Sunday 29 April 2018

Havant & Waterlooville 3 Concord Rangers 2

National League South
West Leigh Park, Havant
att. 2,270

Sometimes, something so special happens, it inspires you in a way you’ve not felt inspired for years. It releases endorphins that course through you, keeps you smiling like a giddy loon on the car, train and tube journeys home long after the final whistle.

People edge away from you, slightly concerned, but you don’t care. Cos you’ve just watched your team win the league. Essentially the league, or level at least, you’ve been trying to win, since you first started coming to watch your local side, 19 years ago.

I realise that’s a very specific experience I’m describing. Needless to say, that yesterday, it was very much my experience.

We’ve had years where we’ve been in the ballpark, of course, a third place finish in the Southern League before the Conference South and play-offs existed, and a couple of semi-finals in the post-season shakedown since they have.

When former Bournemouth boss Lee Bradbury took over from the hapless, seemingly barely interested Stuart Ritchie in October 2012, it seemed ambitious. Could Lee be the man to take us out, finally, of the sixth tier? Four years later he did. We were relegated.

I have to admit, at that point, if our long-standing chairman Derek Pope had decided to bundle up the bungling Bradbury inside a roll of carpet, throw him in the back of a Luton Van and head for some remote waste ground somewhere, I’d not have reported him missing.

However, our chairman is a loyal type, and he was willing to give Lee the chance to put right what he had got so spectacularly wrong. It didn’t start well, as we lost our first fixture away in the Isthmian League to Leiston, a place that barely exists, and who were seemingly more concerned with the vegetable show going on in their clubhouse at the same time. It’s hard to feel the adrenaline of opening day battle, when some old boy is barrelling about the side terrace wearing a smug grin, a rosette and a big fuck-off marrow under his arm.

Form started to pick up, and a run of results in February and March of 2017 put us in contention, albeit in a tussle with local rivals Bognor Regis Town, whose two best strikers, Jason Prior and Alfie Rutherford, we had nicked before the campaign. They would naturally love it, LOVE IT, if they could best us in the league after that.

As it turned out, our penultimate fixture, on Easter Monday, was to be a home game with Bognor. At that point they were in the driving seat, but a 1-0 win in a packed West Leigh Park saw us win the leapfrog. Nonetheless we still had to better their result on the final weekend. We went to Kingstonian en masse and, err, drew 0-0.

As it became clear we wouldn’t be scoring if we played this match well into May, word came through that Bognor had gone 1-0 up. At that moment, our faces turned to a hue of watery beige and we feared the worst. However Bognor’s opponents, Metropolitan Police, scrambled an equaliser, and never has a group of beered up fellas marauding around south London had so much affection for the plod.

So, the wrong had been righted, but it was still far from easy to say that Lee Bradbury was a manager beloved. He owed us, and thankfully had stuffed some used notes into our wallet at the eleventh hour, before we sent round Big Nicolae and his favourite hammer.

Much as it was nice to visit some different places like Lowestoft in our brief stay in the Isthmian, it felt good to be back in what we largely feel is our natural home – the Conference South. However after a ghastly pre-season, and the strengthening of the squad to the tune of only one player – former Pompey striker Matt Tubbs – frankly the sum total of our ambitions was just to avoid the calamity of two seasons before. If we’d finished 12th this year, we would have felt that to have been a great success to build on going forward.

The season was a bit bitty to start with as well, no real sign of things to come. Several times we were beaten, or at least drawn with, thanks to last minute goals. However, it seems around mid-September our defensive unit, marshalled impeccably by our veteran keeper Ryan Young, looked at each other and said, right then – let’s concede no more goals shall we? Do you know, they pretty much managed it.

Over the course of our 42 match season, our defence conceded only 30 goals, most remarkably in the 21 away games we let in only 10.

By mid-January, it was becoming a little clearer who would be tussling at the top for the remainder, and thus our away game at Dartford looked to be crucial. We went there and dominated them for 88 minutes. However this followed them scoring in those opening 2 minutes and us not being able to break down the door.

