My Grounds

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Haywards Heath Town - Hanbury Stadium

Haywards Heath Town FC
Hanbury Stadium
Allen Road
Haywards Heath
West Sussex
RH16 3PT

Ground: 110
Date: Saturday 7th March 2020
Haywards Heath Town 0-1 Phoenix Sports
Isthmian League Division 1 South East

Haywards Heath Town - History

Haywards Heath Town were founded in 1888 as Haywards Heath Juniors and changed name twice in the next few years: in 1894, they changed name to Haywards Heath Excelsior before becoming Haywards Heath a year later. In 1900, the club became founder members of the Mid-Sussex League and finished as runners-up of the Senior Division in the 1901/02, 1902/03, 1903/04 and 1905/06 seasons. 

The club dropped out of the Senior Division in 1908, but went on to win the Division 2 title in the 1911/12 season. The 1919/20, 1922/23, 1923/24 and 1924/25 seasons saw the club win the league title and the club eventually moved up to Division 1 of the Brighton, Hove & District League in 1926. The club won the title at the first attempt and moved up to the Sussex County League for the 1927/28 season.

Four of the club's first five seasons in the league saw them finish in the top 4, but a drastic downturn in fortunes saw the club finish bottom in the 1932/33 season, with two further finishes in the bottom 3 to follow. In the final few seasons before World War 2, the club's fortunes improved again and they consistently finished in the top half. After the war, the club were placed in the new Eastern Division and went on to win the title.

The league reverted back to a single division after one season, and the club won consecutive titles in the 1949/50 and 1950/51 seasons. The 1952/53 season saw the club's rise continue as they joined the Metropolitan & District League, finishing a respectable 5th in their first season. However, the club struggled at this level after that and eventually finished bottom of the renamed Metropolitan League in the 1960/61 season, returning to the Sussex County League as a result.

The club remained at Division 1 level for almost twenty years, winning the title in the 1969/70 season and finishing as runners-up in the 1974/75 season. However, after finishing second-from-bottom in the 1979/80 season, the club were relegated to Division 2. Six seasons were spent at this level before a runners-up finish in the 1985/86 season saw the club earn promotion back to Division 1.

The club's first season back at this level saw them finish 3rd, but fortunes soon tailed off and the club regularly found itself in the bottom half. The 1989/90 season saw the club change to its current name, before a bottom-place finish in the 1991/92 season saw the renamed club relegated back to Division 2. Things got worse for the club as they finished bottom of Division 2 the following season and suffered relegation to Division 3.

It took close to a decade for the club to recover from this, but after three bottom-three finishes the club finished 5th in the 1999/2000 season. Two more top-half finishes followed, before the club finished as runners-up in the 2002/03 season to return to Division 2. Once again, though, the club finished bottom and made an immediate return to Division 3. 

This time, it took the club until the 2012/13 season to earn a return to Division 2 with another runners-up finish (just one season after the club had finished second-from-bottom). The club have had upward momentum ever since, winning the renamed Southern Combination League Division 1 title in the 2015/16 season to earn promotion to its Premier Division (formerly Division 1 of the Sussex County League). 

The club finished as runners-up in their first season at this level, before winning the title in the 2017/18 season to earn promotion to Division 1 South East of the Isthmian League. The club finished 5th in their first season at this level to earn a place in the play-offs, but lost in the semi-finals to Horsham. This season sees the club positioned on the fringes of the play-off race.

The club's best FA Cup run came in the 1945/46 season when they reached the 4th Qualifying Round, beating Newhaven, Southwick and Hastings & St. Leonards before losing to Trowbridge Town. The club reached the FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round this season, beating Ramsgate, Bracknell Town and Aylesbury United before losing to current semi-finalists Royston Town. As for the FA Vase, the club reached the 3rd Round in the 1990/91 season, beating Chatham Town, Crockenhill and Farnham Town before losing to Thetford Town.

