmountable, laughed in the face of tiredness, and wedgied the underpants of sleep. [*Adopts Brian Blessed voice*] We need not this ‘recharging’ of which you speak, who will be the next to be vanquished? Brrrring them to us. We give you 48 hours… [*coughs, returns to normal voice*].

The cold hard facts are these. In just 29 days, we have played 13 fixtures. We have lost 2, drawn 3 and won 8 of them and the run has contained so many clean sheets you’d imagine the Magdalen laundries were somehow involved. In ten of the thirteen games, we have not conceded a goal. Given how tired the legs must be and with other clubs not playing catch up to quite the same extent, this has been entirely astonishing.

Given we started the month with the less optimistic among us still looking over their shoulders at the relegation pack and we finish it sixth in the table, just one place, one point and still three games behind Dover who occupy the last play-off berth, all is pretty rosey in the garden. Cos, do you know, it doesn’t really matter what happens from here. If the legs give out now, like an aging pack of acrobatic circus mules, then fair enough, the players have given their all, when it would have easier to have a tantrum at missing out on the Trophy final and lose their discipline and enthusiasm. We have had both in spades and one of the finest, proudest months we’ve ever had.

Our remaining games are tough, away to Staines and Sutton and home to Bromley in the coming week alone. It would therefore seem greedy to ask for more of our ‘March-ness’ to extend into April but hey, I’m greedy.

Previously, on DuhHuhVuhDuhWuh
18feb12: Chelmsford City 3 Havant & Waterlooville 1
13sep08: Chelmsford City 1 Havant & Waterlooville 2

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Basingstoke Town 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1

Conference South
Camrose Stadium, Basingstoke
att. 344

Three weeks into March and we’ve played ten games within it. The report card thus far is six wins, two draws and two defeats. We started with four wins and two draws and felt indomitable, like General Zod before the old switcheroo knuckle cruncher. It seemed that a game every couple of days was good for us, like a perpetual motion machine made flesh. There was no stopping us. Sod the laws of thermodynamics.

Then last Saturday came the first of those defeats, a rather tired and insipid performance against Staines Town that seemed to suggest someone had gone hard at our machine with a big bat. After battling back at Concord Rangers to steal a 3-3 draw having gone 3-2 down in the 90th minute, it was though unsurprising that the energy levels dipped less than 48 hours later.

However this snatched the cloak of seeming invincibility from our shoulders, the vulnerability and nakedness revealed; our hands scrambling to cover our cold and disappointing genitalia. If we were tired now, what did that mean for the rest of the season, given there was no respite from three games a week until a month from that point? No chance to re-energise, WHAT WOULD BECOME OF US!!!! WAAAAAH!!! WE’RE DOOOOOOMED I TELLS YA!!! Et cetera.

However, just two days after a performance so flat that photos of it were shown at a plasterers’ conference to appreciative nods, we took on Ebbsfleet at home and despite the fact the Fleet are nailed on for a play-off berth, we held on for a one-nil victory. That’s three games against a side of Webbed Feet’s quality this season (see also 0-0 draw away and 1-0 win in Trophy) and they have not once put a goal past us. That is a more than decent boast when we eventually come to look back on the season’s achievements.

However, on seeing the face of that win, we were believers once more. The pwopa big game of the past week though was our home game with Dover Athletic on Thursday, the team most likely to be the one we need to catch if we are to sneak in to that post-season promised land.

Again the energy levels were beyond acceptable in the circumstances, and we fought back from 3-1 down to get back to 3-3 only for them to go straight up the other end and score a fourth. So rapid was it, my correspondent hadn’t even had chance to finish his ‘equaliser: AMAZING SCENES’ text before it came with its self-contained suckerpunch.

However the mood was generally quite buoyant despite the defeat. We can scarcely believe the get-up-and-go our handsome Hawks are showing despite facing the equivalent of a steep mountain run with a wet sheep strapped to their backs whilst having bricks flung at them by Major League Baseball pitchers at a loose-end.

Perry Ryan, once the very model of a modern major bell-end, has in fact been the epitome of all this ridiculously gung-ho endeavour having played all but 15 minutes of the 10 games in the past 22 days. Now either Lee Bradbury is adopting the wearied parenting method of trying to wear Perry out so he sleeps through the entire summer, or he believes that Perry can’t help himself but keep going, like Joan Rivers on Duracell.

Aside from Perry though our squad has gone through more rotations than a carousel nag, with regulars Scott Bevan, Dennis Oli, Ed Harris, Christian Nanetti and Nigel Atangana all off duty here at Basingstoke and with the likes of Nic Ciardini and Pedro Monteiro on the bench. This was not what might have been thought the first XI a few weeks ago but who cares, we have a first XXIII right now, all pulling together in the common cause. Eddie Hutchinson has been a bit-part player this season but in previous years I remember games where he has owned the middle of the pitch, and this was one of those. With Perry alongside him in the heart of it, there was no shortage of beef and grit.