A setback, and not the last. Having wrestled our way to the top in mid-March after a wobble from Dartford, we then proceeded to lose to play-off chasing Truro, and only manage a 0-0 draw on Easter Monday at soon to be relegated Whitehawk. After that, both us and Dartford were on the same points (once Dartford had played their game in hand), and it was a matter of bettering their results. Consider this: Dartford won their last 8 games. Yet still we prevailed.

Coming into the final week of the season, an early April postponement meant we now had a game in hand, playing on the last Wednesday an East Thurrock United side that had already played on the Saturday and Monday. At this stage, we knew we needed to win to go level with Dartford on points, but they had an advantage of three in goal difference, plus the knowledge that they had scored many more than us to give them an additional edge if it came to GD parity.

After an hour against a resolute ETU, it was 1-1 and it looked like promotion may be gone from us. However, the first thing to go was the legs of the East Thurrock XI, pretty much en masse with fifteen minutes left. Suddenly looking as withered and atrophied as malnourished 110 year olds, they collapsed like Del Boy through an open bar hatch, and we were able to blitzkrieg their by now only notionally defended net, ending up victorious to the tune of 6-1.

Thus the initiative was back with us or, for the more pessimistic among us, the opportunity to win 1-0 while Dartford win 4-0 on the final day and thus smash it all on the rocks like a drunk amateur yachtsman. Pressure. Pressure! PRESSURE!!!!!! Aaaaaaaagh.

The Darts were playing already relegated Bognor, while we were playing nothing-left-to-fight-for mid-table Concord Rangers, and you could have forgiven either side for checking out and mentally thumbing through the Thomas Cook brochures instead of giving their all.

Kicking off inside a West Leigh Park fizzing with excitement, it was only 9 minutes before we took the lead, Theo Lewis getting the final touch to send the terrace into rapture. Only 26 minutes had gone when Matt Tubbs stuck his leg in the right place to double the lead, which took us to half time. Meanwhile over at Dartford, there was no score and they required a 5 goal swing in the second half.

Well, that wasn’t the only scenario available to them, but we weren’t even thinking about that; it was all seeming so easy. Very much unlike us. Having had play off defeats, missing out on play offs on goal difference and even being relegated on that blasted goal difference two years ago, to be seemingly coasting to the title seemed most un-Hawk-like.

We could breathe easy, it felt. Then Concord pulled one back after six second half minutes, and our waving, clapping jazz hands became clenched claws, especially as Dartford scored one, and then another. Nineteen minutes to play and they could easily score a couple more in that time.

Then, the unthinkable, our defender Jordan Rose’s leg got in the way of a Concord shot and sent the ball floating past keeper Ryan Young. Well…you could have heard an ant fart. Anvils crashed into the bottom of stomachs. Mouths lolled agape. This was the nightmare scenario, with Dartford winning, a draw would be disaster, however many they sent net-wards. Even when Bognor pulled one back with five minutes to go, no one seriously entertained the idea that they could grab a draw too.

This was it. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory once again. The traditional Hawk way.

Or maybe it isn’t. At least not always. Last season of course, we did just enough to fall over the line. Six years ago, we stayed up with a 3-2 win at home with the final kick of the whole darn season.

Mmm, as the clock ticked down, my thoughts drifted back to that day. Could it happen again? Surely not.

And yet, in the 89th minute, put through with an acute angle to aim at, Jason Prior did what he has done over 50 times in his two season stint with us – defeat the keeper with ease. Ah, so THIS is what we do.

Thus utter bedlam. The Bartons Road terrace a blur of bouncing bodies. The players probably bundling, but who knows, I was bent double at this point trying to reclaim the breath those same players had just stolen from me.

Less a falling over the line than suddenly discovering the ability to fly, swooping past a distraught Dartford and picking up the National South trophy en route. Two successive promotions. Had you suggested that to me two years ago as we fell into the Isthmian League, I would have said you required a cold bath, a dry slap and a life inside a rubber room.