My Visit

After the drama of my midweek visit to Tottenham, I was hoping for a slightly more relaxed groundhopping experience yesterday. At the same time, with my groundhopping opportunities while at University beginning to run out (if the season isn't extended, I'll only have three more opportunities due to how my Easter break works out in relation to the end of season), I'm trying to make the most of the opportunities I have left. In other words, I'm trying to get to some of the best grounds I've yet to visit while down here, because getting down this side of the M25 will be a lot harder once I've finished University.

With this in mind, I had set Fareham Town as my first choice for yesterday, with this, Maidenhead United and AFC Portchester in place as back-ups. I had tried to get to Fareham last Saturday, but as with most matches on grass it had ended up being rained off by Storm Jorge. However, they had a home match on Tuesday which ended up going ahead, so that made me slightly more optimistic.

However, it rained all day Thursday in Guildford, so I began to make preparations for another potential weekend wash out by checking on all the 3G options and adding Slough Town to the list as a last resort. I also posted on Twitter asking the four clubs to keep me posted about how their pitches were looking going into the weekend.

Fortunately, my concerns largely proved unfounded, as the sun came out on Friday and ended up staying out all day. This seemed to do a good job of drying out most of my grass options, though Fareham mentioned that they were having an early morning pitch inspection, just in case the sun hadn't been enough to dry out the pitch. 

When yesterday morning came around, it quickly emerged that all my options were going ahead, so I went to buy train tickets to Fareham on the South Western Railway website, having first checked the National Rail Journey Planner. However, I was annoyed to find that some of the options advertised on the Journey Planner - which involving changing at Woking and heading to Fareham from there - weren't actually available, and that the rest were hindered by engineering works. 

This meant that I would have to take a rail replacement bus into Haslemere first if I wanted to go to Fareham or Portchester and this was an idea I was not remotely keen on, given the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Haslemere. As such, I had to scrap those two options and opted to head here instead, deciding that National League level football at Maidenhead probably wouldn't be relaxing enough for what I was looking for after Wednesday night.

With everything decided, I paid £12.60 for my train tickets and had an early lunch before leaving the house at around 12:10pm. I then got cash out at the station and collected my tickets before getting the 12:45pm train to Redhill. I changed at Redhill to head towards Gatwick Airport, before changing there to head to Haywards Heath. Throughout the journey, I sat on my own and did some more reading for my course, reading a few Edgar Allan Poe short stories and the entirety of C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (well, most of it, as I didn't finish it until the train back to Guildford).

I eventually arrived in Haywards Heath at 2:10pm and went straight onto Google Maps to find my way to the ground. Initially, though, when I searched for the football club it pointed to a site just two minutes away, which I knew to not be correct. Instead, I had to search for the ground by its name to find it on Google Maps and begin to head towards it. Then, heading out of the station, there were two possible exits, one leading to a car park and the other to a road on the other side. I wasn't really sure which way to go, so I just headed to the closest exit which happened to take me through the multi-storey car park. Fortunately, this happened to take me in the right direction.

The way to the ground from the station was one of the more complicated ones I've done so far, though it started simply enough. Google Maps led me through Clair Park and past the pavilion of the local cricket club. After that, however, I had to pass through large residential areas, and Google Maps seemed to lead me by a very indirect and circuitous route towards the ground, forcing me to take several side streets and narrow footpaths on my way. Then, once I got close to the ground, I was almost led to the wrong entrance, but by that point it was easy enough to figure out where I was actually supposed to be going.

In any event, I arrived at the ground with twenty-five minutes to spare before kick-off, paying £9 for admission and £2 for the programme. I then did my usual circuit of photos before paying £3.50 for a cheeseburger at the food hut next to the main stand. This wasn't as good as the one I had last weekend, but it did the job of filling my appetite. 

I then headed up into the main stand and attempted to find a seat from which I could see both goalmouths, which was easier said than done due to the stand's support pillars and the floodlight pylon positioned directly in front of it. I eventually found myself a good seat near the back and centre of the stand and remained there throughout the match, only moving to put rubbish in the nearby bin when it became necessary.