Meanwhile, Aristide Bassele, a recent loan signing from Bournemouth looked lively, dangerous and committed to chasing every ball, even those that had been shanked into the Winchester Road. We’ve had loan players before who’ve looked like they’d rather be anywhere else, anywhere that didn’t require them to wear a Hawk shirt; Stide is clearly not one of those *cough*Ashley Harris*cough*.

Another Bournemouth loanie is keeper Benji Büchel, a Liechtenstein international no less, but who apparently had a nightmare in the 4-3 defeat on Thursday evening. Nonetheless, another run out was his and he seemed fairly settled in the first half, making a vital intervention towards the end of it. There was almost an aberration right at the end of the game, but after spilling the ball near his line he recovered quickly to prevent a sickening equaliser.

What of our winning goal though, well, it came early, after only 19 minutes in fact. A poor pass by ex-Hawk Jay Gasson (scorer of a classic own goal in our home fixture against ‘Stokie last year), was seized on by Scott Donnelly whose first time sliding interception spun the ball over the top of the Basing back-line, where Sahr Kabba was waiting to pounce. Taking a few steadying touches, Sahr attempted a lob over oncoming keeper Louis Wells. It wasn’t quite high enough to beat Wells’ fingertips but the right amount of power to bend those fingers back like a school bully eager for dinner monies.

The ball looped over Wells’ head and bounced slowly, and I mean funeral procession here, towards the goal. We were desperate to celebrate but like a frustrated bus-driver anticipating a change in traffic lights, we merely edged in small, bouncey increments along the terrace until we could be sure the ball was definitely in. We had reason for our caution, given that the home side’s defenders were descending upon their problem like Wildebeest toward a watering hole. About twenty minutes or so later (or so it felt), the net was softly kissed like the balk cushion after a particularly well executed safety, and we could properly jump around, jump up and, indeed, get down.

Scott Jones curled a cheeky one against bar in the second half, while Wells’ had to launch to his left to palm away a crisp shot from Sahr Kabba. However as the second half wore on, the more Basingstoke’s battle for a point gained momentum. As has happened often in the past three weeks, we held on for a tight, but proud victory.

We clearly have the energy of a thousand infants and the power of a thousand lions. Still, a lot to do but last weekend's defeatism has been torn asunder by our lads repeatedly going that extra mile. Then another extra mile. Then fourteen more. If we do miss out, it’ll not be through a lack of heart or desire, that is for sure.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Eastbourne Borough 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1

Conference South
Priory Lane, Eastbourne
att. 534

You find us at the end of an exhilarating week. Two weeks ago we sat hunched against a fence, cutting onions and pretending to have grit in our eyes; full of despair we woz. A fortnight hence and we feel swelled, alive, erect and bouncing like a tossed caber; full of pride we izz.

What, you might ask, are the sources of this pride, considering this time fifteen days ago, we’d have happily seen them all tar and feathered and displayed in Havant town centre as a warning to others about the futility of hope? Well, let me give you the details…

When your tormentor kicks sand in your face in front of your best girl, you have two options: run to the safety of the beach hut for good old cry, or you get your postal order over to Charles Atlas’ people and reach for your bullworker. And to think they used to call us SKINNY!

So, yeah, we could not have asked for a better response, especially when we are playing a fixture every couple of days from now ‘til late April. Some would consider that a daunting task but we are going about it as though we are Sir Ranulph Fiennes beginning a new assault on Everest and replacing the rope and crampons with a space hopper. Tally ho! Boing Boing! etc.

Four games in the last eight days. Tough? I guess, but having played those 360 minutes, those six long hours, we have not conceded any goals and scored eight. I guess you could say we would be expected to beat a Wessex League side in the Hampshire Senior Cup, but also in that packed period, we have played three Conference South games away from home; a tough ask at the best of times, let alone in such quick succession. Yet, we have won all three without having to pick the ball out of our own net at any stage. To put it mildly, this is not relegation form. “What kind of form is it, Skiffoid?” Well, I’m not sure I’d like to say...

We’ve had injuries and illness to contend with on the way and the squad is being used to its full potential with not one but three goalkeepers used in the last week. Here at Eastbourne, for the second time this season, eighteen year old Academy shaver Charlie Searle was called up late to take the gloves.

First choice Scott Bevan, who played on Saturday and Monday was feeling a twinge in his back whilst Benji Büchel, a Liechtenstein international currently on loan to us from Bournemouth (and who played in our 2-0 win against Boreham Wood on Wednesday night), was laid low with a bug. Charlie did himself proud when stepping into the breach at Bishop’s Stortford back in September, would he be able to do the same again?