There’s nothing like a relegation to make you retreat and regroup, clearly. Lee Bradbury was rightly criticised for relegation, but he is a manager redeemed, and reclaimed by the terrace choir as a hero rather than just a well-dressed bloke they’ve happened to see lurking round the dug outs.

Over the last 19 years, much as we’ve taken time to moan from time to time, it’s been quite the ride. In 2003, beating a higher level non-League side seemed like a tall order, then we stiffed Forest Green Rovers in the Trophy. Five years later, we had the insanity of a cup run that allowed us to beat York City, Notts County and Swansea City on the way to leading Liverpool at Anfield (for a bit).

Now we have these two league wins in two seasons, and we’re going to the highest level of what we call ‘non-League’. Next year, Leyton Orient, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Hartlepool United will be our peers.

After all of that, in terms of having any ambitions left, we may well be done. The Football League is surely a bridge too far.

Then again…

Sunday 27 April 2014

Tonbridge Angels 0 Havant & Waterlooville 0

Conference South
Longmead Stadium, Tonbridge
att. 515

Check yo’ privilege, the kids say that, don’t they? They also say “I’m just mossin’ wiv my mains, bro” and when they do, I have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Hashtag Helptheaged etc. However the privilege thing I can get on board with. Let’s be grateful for what we have, rather than bitter about what we don’t.

That I am racking my brains for a positive outlook probably betrays the fact our play-off campaign did not have the gushing pay-off for all the grunt we put into it. Either that or I’m really getting into cosmic ordering and believe Noel Edmonds to be the new Messiah.

As our game kicked off against relegated Tonbridge, and Dover began their tussle with relegation threatened Hayes & Yeading United, we had the prime slot. Most of the day’s available scenarios would leave us there, poking our head into the play offs like a sweaty labourer appearing at the top of the ladder into a loft conversion just in time to see the lady of the house accidentally drop her bath towel.

The momentum was all with us in the first half as we went in for the kill on a weak foe. However Tonbridge, having largely acquiesced to relegation thus far, appeared keen to dig in and give a decent farewell to long –serving manager Tommy Warrilow; his resignation stroll into the sunset post-dated for the end of this closing fixture. They had little about them to threaten us so we felt quite confident that ‘something’ would give.

As time wore on though, the more it felt like someone up there really didn’t like us. Chances came and went, headers not directed with enough force, or in the right direction, until Perry Ryan put his forehead firmly against a set-piece cross from Scott Donnelly. The net billowed and we danced for an embarrassingly long time considering the linesman had been holding his flag up for a while. Punch in stomach #1.

Angels keeper Lewis Carey also had to be keen and ready when both Donnelly and Nic Ciardini unleashed shots which were tipped over the bar and around the post respectively. Then when Christian Nanetti went down in the box in his customary bloke-trying-to-jump-over-a three-foot-wall-and-catching-his-toes-on-it manner, Scott Donnelly took responsibility, apparently for giving Carey a fairly routine penalty save to make. Punch in stomach #2. Starting to really hurt now, guys.

Having dominated the half with nothing to show for it, we went into the break feeling torn, cognitive dissonance making us assured that it was both not our day, and yet that something must surely happen. Something didn’t give, the second half being a damn squib compared to the first half effort. One can’t, or at least shouldn’t, be angered by that though. Those same fellas ran themselves into the ground three times a week and through any number of theoretically immovable objects for two months to give us this chance when most of us never in our wildest dreams thought it possible.

Our treacherously steep schedule for the final eight weeks was the kind of obstacle that would make even Sir Chris Bonington think twice. Yet we ran up that hill with only the occasional prob-le-em, putting in the kind of effort that would make Hercules look back at his twelve labours and concede that he hadn’t really motivated himself sufficiently.

However, just as we came within sight of the summit, we bellowed with heady excitement, causing an avalanche. Our 2013/14 season ended with us packed beneath the snow. Snow with bits of yellow in it. Well, actually that’s not strictly true. As the referee blew his whistle to end our season, at that exact moment, we were still occupying that final play off place, with our draw matching Dover’s present 1-1 stalemate.

