Friday, 28 January 2005

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Grays Athletic 2

Conference South
Att. 339

I was stupidly excited travelling down for this. To go to my own matchbox scale theatre of dreams is not a treat that occurs so regularly these days, and I do miss the place. A lot. I'll admit I don't miss the moaning and petty squables between supporters behind the goal, but I miss me chums (and yes, I am in the link picture), and I miss just being on the West Leigh Park terraces behind whichever goal we are shooting at (the traditional non-segregated, non-league way).

I love how much New West Leigh has improved since I first started going regularly in 1999. From 2 bike sheds at either end, we have handsome covered terracing in their place. The far side has lost its small amount of cover, but has been bolstered by barriers to cope with a large crowd should we ever make the Cup first round or such. The club shop is also now housed in the stirdy portakabin rather than the decaying cubby hole by the turnstiles, which indeed has been completely replaced by yet more covered terrace steps.

The stand is the real beauty, from a rickety old wooden barn with broken seats to a handsome cantilevered stand with H+WFC spelled out in yellow upon blue.

A shame therefore that yellow has virtually disappeared from our kit. I always thought the white front, with yellow and blue halved sleeves looked very distinct. Now we just look a bit more like Tottenham or Leeds.

Nonetheless we've made our ground, thanks to the Football Foundation and our board, very tidy indeed, from being the laughing stock of the Southern league in '99 to a more than decent football facility, in my humble. I love the place, but then I'm biased. Home away from home, or at least it used to be, hence my excitement at making my first trip there in 5 months.

To get my cheap coach fares from Liverpool to home, I have little say in when I travel, but my coach was due in to Havant at 19:45. Kick off? 19:45. I desperately hoped there would be no delays but leaving Victoria at 17:30, I thought I might be asking too much. As it goes we were early, and a quick taxi up to Leigh Park meant I was inside my mecca prior to the whistle. All ideal so far.

But, considering we were taking on the league leaders, currently 9 points ahead of everyone else, and a shoe-in for the leap up to the Conference next year, and we were, well, lets just say NOT the leaders (sigh), I would have levered the muscle off my knees with a teaspoon in exchange for a single point.

Y'see were it not for the fact that Redbridge were deducted 3 points earlier in the season for fielding an ineligible player, against us as it goes, we would be rock bottom of Conference South. With our wage bill, the directors would have expected a challenge for the play-offs hence the departure of Dave Leworthy, a terrace legend at all the clubs he has rocked up at since leaving a professional career that included stints with Oxford, Reading and Spurs (and whose socks I sponsored in the 2002/03 season, graduating to the full kit in 03/04), at the end of November last. Sad to see the great man go, but the king is dead and all that...

So now we have Ian Baird, the former Leeds, Middlesbrough and Pompey hardman, in charge. As yet we are still downwardly mobile but sparks of self-belief appear to be shooting through. I think the majority of H&W fans still believe that by the end of the season, he will have done enough to keep us as a Conference club.

Indeed after 18 minutes it all looked very good as our star man, Dean Holdsworth, who only a couple of years ago was plying his trade for Bolton in the Premiership, converted a penalty that he had won. Whatever our wage bill worries, at 21 goals in 31 this season, christ alone knows what we would have done without him. Apparently he's no primadonna either, helping out with youth team coaching and such. A new Hawk choir hero, without doubt.

Sadly, he also missed a sitter in the second half, which combined with Shaun Wilkinson's sending off (this after a Grays equaliser) allowed room for an audacious 89th minute winner for the away side. Cracking 25 yard strike, but it was not what our boys performance deserved.

I have been told just how dreadful some of our performances have been this season, and I've seen a couple of woeful ones myself, but if the Hawks can keep up this commitment, the victories will come.

We wuz robbed guv, etc.

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