After all, getting a result at Eastbourne is never an easy task, especially with defensive legs tired from an extensive pounding this week. However, straight from the kick off it was clear we had a fourth wind, making the early advances with Scott Jones missing with a header after only six minutes. In fact we looked fitter than we had at the start of this collection of fixtures, the slumbering first 45 at Hayes & Yeading, replaced with a gung-ho mentality. It’s amazing what a bit of momentum can do.

At the back, all was steady, young Charlie commanding his box well and claiming all comers. It’s a confidence thing, certainly our midfielders are getting all giddy about their abilities from outside the box in recent times too. Fair enough really, as we’ve hit some reet pearlers this season, indeed we’ve been having our very own goal-of-the-season contest in the last week alone. On Wednesday at Boreham Wood, Perry Ryan finished off a training-ground perfected free-kick move with a welt into the bottom corner, whilst left back Daniel Blanchett also joined in, looping in a cheekily opportunistic lob from 30 yards out.

Clearly Nigel Atangana watched both these finishes closely, and popped up with a strike which combined the best of both after half an hour here. Receiving the ball about 35 yards out, he turned his marker deftly, took two more strides then unleashed his goodness with all the serenity of a man fresh out of a sensory deprivation tank; a shot so crisp that once it popped, it could NOT be stopped. When they say it only takes a second to score a goal, they weren’t talking about this one, cos it was one of those where for those watching behind the goal, the journey from foot to net appeared to last a good minute or so. GORRRRRRRGISS.

Yet, this was not the real source of pride from the fixture. With legs heavy from overwork, Lee Bradbury introduced our final remaining subs with about half an hour still to go. This always comes with a risk of course, and indeed within a couple of minutes, Charlie Searle went down with a thud after being caught on the side of his head by some Eastbourne knee. Treatment lasted a while, but Charlie got up for his standing eight-count and carried on.

A slender lead with ten men and a fourth keeper in a week chosen via the picking of straws would not have been ideal. Was a groggy young scamp any better? We would just have to hope so, but he’d proved himself already in the game with a handsome flying one handed save late in the first half.

Protected by a strong and spirited rear-guard defensive display, Charlie was able to get through the remaining half an hour, which felt like a couple of days, before retreating to the grass for some additional treatment as we bopped and jived on the terraces, celebrating one of the great Hawks backs-against-the-wall performances.

“What his name? CHARLIE SEARLE” we bellowed, doffing our caps to the fact that although his world had been looking like a woozy, acid-fuelled, psyche-rock video for thirty minutes or so, he met every test. He was able to stretch up high and catch corners speared in and designed to make him panic amidst the nag of bruising and the twittering birds flying around his head. He was also fine to fend off the close attention of their big lads, their beefy central defender Ian Simpemba playing virtually as a striker for the last ten minutes, but to no avail.

I can’t tell you it was a joy to watch in real time, it was tense, nervous gear but the sort of thing that in retrospect, in the context of three points defiantly earned, that gets the hairs standing on end and pride drilling through the veins like an exocet. All Hawk gents present and correct at Eastbourne will have no need of Viagra for the foreseeable future, I can tell you.

Even in adversity, we are so difficult to beat at the minute, opposition heads making little indentation on the brick wall we have erected. One can only hope this can continue as this coming midweek sees two further league away games, followed by three home games in six days. It’s going to be tough to keep this up over two months but you can’t fault the response thus far.

Previously, from Priory Lane
25mar06: Eastbourne Borough 2 Havant & Waterlooville 2

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 4 AFC Portchester 0

Hampshire Senior Cup Semi-Final
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 223

I’ve missed the Hampshire Senior Cup. It’s been almost exactly eleven years since I saw my last Hampshire Cup tie; the ill-fated two-legged semi-final against Bashley. That following summer I moved north and when travelling from Leeds, Liverpool or London for games (as has been the case since then), one tends to favour the bigger fish of the league, FA Cup or Trophy over the county-based competition.

Some memories of watching us in the competition when I lived in Havant remain fresh though. There was the time we went to Lymington Town, played a father and son as our striking duo (David and Craig Leworthy), and drank plentymuch tea in their clubhouse in an attempt to beat away the bitter December cold. Usually you expect plastic or styrofoam cuppage at football grounds but Lymington Town was clearly where all the unsold charity shop ceramic mugs went to die. We won 4-1 and narrowly avoided frost-bite. Win-win.

Then there was the year before when we took on Portsmouth-based amateurs Moneyfields and stuck nine past them. After the seventh, we started to lose the pleasure in it – like a cat exhausting its interest in a lifeless mouse. Looking back at the records, one of those nine goals was from a youth team player named Karl Miller. Of the Hampshire Cup memories I have, he is not one of them. Usually you remember names, but not faces, with these less-than-five-appearances guys. I’m afraid to tell you Karl, you’ve not made it into my internal archive in either sense.