In the old days, this might have been enough for us to leap onto the pitch and frolic nude in this garden of England like ancient Athenians celebrating victory in the Battle of Marathon. As it was Dover Athletic’s season still had about six minutes left in the tank at the point when Mr Coggins blew his whistle to end our campaign and our teeth took to our fingernails for as frank and earnest an interaction as they’ve ever had.

The players sat on the pitch to await their fate and it wasn’t long in coming as Twitter stuck a dagger in and the word “BASTARDS!!!!” was angrily launched like a spear from my friend Mark at the back of the terraces, his anguish imbedding the hateful truth into our hearts as we resigned ourselves to the inevitable. Lee Bradbury certainly knew the game was up ushering the players off the field, knowing the big smooch cluster cuddle twixt players and supporters would not be taking place on this green and increasingly unpleasant land.

If we had not been in the box seat to start with, if we had not had the goal ruled out, the penalty saved and not had to wait around in silence for Dover to crash down their final killer blow, this wouldn’t feel anywhere near as gutting. It was precisely the harshest circumstance in which to miss out. Goal difference is a necessary tie-breaker, but nasty when you’re on the wrong end of it.

The cruellest image that will live in my mind is the memory of Perry Ryan running behind the net into which he had just headed the ball, roaring the gospel with the proud passion of a man who had just returned from a successful time-travelling mission to kill Hitler. Then watching his shoulders drop in unison with my own as we noticed the man on the touchline practicing his semaphore.

We can think back now to how things might have been different, perhaps the tactics in that game back in September, you know, that one we really shouldn’t have lost, being the difference between our 69 points and the extra one we needed. How would it have been had we been able to keep Ollie Palmer up front for one more season? What if we’d had a different manager?

The point is it has been the decisions of the present management, and the performances of the current squad, that have given us one hell of a thrill ride in the second half of this season. After losing the Trophy semi-final we could have moped around and given up the ghost. Instead every minute of the season after that glum February afternoon mattered, not only to we supporters but clearly to the players too. I would feel churlish to expect any more than that. Some people have real problems and tragedies to deal with. We get to play another season in the Conference South, and will be proud to do so.

So I’m choosing to ignore the vinegary bookends of the final two months, as two hefty disappointments surrounded an uncommonly exciting few weeks as we overcame the odds to get even within sniffing distance, let alone a goal difference scenario. This time two years ago we had avoided relegation with the last kick of the season; this time we were undone by a kick after our season had finished. Such is football. Highs and lows, and even though this scenario saw far less dancing than our miracle escape, and the memory of those joyous smiles dissolving into pensive lip-chewing and bowed heads, I’d still rather we were dealing with the edge of the promotion knife than the relegation one.

These players, and this management team, have made us believe in our club again, after a few wilderness years of drudge and toil and for that I offer them my thanks, with absolutely no caveats.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Maidenhead United 3

Conference South
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 532

Where’s the fun in doing things the easy way, eh?

One could argue that we were getting ahead of ourselves by beating Eastleigh on Monday. That was never part of the plan, hands having already been ripped off for a point. Perhaps that relaxed us. Two points from two games against clubs in the bottom three? In the back of our minds we could hear a faint chant, echoing through time from the days when Big Daddy ruled World Of Sport. “Easy! Easy!”

Moving from “ah, it’s been great, but we’ll probably fall short” to “ooh God, this is HAPPENING” was always likely to lead to a stumble. We go from the hope of success to the hubris of expectation then to the hiss of deflation and the hum of nerve-ends rising to alert. That said, in the insane run in of the last seven weeks, we’ve had a dead-legged flump every couple of weeks on average. Every time this has happened we’ve thought, “…and there it is, like the death of a beloved magic dragon, our puff has gone.” Glum. Then, after thinking this, the nostrils have snorted fire and we have roared forward again. Giddy.

Of course, being put up against a team scrapping for their lives should never be thought of as an easy task at all, and so it proved to be, Maidenhead showing all ver skillz that should keep them up. In fact, so spirited and dexterous did they look going forward, it was baffling that they should find themselves in a relegation scrap at all. In the last three days they’ve comfortably beaten the sides in 4th and 5th places, and now need only to beat the side in 13th, or at least match Whitehawk’s result at Sutton, to keep them in the Conference South next year.