A quick look at the table highlights why this match wasn't my first choice: the two teams were so close in the table that I simply expected them to cancel each other out in an evenly-matched contest.

Here's my report on an even contest which was ultimately decided by a red card just after the hour mark:

Haywards Heath had a flurry of chances in the opening ten minutes: in the 4th minute an aerial ball was played to Nico Cotton and he touched the ball into the path of Trevor McCreadie, who shot into Phoenix Sports keeper Steve Phillips' arms; two minutes later, Raheem Sterling-Parker received the ball in the box and let it roll through to McCreadie to shoot from the edge of the box, again being stopped by Phillips; another two minutes later, Luke Robinson intercepted a poor pass and played the ball to Cotton further down the left wing, the latter then dribbling past a defender before shooting from the edge of the box and having his effort saved.

Though this early series of chances suggests otherwise, the opening stages of this match were mostly even, with both sides having their fair share of the ball. The only difference was that Haywards Heath were producing good chances from the start, whereas it took Phoenix Sports 17 minutes to have their first: James Dyer worked his way past home keeper Luke Glover in the box, but was forced wide after stumbling and had to settle for crossing across the face of goal, a defender heading clear before it could be nodded in.

Three minutes later, Cotton and McCreadie combined to create another good chance, Cotton crossing to McCreadie and the latter turning and shooting narrowly wide. After some more end-to-end interchanges, Phoenix Sports came close again in the 29th minute as they passed their way through the middle and someone eventually got a shot away, which went narrowly wide for a goal kick (though it looked to me like there was a deflection on its way).

McCreadie again went close three minutes later when a cross floated into the box and eluded Phillips: he had an open goal to aim for but somehow managed to head over the bar. The best chance of the half came on the stroke of half-time when Phoenix Sports earned a penalty, Dyer being brought down by Glover in the box as both chased a long ball over the top. Kenny Alireu stepped up to take, but his penalty was poor and hit the post; certainly not one he will want to see again.

Compared to an end-to-end first half, the second half was less eventful as both teams became more solid at the back. However, after Phillips dropped the ball from a corner in the 50th minute, Haywards Heath could have taken the lead but the header was off target. Six minutes later, Phoenix Sports' Lauris Chin took the ball from a home defender in his own half, charged forward and shot from the edge of the box as Glover charged out. His shot went beneath the Haywards Heath keeper, but the deflection took the power off the effort and gave defenders time to clear.

Just after the hour mark, Haywards Heath defender Joshua Spinks received his second yellow for cynically bringing Chin down to stop a counter-attack. This would prove to be the match's turning point, but that was not immediately apparent as the teams continue to cancel each other out. However, as the match wore on, Phoenix Sports started to have more of the ball and take control of the match, with Haywards Heath only able to get forwards with occasional counter-attacks.

In the 80th minute, Haywards Heath almost nicked a winner on one of these counter-attacks, Andrew Dalhouse holding up the ball before passing to Hamish Morrison on the right wing. The full back initially attempted to cross into the box, but after this was blocked he tried his luck with a shot, but it was easily held by Phillips. Two minutes later, the away side scored the winner: after some excellent control on the edge of the box, Chin rounded his marker and shot on the half-volley to score. Haywards Heath almost equalised in stoppage time after a goalmouth scramble, but it wasn't to be and Phoenix Sports held on for the win.

Though this match did play out largely in line with my expectations beforehand, it was still a reasonably entertaining contest despite the scoreline. The only thing that was really missing for both sides was quality finishing, as so many of the chances both sides created went straight at the opposing keeper, making it all too easy to keep them out. A draw would have been a fair result, but Phoenix Sports made excellent use of their man advantage to win.

After a late start to the second half, the match didn't finish until almost 5pm, but thankfully I had plenty of time to spare before my train would depart towards Gatwick Airport. On the way back to the station, Google Maps took me on a much more direct route than it had done on the way to the ground, so I made slightly quicker progress back to the station than I expected. 