However, if I'm honest, my most abiding memory of the competition is not a particularly great one. It was, in fact, the first Hampshire Cup tie I ever watched. It was October 1999, it was absolutely freezing (seemingly a pre-requisite for a county cup tie; it was pretty nippy last night n’all), and we lost 3-0 at home to Cowes Sports, a side from the Wessex League, then two divisions below our own. Bleak stuff. What I remember most about that evening though is that I took my then girlfriend. This was October 19th, otherwise known as HER BIRTHDAY. That’s right ladies, I was quite the catch.

So what’s so good about it, given these easy wins and humiliating banana skin defeats that I’ve detailed. I guess it’s that the general vibe is much less intense and much as one likes a bit of tension in a game to make it truly memorable, there’s something to be said for gathering a few chums behind the goal for a mother’s meeting whilst about us a fixture plays out.

This general vibe was probably assisted here by us taking an early lead after only twelve minutes which pretty much killed the pratfall fears stone dead. Christian Nanetti, continuing his sprightly form from Saturday’s win at Hayes & Yeading, buzzed into the box like an incontinent hornet eagerly seeking some privacy, and was swiftly tripped. Christian hopped up from the floor and slotted his spot-kick into the bottom corner.

Not that one could under-estimate Portchester, even with a goal advantage. A small club, relatively new to senior football (having joined the Wessex League in 2004 after a previous life in the Hampshire League as Wicor Mill) they might be, but there’s clearly ambition there. Consider for a second that they are a club three divisions below us, but are managed by a man, Graham Rix, who was once at the helm at Portsmouth in their solid Championship days and also Heart of Midlothian for a while. That is not an appointment that screams “well, lets tread water in the Wessex for a while and if we get through a couple of rounds in the FA Vase then that’ll be nice won’t it?”

However as much as decent passing football is tough to get going on our sticky dog of a pitch right now (that said it was kind of a miracle we got a game going at all after the previous days rain), there was precious little peril to be found until Scott Bevan made a wonder save in the final moments to preserve his clean sheet bunse. That boy loves the coin.

By this point though, all our down payments on the victory had been made. Pretty much the last Hawk touch before half-time came from Dennis Oli providing some of finest heel work since Brad Pitt essayed the role of Achilles in Troy. Inside the six yard box and with his back to goal, Big Den attempted a cheeky flick with the back o’ the boot and it successfully bolted beneath the dive of sturdy keeper Jon Webb.

In the second half, again, the pace of the game was pretty tepid but we kept up the forward momentum and Alex Przespolewski helped himself to a brace. Prez laid off a beautiful ball for Nic Ciardini who barrelled into the box and appeared to be tripped. As Portchester reacted like it was a game of musical statues and someone’s Mum had pressed pause on her Rick Astley tape, Prez took advantage of their inability to play to the whistle and planted the loose ball into the net. Just as well, as the ref looked in no mood to give a second penalty having also turned down a further trip on Christian in the first half.

Our lesser-spotted-these-days midfield dogger Eddie Hutchinson was brought on for Dennis Oli to play an unfamiliar role as the big-lump target man. He nearly surprised us all too with a smart dip of the shoulder to beat his marker, following up with a run into the box and a crisp strike that thudded into the post. Not long after this unexpected event came an increasingly familiar one. Prez received a smart pass from Ciardini and finished with his usual composure to complete the scoring, although a hat-trick might well have been his, had he kept one late shot just a little lower.

Still, after a pleasing return to winning form on Saturday in the league, it improves our mood even further to have reached a final. As my friend Ade would tell you THIS IS THE BIG CUP!! He loves a mug that fella, and Havant & Waterlooville have yet to win the Hampshire Senior Cup since unification, so we’re keen to right that wrong. We appeared in the final both in 2001 and 2002 without success. Third time lucky? We certainly hope so. Basingstoke Town await us at Fratton Park in May.

Road to Fratton
F: Havant & Waterlooville ? Basingstoke Town?
SF: Havant & Waterlooville 4 AFC Portchester 0
QF: Havant & Waterlooville 3 Farnborough 0
QF: AFC Portchester 3 Petersfield Town 1
3R: Sholing 0 Havant & Waterlooville 3
3R: AFC Portchester 2 Alresford Town 1
2R: Hartley Wintney 0 Havant & Waterlooville 3
2R: AFC Portchester 3 AFC Totton 1

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Hayes & Yeading United 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1

Conference South
Kingfield Stadium, Woking
att. 170

As the final whistle sounded on this game, we had reached the half way point of our league season. Twenty-one games played in the 195 days since we began on August 17th at Ebbsfleet. Now, the remaining twenty-one, plus a Hampshire Senior Cup semi-final, will have to be played in the 55 days we have left.