Our situation is equally clear cut. We put aside this game. We take on board how easily we were picked apart by Maidenhead’s eager beavers and learn from it. Either that or pretend it didn’t happen. What didn’t happen? Dunno mate.

Looking forward though, we similarly need to win our final game at already relegated Tonbridge Angels, equal or better Dover Athletic’s result or at least if we lose while they only draw. They play away to Hayes & Yeading United, who are in the relegation mix themselves so will be going gung ho for victory, no doubt about that. Hopefully the latter can get the result they need. They’d be our soother and make our lives smoother if they could do Dover over. That would be a favour to savour; generally ideal behaviour. Come on H&Y, our brothers in ampersands, I don’t want to have to be relying on us to be any good, for crying out loud.

I jest of course. To get to this point has been a superhuman effort and I think(/hope) we can stumble over the line like a bandy-legged marathon winner. At least it was that confidence that had me saying to my fellow London Brancher on our way down to this game that, in a way, I wouldn’t be devastated to lose as it’ll make Saturday’s game all the more thrilling. That is a gamble admittedly and one man’s feverish excitement is another’s finger-nail gnawing, bum-squeak hell. Still, we can handle a bit of nerve-shredding tension round our way, as our avoidance of relegation with the last kick of the SEASON two years ago proved beyond doubt.

Not sure I want to leave it to the 93rd minute of the final game to get what we need again, although we got into practice for it at the end of this game by slinging substitute Eddie Hutchinson, our midfield muckraker with the polished pate, up front in place of Dennis Oli, a striker who finds the scoring of goals to be beneath him. Steady Eddie has no such pretentions and used his shiny swede to skid home a consolation header shortly after the ‘additional minutes’ board had been waved around.

That was to be our only fillip in an otherwise limp display. One thing that has characterised the past twenty games that have taken place since the start of March is how much desire, heart and dogged rearguard has been shown. More clean sheets than a bedwetter’s airing cupboard n’ all. It may not have happened here, but we can all have a bad day at the office. Perhaps this was the calm before the storm, as Tonbridge are torn asunder by our fight-ful fellas.

We can only hope, anyway. To Kent we go this coming weekend for the final push over the top. Good luck everyone.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Eastleigh 0

Conference South
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 932

The story goes that it took several attempts to finish off Grigori Rasputin. Poison, gunfire and a hefty clubbing came his way before he eventually succumbed. I would say that we are the Rasputin of the Conference South, as just as it looks like we’re about to collapse into the snow, we struggle on, but with the fact our season remains VERY alive, we appear to have surpassed the slain Siberian.

I remarked in my last missive that it was becoming difficult to find new ways to say “another one-nil win, another clean sheet”, so let’s just put it like this. WE BEAT THE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS. Ha ha. You can take your glory tour and push it up yer hoop, lads.

At the start of this game, our lads formed a guard of honour and we all applauded the Conference South champions onto the field. Regular readers will know that, considering who this year’s champions are, our tastebuds were experiencing an ash-y flavour whilst we did so. Beastly Eastleigh. Bloody bastid Eastleigh. Swines. Cads. Scoundrels. Vagabonds. Bad blood? It was like a burnt black pudding once upon a time.

That said, most of the heat went out of it when Shaun ‘good man, a little out of his depth’ Gale and Ian ‘bad man, licker of piss’ Baird left their managerial positions at each club. Prior to that, it was a proper bitch fest, not only on supporter forums, but between the two gaffers. You half expected to see them on the touchline at each derby going at each other’s bonces with granny handbags. I won’t go through all that again as it did get a little silly at times. Check the archive material below.

Obviously we learned through all that business that Eastleigh were the very worst curs of men. Hey, that they should care what I think. They are, as I am reticent to air publically again, the champions. They can retort to any barbs we have with the line “we’ve won the league and you Havant & Neverwillville”. Not a bad line as it goes.