This meant that I was able to get on a slightly earlier train to Gatwick Airport, though this did mean waiting over 20 minutes for my train from there to Guildford to arrive. Eventually, I was back in Guildford at 6:45pm and back in the house just over twenty minutes later after topping up on toothpaste at Sainsbury's.

Weather permitting, next weekend should see me pay a long overdue visit to the impressive-looking ground of Farnborough as I continue to make the most of my few remaining groundhops at University. As for Fareham Town, I'll get there on either the 21st or the 28th if SWR and the weather are kind enough to allow it.

The Ground

Hanbury Stadium is a traditional non-league ground which is dominated by the impressive old main stand (this alone makes the visit worthwhile). This is an imposing structure which contains around 500 seats, some in the form of plastic seats and the rest in the form of the steps of the stand. Next to the main stand is a food hut selling a decent range of hot food and drink options, while the bar is seemingly found beneath the stand or somewhere behind it.

The only other area of cover at the ground is a small area of covered standing behind the near goal, immediately next to the turnstiles. This is where the programme seller can be found on matchday. That aside, the rest of the ground is open hard standing and there is little room for expansion, though the ground presumably wouldn't need much work to meet Step 3 grading criteria if the club were promoted in the future.


Thursday, 5 March 2020

Tottenham Hotspur - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Tottenham Hotspur FC
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
782 High Road
N17 0BX

Ground: 109
Date: Wednesday 4th March 2020
Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Norwich City (AET, 2-3 on penalties)
FA Cup 5th Round

Tottenham Hotspur - 5 Facts

1) Tottenham Hotspur were founded in 1882 as Hotspur, changing to the current name two years later. In 1901, the club won the FA Cup for the first time and became the first and only non-league club to do so since the formation of the Football League in 1888. The club then joined the Football League in 1908.

2) The club experienced significant success in the early 1960s, winning the league and cup double in the 1960/61 season, defending their FA Cup title the following season and then becoming the first British team to win a UEFA competition by winning the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1963.

3) In 1972, the club won the inaugural UEFA Cup and became the first British club to win two major European trophies in the process. This was in between two seasons which saw the club win the League Cup and was followed by an FA Cup win in 1981. The club then won the UEFA Cup again in 1984, before winning another FA Cup in 1991.

4) The club were founder members of the Premier League in the 1992/93 season and have remained there ever since. Since the 2009/10 season, the club have consistently finished in the top 6, with a best finish of 2nd in the 2016/17 season.

5) The club last won silverware in the 2007/08 season when they won the League Cup for the fourth time (the third came in 1999). The club reached the final again in 2015 but lost to Chelsea. The club also reached the Champions League final last season, but lost 2-0 to Liverpool.

My Visit

I was never able to get to the old White Hart Lane, so when our promotion was confirmed at the end of last season this was one of the grounds I was most looking forward to visiting, though the date of the league match was an awkward one for me: it fell just before I was planning to head back to Guildford for University, which would have meant heading into London midweek, heading back home and then heading through London again back to Guildford on the Sunday.

Ultimately, any thoughts about that I had proved to be meaningless, as demand for tickets for the league visit was absurd, with tickets selling out almost as quickly as they had gone on sale; obviously I wasn't the only one eager to visit Tottenham's new ground. As such, I thought my opportunity to visit wouldn't come for quite a while unless we ended up there in the cup, so it caught my attention when the 5th Round draw placed us away against either Southampton or Tottenham.

Either of those would have been feasible options from Guildford (although extra-time and penalties may have made that a stretch if we had been playing Southampton), so I kept a close eye on how the replay went and was pleased to see Tottenham come out on top. Having already missed one chance to visit their ground, I wasn't going to miss it the second time, especially with relegation already looking like a distinct possibility at that point.

However, I was worried that demand would once again outstrip supply, especially if we received the same allocation as in the league fixture. Thankfully, as with Arsenal in the League Cup two seasons ago, we requested and received an allocation of around 9,000, which made me more confident that I would be able to get a ticket. 