All our Saturdays and Tuesdays are booked up, and the vast majority of our Thursdays have pencilled names against them. Plus it’s still damp out there, people. Wall-to-wall games, it’s ALL FOOTBALL! ALL THE TIME! which is exactly as wearying as it sounds. So many arrangements and re-arrangements dashed and trying to gather a decent crowd three, possibly four, times in each seven day period that remains will be some ask. Whatever monies the FA Trophy run brought in will probably be counterbalanced by the reduced footfall over the coming weeks. Bluddy wevver.

Our club secretary is one of the very best in the business, a man so tireless he’s propped up on bricks, but you wouldn’t have blamed him if by now he’d started screaming in the night and had contemplating a killing spree. On a similar note, our groundsman has worked ceaselessly over the past months and has been punished more than most when the local official dips their toe into the gurgling gazpacho soup that used to be our pitch, shakes their head and begins to whistle Pete Seeger’s Waist Deep In The Big Muddy with an increasing sense of panic as our playing ‘surface’ creeps up over their nipples.

There was a 9am pitch inspection here at Woking, temporary home of Hayes & Yeading United, but thankfully a good few hours respite made sure we didn’t have yet another blank Saturday and another blocked out Thursday berth. After a late P-P at hone to Whitehawk last Monday as well, it was even more important that we took the opportunity to get back on the saddle after falling off and grazing our knees somewhat last weekend.

Try as I might to put a brave face on it, that game will cast its shadow over a lot of what happens for the remainder of this season. Indeed, while last week’s post was an attempt to shake off the disappointment, it ignored some central horrors that await us. My terrace colleague Lammy was moved to offer this rebuttal on the Hawk forum last week…

“If [Skif] was any good he would have been able to change the result or something.

And then there is the taunting - safe inside his London mansion he warns of all the grief we are about to face from The News, South Today, Radio Solent, all safely out of his earshot. It's like Lord Haw Haw has returned to warn of all the ills we are about to discover.

But it's what he doesn't warn us about that is the worst of it. All those days, weeks and years recalling the horror. It starts with each Gosport defeat (like yesterday) and will increase when they are relegated. Each future Hants Cup victory over them will just make it worse. Then in 5 years time when they are scrambling around the park pitches that represent the Southern league South and West pub league they will still be the team that stopped us going to Wembley.

The final part of this anguish is that there is no easy door to lay it at. I need a scapegoat, why didn't someone get sent off, miss a penalty, why wasn't the ref to blame? In the absence of all others I propose blaming Skif and his pre-match-photo-taking over-confidence for this life scarring incident. I hope [he is] man enough to take responsibility.....

I don't know about you but writing about it hasn't made it any easier to deal with either......not coping with this very well am I?”

Which is frankly much better and more evocative than anything I’ve written all season. I spend HOURS on these f***in’ things, and he just waltzes in with his heartbreak and steals the f***in’ show. I’d have him banned from Westleigh Park if I had my way.

Anyway the point is, there was one I swear, we needed a strong response from the team lest we all collapse, weeping like a skin abscess, into a self-pitying heap for the remainder of the campaign. For the first half, we lacked a little sparkle, running about listlessly like rheumy-eyed eight year olds soon after having their legs smacked by an authoritarian supply teacher. Sahr Kabba didn’t look entirely fit and it is to be hoped the fox-in-the-box we saw earlier this season can be back feeling himself, as it were, again soon.

Not that the first half was chanceless, Pedro ‘Pele’ Monteiro skimmed the crossbar with one shot from out wide. Well, I say shot, it was as much a cross as the thing they nailed Jesus to, but had it dropped in, we’d have cared not a jot. In addition, Sahr Kabba did get the better of Hayes & Yeading’s two big central defensive units on one occasion, but his attempt to curve the ball around keeper Mikhail Jaimez-Ruiz ended up ploofing against the side-netting.

Largely though, minus a couple of scares, we felt in control and that continued into the second half. Dennis Oli replaced Sahr at half-time and, being about the size of Sahr Kabba sat on the shoulders of another Sahr Kabba, had a much better physical presence to get into some shoulder-to-shoulder with Ben Gerring and Dean Inman, and indeed looked as lively as I’ve ever seen him. Dennis is a six-foot, broad shouldered bit of beef, but you can sometimes forget he’s even there, which considering he often plays as a lone striker is a bit troubling. No danger of that today as he barrelled about like a pre-teen on triple-shot coffee.

Similarly, after a few disappointing weeks, once Christian Nanetti was introduced after an hour (along with Alex Przespolewski) , he also put in the most sprightly shift we’ve seen from him in a fair while too. He was able to stretch the H&Y defence much more than the reliably hard working Scott Jones had been able to do.