Richard Hill is their equally bald replacement for the toilet seat truffle hunter that was their previous incumbent and a man so curmudgeonly Statler and Waldorf come to him for tips. However he has used the considerable monies at his disposal pretty well. The opportunity afforded Eastleigh by their current owners has not been squandered. Whether or not it’s sustainable is a different question. Still, whatever the future holds, next year they will be journeying to relatively exotic places like Lincoln, Macclesfield, Wrexham and possibly Torquay and getting to see what it’s like up there in the highest, and only non-regionalised, tier outside the Football League. We’d all like a bit of that, even if it were only for a season or two.

Thankfully, with this win we’ve put ourselves in a decent position to achieve the same ourselves. After our two draws at home to Boreham Wood on Wednesday and at Weston-super-Mare on Good Friday evening, Dover Athletic had been able to creep back above us with their Saturday away win at Concord. However with three games to go to their two at that point, confidence was still fairly high, despite the visit of the champions. Mind you, before kick off we were all ripping hands off for a point. My pal Shaun even remarked that he’d happily take a 2-1 defeat as long as we could guarantee our brothers in Hawkness, Whitehawk, would gain all three points against le Douvres.

Despite our caution and willingness to put all our eggs into the basket of our final two fixtures against lowly Maidenhead and Tonbridge, we were instead rewarded with a pretty decent game of football. Admittedly the atmosphere didn’t have the malevolent crackle of the Gale/Baird era, but certainly the first half had plenty going on. Whilst not much in the way of cast iron chances, the ball fizzed across both boxes on a number of occasions, one of which saw our beloved between-sticks big cheese Benji Büchel slap a clearance into an Eastleigh player which then rebounded onto the post. Somehow it stayed out. We’ll assume Benji meant it, Virgo trick shot action, as his record in his short Hawk career is exemplary. Sixteen appearances, eleven clean sheets.

By this point though we already had our lead. Remarks had been made a couple of weeks ago that we had very rarely scored early this season. Thus we scored in the 8th and 10th minutes to beat Bishop’s Stortford last Monday night, and in the 9th minute here. Awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the box, Nic Ciardini calmly stepped up and flumed the ball with extraordinary deftness into the far top corner, Eastleigh keeper Lewis Noice almost attempting a Fosbury flop in his unsuccessful attempt to keep it out. Too little, too late from him. Noice not seeing it, to see that nice.

As we have done so often, we held out under pressure in the second half, danced on the terraces like toddlers at a wedding and waited to see how Dover had got on. They had clawed back a half-time deficit to draw which meant that not only do we leap-frog them, the situation for us is now clear. They only have one game left and only three points possible. We are two points ahead with an extra game. We need two points from six against first a Maidenhead scrapping for survival, and who beat our fellow play off scrabblers Ebbsfleet today, and/or against already relegated Tonbridge Angels away next Saturday.

For a long time it’s felt very “possibly, but y’know, probably not all things considered”. Now it all seems very real, and nudging over the edge of possible. We musn’t get ahead of ourselves. Those points will need to be hard won, especially with Maidenhead needing those points every bit as much as us. So, upon Westleigh Park we will descend on Wednesday knowing one more win will extend our season.

Tension, excitement, fear, giddiness - this is what it’s all about. I can’t wait.

Previously, on DuhHuhVuhDuhWuh
26dec11: Havant & Waterlooville 0 Eastleigh 0
30aug10: Havant & Waterlooville 2 Eastleigh 2
03oct09: Havant & Waterlooville 2 Eastleigh 2
25apr09: Havant & Waterlooville 2 Eastleigh 2
29nov08: Eastleigh 2 Havant & Waterlooville 0
01apr08: Eastleigh 1 Havant & Waterlooville 1
22dec07: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Eastleigh 0
09apr07: Havant & Waterlooville 1 Eastleigh 1

Top picture: Rasputin. A proper beard there. I publish this as illustration of the opening paragraph but also as immersion therapy for my friend Ade, an unrepentant pogonophobe.

Bottom picture: The last seven weeks, screenshot from

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