When tickets eventually went on sale, I had made sure to set my alarm to wake up early and get on the ticket website immediately, just in case. Surprisingly, unlike what I remember with trying to get Arsenal tickets, there was no real queue and I was onto the website almost immediately, paying £25 for my ticket. 

I then just had to wait for it to arrive, though as I couldn't have multiple addresses on my account it ended up being sent home first, meaning I then had to wait for it to be sent to Guildford from there. With plenty of time to spare, though, this didn't pose a problem at all. As for train tickets, I didn't end up ordering those until yesterday morning, after taking a while to consider which of the stations closest to the ground to go to (eventually chose Northumberland Park, with that being closest to the away end as far as I could tell).

The train tickets I ordered ended up costing £17 rather than the £13 I had anticipated (probably because I left buying them until the day of travel) and my train into London left Guildford at around 4:35pm. This meant I was leaving the house just after 4pm, walking to the station through the rain (and desperately hoping my match ticket remained dry in my coat pocket) and getting there with ten minutes to spare.

From Guildford, the journey to the ground was perhaps more convoluted than it really needed to be. I started by heading to Vauxhall station, which took about an hour as only the slow Waterloo-bound services stop there. From there, I went onto the Underground on the Victoria Line towards Tottenham Hale, getting off there to get a train for the last leg of the journey towards Northumberland Park station.

Eventually, I arrived there at around 6:30pm, walking for ten minutes to get to the ground. I got a few photos from the outside as I worked my way towards the away entrance, before preparing myself for the very high levels of security at the entrances: sniffer dogs and airport security scanning gates before being let in. Certainly tighter security than anything I've ever come across before, but understandably so in the current climate. 

Either way, as tight as the security was, it was relatively quick to get through and into the concourse. At this point, there was just over an hour to go before kick-off, yet the concourse was already filled to the brim with Norwich fans and the atmosphere was great. I spent a few minutes down there, buying a programme for £3.50 as I did, before heading up into the ground to find my seat. 

Once I did, I was reasonably pleased to find that my seat was near the front and low down, rather than higher up like some people had (I'd had to deal with that at Burnley back in September, so was happy to be lower down and to actually have a good view of the entire pitch). For a moment, I was concerned about getting wet in the rain, but the roof high above meant I stayed dry throughout. I then took a few photos of the ground as I waited for kick-off, remaining standing throughout the match and only sitting down at half-time, full-time and half-time of extra time.

Being fully honest, I wasn't expecting too much out of this match. Our away record this season has been poor and we haven't been able to string multiple good results together all season, so after beating Leicester last Friday in the league I wasn't expecting as much last night. However, with Spurs missing Son and Kane, I was hoping that we would be able to work the magic of the cup once again.

Here's an official match report from the club website on a long, long match which eventually saw us triumph in the penalty shoot-out:

Spurs took an early lead when Jan Vertonghen nodded home a Giovani Lo Celso free-kick and it could have been more at half-time but for two outstanding saves from Tim Krul at either end of the half.

City probed in the second-half and got their reward on 78 minutes when Josip Drmic profited from poor goalkeeping to tap home after Michel Vorm parried Kenny McLean's rasping effort.

Drmic's equaliser sent the game into extra-time and then penalties, with Krul saving twice to see City prevail 3-2 on spot-kicks.

Daniel Farke made four changes to the side which beat Leicester City on Friday night. The back four remained the same but there were plenty of changes in the midfield and attacking ranks with Josip Drmic replacing Teemu Pukki up top. Lukas Rupp and Mario Vrancic came into the midfield in place of Kenny McLean and Ondrej Duda, and Tom Trybull was introduced to anchor the team in the middle in place of Alex Tettey.

Despite plenty of noise inside the stadium, largely being created by the 9,000 strong travelling support, the early exchanges were timid until Spurs broke at pace on 11 minutes. Giovani Lo Celso was found unmarked in the area but his low effort was beaten away well by Tim Krul.