Indeed, it was Christian who was to make the vital contribution to our eventual winning goal and, in rare style, being that his intervention involved his head. Bear in mind that Christian is 3’ 6” in his kitten heels, and you’ll understand what a sporadic treat that is. Perry Ryan’s corner-taking had been erring on the side of caution with short jabs to nearby team-mates, generally leading to nothing. Eighty minutes in though, he decided to swing it into the near post where Christian’s little eyebrow flick looped into the six yard box where Ryan Woodford was waiting to calmly slot home [lower picture].

Ryan has had a stop/start Hawk career, suffering long-term injury, being loaned out to Gosport at one stage, and having to battle with Pedro Monteiro, Ed Harris and the like for the central defensive slots. However now that Ed has suffered an injury that threatens to keep him out for the rest of the season, Ryan has an opportunity for a run of games and to remind us why we fell in love with him after he turned up from Portsmouth’s Academy five years ago.

So needless to say, first time out he not only has a header cleared off the line [top picture], as occurred about midway through the second period, but he scores the winner. Yeah, we still like him. Indeed, we still like them all because they did exactly what they had to do. It was a bit of a grinder of a match and not the best we’ll see from them but nonetheless they kept doing what they do well, passing the ball around and being patient, ultimately getting their reward.

Dogged one-nils away from home with the fixture pile-up we’ve got? I’ll take as many of them as you can give.

Previously from Kingfield Stadium
01apr13: Hayes & Yeading United 1 Havant & Waterlooville 4
01jan10: Woking 2 Havant & Waterlooville 0

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Gosport Borough 2 Havant & Waterlooville 0

FA Trophy Semi Final 2nd leg
Privett Park, Gosport
att. 2,901

A couple of years ago, one of my Hawk chums asked me if fancied going to one of the Euro Championship qualifiers at Wembley. I said no, reasoning that if I was to go to the national stadium, I wanted to save my first time for the Hawks. Of course, my chums rightly scoffed, as the chances of a club of our size getting there are remote at best. FA Trophy or bust, really, and we’re not at the top level of clubs eligible to take part.

As we got to these Trophy semi-finals, it was all shaping up for me to be painted as some kind of oracle; a wizard-like sage dispelling wisdom from the tree-stump upon which I sit forever cross-legged. Instead, our local rivals Gosport are going to Wembley and I look like what I am, a bell-end keen to put a whimsical spin on the fact he can’t be arsed with watching the England football team these days.

Of course, this is what will make this defeat hurt all the more, the fact we have been defeated by a club just down the road, covered by the same local newspaper and containing a number of old faces who will be delighted they’ve been able to put one over on the club that deemed them surplus to requirements. We gleefully handed over the divorce papers and cast them into the street without shoes; now they’ve snuck back in our house and cut the crotches out of every pair of trousers we own.

So, all we can do is stand by and now watch the Portsmouth News work themselves into a lather about something that could have been ours, but isn’t ours, for the next month. Gruuuuw. Losing to a club from the distant north would have been much easier to take, or at least a lot easier to ignore.

The disappointment amongst our support was palpable upon the final whistle; frustrated anger, distraught tears and bouncy-castle-at-the-end-of-a-child’s-party levels of deflation. As our collective trudged the two miles back to the Gosport/Portsmouth ferry, a journey very similar to the one that had been full of hope and opportunity not three hours previous [see photo above], we did our best to gee each other up, but when such a carrot is dangled, one cannot help but feel a little empty when the next door neighbour reaches over the fence, and snatches it away. Still, that was for Saturday; our duty now concerns the future. NEXT!

The key really is how we deal with the coming weeks, and that counts for fans as well as players. We all need to pick ourselves up and deal with this setback in a pro-active manner. There is still a Hampshire Senior Cup to be won, and play-offs to be challenged for. Let us not forget that we had just gone three months without defeat – that had to come to an end at some stage and it’s a shame it had to be at a game of this magnitude, but these things happen.

To say our players “didn’t want it enough” doesn’t sit well with me. Sometimes you might think a set of players might not care that much about winning the Hampshire Mug, but a chance for a semi-pro player to do their thing at Wembley? Of course they wanted it. So did Gosport. Gosport just went about their business a lot more effectively over the two legs. The things we usually do well, we didn’t do with any fluidity and I think the confidence eroded over the 180 minutes, while Gosport played above their current rock-bottom-of-the-league station. Tim Sills took his two opportunities here with great poacher’s instinct, although marking on both occasions was somewhat lax to say the least.

