And so we return to the Pilot Field where Hastings United now play in all-white and the Ryman League has turned into the Bostik League. Clearly, following the Evo-stik North and South leagues it is essential that this level of football is sponsored by adhesives. Smarter people than me would make a joke about stickiness. I’ll leave that to the brains. All I can say is that this was a tense, rather than good, game that Lewes thoroughly deserved to win and so, even though we might comment on some aspects, it’s hard to begrudge them their 2-1 win.
The first goal came in the first minute. Bouwe Bosma putting Lewes ahead from an attack on the right that left Hastings all over the shop. Moments later they could have scored again via the same route. In fact, every time they tried it the hosts looked vulnerable. Hastings equalised through an eleventh minute penalty. But nobody had really settled down even by the time Ollie Rowes saw red for a lunging challenge ten minutes before the break. Hastings down to ten men ran hard without really threatening any more (I don’t think there was a genuine save from the Lewes goalie in the second half) but Lewes’ greater assurance didn’t translate into dominance. Their winning goal came within twelve minutes of the restart and they really should have added to it but the second half, like the first, didn’t actually feature that much football.
What the 699 watching (highest in the division by over 400) saw instead had plenty of guts and passion, and plenty of controversy too. To be honest, that’s a lot more fun that technical majesty even if the end product was jagged rather than coherent. So this was all quite fun even if you’d not necessarily recommend anyone to watch it again if the opportunity presented itself.
I went along with the older, autistic, boy. He only once had to comment on my swearing so clearly I was better behaved than usual. I brought along the camera and the photos are here.
And so to Arundel. And a bloody big queue. The old ‘followed the crowd and I ended up in Tesco’ joke might have had to be deployed because the obstruction in the picturesque town was not because of a traffic blocking level of interest in the final day of the Kia Super League but because the August Festival meant the roads were shut. Thus, after some swearing, I made it to the cricket ground with the match already four overs old. Still, mustn’t grumble.
There was a fair crowd here though and what they saw was a match that felt close at times but in which, throughout, the hosts always seemed to have the edge. Hayley Matthews and Mignon du Preez were responsible for 90 of the Vipers’ 138 runs. The next top scorer was Extras. Still, it felt like a more than suitable total and so it proved. The Diamonds lost wickets fairly regularly and when Katherine Brunt was unluckily run out on 42 that was that. There were some decent shots and plenty of potential but the Vipers, in their wide awake tangerine, were altogether sharper.
This is the final match of the group stage. It is something of a farce that the regular season lasts a mere five games. These groups come together for such a short time it must be very hard to gel. There was a more than decent turnout today which must surely be a good argument, along with playing standards and the need for more competitive fixtures, to at least make it a home and away 10 game season and then have four on finals day. The ECB could revisit their pledge to incorporate a fifty over element alongside the T20 as well.
But enough griping. The sun shone brightly and the cricket was good. Even though Yorkshire lost, I left in good spirits. I even managed not to swear at anyone as I fought my way through the festival traffic and back to the pleasures of the A27 in August.
Banbury’s red and yellow ground never looks subdued but it’s positively garish when the summer sun hits it at the start of the season. Maybe it was that brightness that got in the eyes of Dorchester’s defenders, or maybe it was some kind of early season jitters, or maybe, just maybe, they really are in for a very long season indeed. Their loyal band of followers will have had much to mull over as they completed their 300 mile round trip to watch their boys get splatted 5-1.
Five. One. Banbury will be delighted. Or, at least, their fans will be. The manager seemed to find plenty to fault. Hardly surprising given that for most of the ninety minutes the game didn’t even have the intensity of a pre-season knockabout. With a few honourable exceptions Dorchester didn’t look up to it today, so how to judge how good a side the redmen really are? Impossible to say. Two tap ins inside the opening ten minutes and then a flow of three more before a late-ish penalty offered the visitors a sliver of consolation. Banbury found it hard to keep their shape and harder still to stay motivated to the end. At least the crowd had the pleasure of a win and the latest news from Chelsea’s home loss to Burnley to keep them engaged.
Henry Blofeld once described The Saffrons as being the quintessential English venue. He was in Eastbourne for the cricket, as indeed Sussex will be later this summer, but, today, whilst there was cricket (and bowls) to see at the Saffrons the noise, colour and crowd were here for the final day of the Southern Combination season.
To the sound of almost constant drumming and the sight of flags and the occasional flare, two sides with only pride to play for did a pretty good job of creating a match worth giving a damn about. Eastbourne took the lead with a neat lob before being pegged back by an absolute scorcher of a shot early in the second half. After a fair bit of nip and tuck a smart header from a corner sealed the deal. Although some of the tackles had a feel of a pre-season friendly (obviously no one wants to be damaged heading into the holiday season), overall it was a pretty enjoyable game. My younger was pleased with his burger and only occasionally complained about how long 45 minutes takes to pass so all was definitely good.
And whilst Blowers quintessential Englishness probably didn’t include ‘Still Hate Thatcher’ t-shirts I like to think there’s something defiantly and wonderfully welcomingly English about the knowing and knowledgeable inclusive passion that sport, even this far down the pyramid, can generate.
Fulham played Manchester United on 2 November, 2013. This photo was taken on 23 April, 2017. The Norman Arms closed in early 2014. There are some less than favourable comments to be found online about the state the place was in then, contrasting with some nicer words a few years before. It’s still boarded up now and history records that Fulham lost 3-1 and were, at the end of the season, relegated.
Over to Hastings and Bexhill rugby club which is now the home of Hastings Conquerors American football club. Their visitors began life as the Chiltern Cheetahs in the mid 80s and lay claim to being the third oldest continuously playing club in the UK whereas Hastings are one of the newest. No matter, old and young now face each other in the same division which, assuming I’m reading this right, sits at the foot of the British American Football pyramid.
Truth to be told, there were pleasures here today but a close contest wasn’t one of them. Hertfordshire got ahead early and then scored often. On each down they seemed to have a few yards head start before Hastings closed them down. When Hastings had the football they didn’t seem to have the same level of coordination and, in the first half (I left at half time owing to life getting in the way), picked up only one first down which they immediately blew by coughing up an interception touchdown.
The final score was 63-0 so a happy journey home for the visitors but a tough day at the office for the Conquerors. But, at least, they now have an office which is a very nice place to watch sport. The rugby clubhouse serves a nice pint, the balcony is a splendid place to survey what’s going on, and, should they get a close game going, they will get more folk to stick around. There was interest aplenty from a healthy contingent from Hastings & Bexhill as well as a good group of preconverted supporters. I’ll certainly be back and I may even make it past half time.
“Is this your first time?” So asked the Sussex groundhopper as I made my way through the muck covered path behind the goal to set up a position to take some photos. I tried to appear quite the veteran of East Sussex soccer but my interlocutor, even more recently arrived, made my experience look puny. This is someone who goes to Battle Baptists and Hollington when the heights of the County League get too dizzy. I can’t compete with that. I just took some photos instead.
But what of the game? Well, we waited for a game of football to break out but it wasn’t that sort of afternoon. There was a lot of effort, a lot of physicality and a lot of passion. What there wasn’t, for most of the time, was anything resembling sustained, coordinated play. In the first half, when the tackles flew, that was kind of fun. In the second, as Westfield tired and neither team did much to inspire, it was less fun. But I can’t be too sad. Any match which features an exploding sugar bowl has to be worth remembering fondly. For the record, Sidlesham won 3-1, overcoming an early deficit to run out deserved winners.
Nobody is going to claim what we saw today was a classic but, as the man who goes from game to game to game will no doubt agree, that’s not why we’re here in the first place.