Spurs took the lead moments later via a set-piece. Lo Celso turned provider after Steven Bergwijn was fouled by Emi Buendia on the left-hand side. His menacing delivery was met by Vertonghen who climbed above Jamal Lewis to head home at the back post.

Spurs went on to boss the next 20 minutes or so and their threat from wide areas was causing City issues. The pacey pair of Moura and Bergwijn were proving difficult to handle.

City finally got into their stride on the half hour mark. Rupp was found in the box on 32 minutes by Vrancic but after cutting onto his right he was crowded out and Spurs managed to clear.

Then Buendia weaved his way through the challenges to test Vorm before the Spurs keeper almost spilled into his own net from a long-range Rupp strike. City were rallying and Vrancic had a goalbound strike blocked on 36 minutes before the following corner was nodded over by Trybull.

Spurs were then presented with a terrific opportunity to double their lead on the stroke of half-time. Trybull played a pass to Vrancic in his own penalty area who was closed down by Moura but Krul was on hand to block Moura’s strike from close proximity.

The two sides traded blows at the start of the second 45. First, Vrancic clipped the ball to Drmic who chested down for Buendia but his strike was deflected over from a narrow angle.

Then substitute Gedson Fernandes shot straight at Krul before Rupp chested, volleyed and tested Vorm low to his right.

Farke made changes just after the hour mark with Kenny McLean and Adam Idah introduced in the hope of them giving City fresh impetus. The former was straight into the action, spreading a crossfield ball from left to right, with Aarons there to cut back to Drmic but his shot was dragged wide.

McLean was involved once again in City's equaliser. His thumping drive was parried by Vorm on 78 minutes but Drmic was on hand to scramble the ball home to send the away fans into raptures.

However, the goal kicked Spurs into action once more and City were having to dig deep to stay in the game. It was only level because of a sensational Godfrey block on 86 minutes after Lo Celso's strike seemed destined for the back of the net.

Spurs were almost in again on 89 minutes when a searching pass almost found the onrushing Dele Alli but Krul once again was on hand to race clear and beat the ball away from danger.

The game went into extra-time and both teams were out on their feet, although City went close just after the break when Adam Idah nodded Jamal Lewis's cross over.

The game headed to extra-time and it was City who held their nerve. Eric Dier scored the first for Spurs but it was all downhill from there with Erik Lamela, Troy Parrott and Fernandes all being thwarted. For City, Idah, Stiepermann and Cantwell struck the blows to send the Canaries through.

From my perspective, we were very sloppy in the first half, but eventually got up to speed and deservedly equalised, before holding on through extra time with many players running on empty and deservedly winning the shoot-out, leading to delirium in the stands (my voice still has yet to recover from it all at the time of writing).

Naturally, progress out of the ground afterwards was quite slow, not least because I chose to stay through the celebrations at the end for a while. However, once I was actually out of the ground and heading back towards Northumberland Park, it was fairly easy to navigate through the crowds. However, problems began upon getting close to the station.

For starters, the stewards controlling the crowds had made a reasonable decision to split the crowd based on which direction of trains they were taking, but the southbound line (which I was in) was ineffectively controlled, as people could simply bypass it entirely by heading down a side street. This slowed things down behind as the stewards wouldn't let the southbound line move further forwards. With the northbound line moving much more consistently, people quickly became frustrated and eventually pushed through the stewards, ignoring their laughable threats to close the station in response.

This only temporarily solved the issue, though, as there was another set of stewards and gates immediately in front of the station to further control the flow of people.  Just as I was arriving at this point, they closed our gates and started letting people heading northbound through. This meant that time to get the train I needed was very tight, even more so by the time it opened again several minutes later. I moved towards the platform as quickly as I could manage, but I still ended up missing the 11pm train by a matter of moments.

Fortunately, extra trains were put on so another one left five minutes later. From there, I once again got off at Tottenham Hale and headed onto the Underground, but this time I opted for a different route towards Guildford. I initially headed on the Victoria Line as before, but rather than heading to Vauxhall and getting a slow train back to Guildford, I got off at Warren Street to change onto the Northern Line and head to Waterloo. 