Fair play to them then, especially Sam Pearce, one of our old boys who took the time to applaud us after the game, and not in a gloating way. How to be gracious in victory in one easy step. Gosport keeper Nathan Ashmore, also once with us of course, took a different approach, allowing his annoyance to get the better of him and unleashed some choice Anglo-Saxon terminology in our direction. If I’d have been called variations on ‘cheating c**t’ by the less decorous members of our support network for most of the second half, I think I might have built up a head of steam myself, so I’m choosing to forgive this aberration, and wish him well for the final.

So what went wrong? Well, who knows? There’s been a lot of feeling amongst our supporters, that because they’re bottom of the league, because we battered them on Boxing Day, because we believe man-for-man in all positions our players are better, that we should easily beat the likes of Gosport. Of course, that’s not how cup ties work. Cup ties would punch you in the groin soon as look at you.

We know this, of course, from the other side, as cup ties can also drag you into a shop doorway for a very public display of, how can I put this, ‘heavy duty affection’. Indeed, while this was crushing (more so than when we lost at this same stage in 2003 to Tamworth, as the final was at Villa Park that year), it would be a great deal more crushing than if we’d never had our moment in the sun and, indeed, The Sun. To have beaten York, Notts County and Swansea, and scored two goals against Liverpool at Anfield, well, hardly any set of supporters at our level will get to experience that. We have. To have won the Wembley treasure as well might have made us feel a bit guilty, like winning all the prizes in a pub raffle and feeling duty bound to toss something back on the table for someone else to win.

That’s how I’m choosing to spin it – that we are magnanimously letting Gosport have some of the occasional PROPA FUN TIMES available in the non-League pot, cos we’ve had our turn and what not. Yep, foolish arrogance and condescension all the way, even in defeat, that’s my coping mechanism. It’s either think that or believe that Alex Pike superstitiously not touching the Trophy at the Fratton Park photocall was the difference between the two sides, or give credence to the fact his barrister mate had a dream predicting the exact scores of the two legs.

Alternatively of course, we could take the more upsettingly accurate and factual approach of crediting the notion that Gosport bested us over two legs. Good luck to them and our old boys for their big day out, as we haul ourselves up off the canvas and get ourselves together for the next big fight. As with Pat Sharp’s Fun House, there are STILL prizes to be won and, who knows, we could still have a whole lot of fun this season.

Behind us smoulders the wreckage; ahead of us rolls a long open road of possibility.

Road to Wembley
F: Cambridge United 4 Gosport Borough 0
SF2: Gosport Borough 2 Havant & Waterlooville 0
SF1: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Gosport Borough 1
QF: Havant & Waterlooville 4 Aldershot Town 1
QF: North Ferriby United 1 Gosport Borough 2
3R: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Ebbsfleet United 0
3R: Hungerford Town 0 Gosport Borough 1
2Rr: Havant & Waterlooville 3 Whitehawk 1
2R: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Whitehawk 1
2Rr: Nuneaton Town 0 Gosport Borough 0 [2-4 pens]
2R: Gosport Borough 0 Nuneaton Town 0
1Rr: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Basingstoke Town 0
1R: Basingstoke Town 0 Havant & Waterlooville 0
1R: Gosport Borough 1 Concord Rangers 0
3QR: Sutton United 1 Havant & Waterlooville 2
3QR: Gosport Borough 3 Dorchester Town 0

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Gosport Borough 1

FA Trophy Semi-Final 1st Leg
Westleigh Park, Havant

Just getting a game on has been a feat in recent weeks against the rains that have battered the south coast. Our pitch has had little respite, and even after a couple of days with only a shower or two, the central strip of the pitch remained heavier than a rhino that’s over indulged on the Christmas Quality Street.

However it was fit to play even if further rains began to fall about an hour prior to kick off. It was a fine rain coming in at a slant. Omens wise, this was good news, as similar conditions abounded once we managed to get our postponed quarter final tie against Aldershot going. Being unable to defeat the lake this past weekend, this first leg moved to a Monday but the school night factor, plus the fact it was a wind-and-rains-is-cold grimmer still saw a good two thousand people turn out.

This is what it’s all about. Four figure attendances, Westleigh Park under lights and a HUGE prize on offer. HUGE. For those who’ve not been paying attention – day out at Wembley for the winner over two legs. Pretty good. Pretty pretty pretty good. Thus, in as much as we were facing the team currently rock bottom of our division, a team we had thumped 3-0 on this ground only seven weeks ago, this was something entirely new and separate.

Indeed, last time we played them, the managers weren’t required to talk live to camera on the local news, nor were they brought together at Fratton Park for a photocall. Said gathering left the south Hampshire public with the full horror of an image of Gosport manager Alex Pike giving our hero Lee Bradbury a cheeky kissle around his ear-‘ole. All good larks Alex, but there was no need to leave the tongue in, sunshine. Lee generally prefers a cotton bud to clear that out.

Lee was left holding the baby too, as Alex Pike had no truck for the touch. Superstition dictated that he kept his grubby feelers off the beefy silver chalice, whereas our boy was happy to take the full load. “How can holding the trophy have any influence on the result?” said Lee in such a way as to imply “How old are you, Pikey? Eight?”. The Gosport manager would have replied but he was too busy reeling in his lizardy licker from Lee’s luscious lobes.

After the talk, the hype, the awkward photos and the big bastard weather, we finally get down to a first leg and the time of reckoning. If you are drawn at home for the first leg, you ideally want to be taking a lead to the away game and all talk was about what lead would be sufficient to take over to Privett Park this coming weekend. Now, it’s difficult to determine whether this was hubris or nervousness being betrayed but there was certainly no getting away from the fact we, and pretty much everyone, had us down as favourites, and if we could establish a dominance, home was the place to do it.

That brings its own pressure of course, with the ‘underdogs’ keen to upset the odds. As such it was no surprise when the first half played out to a damp stalemate. Prior to kick off my chums asked me how I was feeling. I felt relaxed, serene even, possibly because I’d already been in the ground for 90 minutes to soak up the change from empty to much-fuller-than-we’re-used-to. It’s a glorious sight to see so many people pouring through our turnstiles like lava through Pompeii, and the resulting puffed-up chest meant I felt alright.

This was all well and good, until two minutes into the second half when the bottom dropped out of my contented world. Bosh. There it was, the Australia of my sanguinity, and the penguins of my calm, disappearing south into the blackness. A long ball from ex-Hawk Sam Pearce was flicked on by Mike Gosney, Pedro Mointeiro’s attempt to clear swung and missed and Tim Sills was quick to pounce placing a swift shot across goal and into the far corner.

I could feel my face turn green. Proper feel it. Not in the good Incredible Hulk way either, this was much more “you won’t like me when I’m queasy”. My stomach was pushing its way into my socks, my trembling knees unable to stoutly repel against its cowardly retreat. This is what it is, these big stakes games, the moments of full on joy often getting kippered around the chops by terror, fear and disappointment.

All I could picture was Alex Pike laughing maniacally in a set of thick welder’s gloves while making off with the FA Trophy, screaming “you’re my wife now” at the magnificent mug. Such was my malaise until, twelve minutes later, Nic Ciardini attempted yet another cut inside on the right wing onto his left foot. We all know what Nic can do with space on the edge of the box, but it seemed as though it was about time he thought about passing it for a change.

Of course, as soon as this thought enters your head, Nic was duty bound to get the space at the edge of the box and unleash a daisy cutter that nutmegged a Gosport defender and swooshed past their Hawk-trained keeper Nathan Ashmore like an angry bat. Speaking of bats, on seeing all this unfold, craziness behind the goal erupted to the level of ‘bat-shit’. One-each. Phew. Once again I felt relaxed albeit with the nagging feeling that without a lead, we’d be leaving ourselves vulnerable over at Privett Park.

No further goals were to arrive, despite Cards having another bolter tipped over the bar by Ashmore, and a strong penalty claim being turned down. However it was nervy stuff, especially with many an attempt to play football resulting in passes grinding to a halt in the muddy and sandy soup near the half way line. From such things do breakaway goals occur and I continue to breathe a sigh of relief that we escaped that suckerpunch.

Thankfully, away goals don’t count so essentially now it’s a one-legged away semi-final for the right to stride out at Wembley like the owners’ of all Hampshire. We must still have confidence, as our team has now not lost since November 28th. Ten games won and four drawn since then, albeit with about a further forty-seven rained off, so there should be no lack of belief in our side. The players’, if they’re reading should know, that the belief extends to the terraces. C’mon the Hawks, there will never be a better opportunity to strut at the big stadium.

Nobody is now favourite. It is winner takes all. It is a shoot-out, potentially literally.


*Bradbury/Pike picture by Paul Jacobs for the Portsmouth News. 

Road to Wembley
F: Cambridge United 4 Gosport Borough 0
SF2: Gosport Borough 2 Havant & Waterlooville 0
SF1: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Gosport Borough 1
QF: Havant & Waterlooville 4 Aldershot Town 1
QF: North Ferriby United 1 Gosport Borough 2
3R: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Ebbsfleet United 0
3R: Hungerford Town 0 Gosport Borough 1
2Rr: Havant & Waterlooville 3 Whitehawk 1
2R: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Whitehawk 1
2Rr: Nuneaton Town 0 Gosport Borough 0 [2-4 pens]
2R: Gosport Borough 0 Nuneaton Town 0
1Rr: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Basingstoke Town 0
1R: Basingstoke Town 0 Havant & Waterlooville 0
1R: Gosport Borough 1 Concord Rangers 0
3QR: Sutton United 1 Havant & Waterlooville 2
3QR: Gosport Borough 3 Dorchester Town 0