With this plan, I was somehow just able to get myself onto the last quick train back to Guildford. This eventually got me back into Guildford at 12:25am and I was then back at the house 25 minutes later, staying up for another hour or so to rehydrate and unwind before heading to bed.

For my next groundhop, I was hoping to head to Fareham Town this Saturday, but given that it has been raining all day here in Guildford, I have little hope that it - or any of my other options on grass - will go ahead - so I'll be looking at 3G options to prepare for that seemingly inevitable eventuality.

The Ground

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the newest in the Football League, having opened in April 2019 after White Hart Lane was demolished and the site entirely redeveloped. With a capacity of 62,303, it is one of the largest grounds in the country and the largest club ground in London (i.e. larger than the grounds of Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham etc.).

It's an impressive new build, with plenty of leg room in all seats and multiple tiers of seating on all four sides of the ground. The concourse is very spacious and has plenty of food and drink outlets available, all of which are cashless. Still, besides the sheer scale of it, the ground does not have much in the way of character, very much being a uniform bowl.

The current record attendance at the ground is 61,104 for a league game against Chelsea last December. 


Sunday, 1 March 2020

Alton - Anstey Park

Alton FC
Anstey Park
Anstey Mill Lane
GU34 2NB

Ground: 108
Date: Saturday 29th February 2020
Alton 2-3 Totton & Eling
Wessex League Division 1

Alton - History

Alton were founded in 1991 as Alton Town Bass as a merger of the original Alton Town and Bass Alton, being placed in Division 1 of the Hampshire League. After one season, the club changed its name to Bass Alton Town. After six inconsistent seasons in Division 1, the club again changed its name ahead of the 1998/99 season, this time to Alton Town. This name change saw the club go on to finish as Division 1 champions to earn promotion to the Premier Division.

The club's first season in the Premier Division saw them finish third-from-bottom and just about scrape survival, even with a points deduction. The following season saw the club fare much better and finish 7th, before they went on to win the title in the 2001/02 season. This earned the club promotion to the Wessex League. The club's first few seasons in the league saw them languishing towards the bottom of the league, and they were placed in Division 1 when the league gained a second division in the 2004/05 season.

The 2006/07 season saw Division 1 renamed as the Premier Division and the club continued to finish in the bottom half of the league. At the beginning of the 2013/14 season, the club were transferred to the Combined Counties League Premier Division, but this transfer saw the club finish second-from-bottom and suffer relegation to Division 1. The club then spent one season in Division 1 - finishing fourth-from-bottom - before being transferred back to the Wessex League's Division 1.

After a respectable 7th-place finish in the 2015/16 season, the club changed to its current name. The club has remained in Division 1 of the Wessex League ever since, with three mid-table finishes to their name. This season has seen the club positioned on the fringes of the promotion race as they seek a return to the Premier Division.

The club's best FA Cup run saw them reach the 2nd Qualifying Round in the 2010/11 season, beating Chichester City, Merstham and Sutton United before losing in a replay to Cinderford Town. As for the FA Vase, the club's best run has seen them twice reach the 2nd Round: in the 2004/05 season, they beat Andover New Street and Oakwood before losing to Winchester City; in the 2011/12 season, the club beat Hamworthy United, New Milton Town and Brading Town before losing in a replay to Wantage Town.

My Visit

As I mentioned in last week's blog entry, my initial plan for yesterday had been to leave my groundhopping destination to a poll, with Andover Town, East Grinstead Town, Fareham Town and Hungerford Town as the options. In fact, rather than waiting until midweek to do it, as I would usually do, I decided to set it up the evening after finishing that blog entry. I left it up for 24 hours and waited for the votes to come in.

Those were the end results, so Hungerford positioned itself as my first choice, with the plan being to work through the rest of my options in vote percent order if the weather took a turn for the worse, with this on the 3G as my last resort. The only problem with that was something I was told in the replies not long after publishing the poll, namely that East Grinstead is currently inaccessible on the train after a landslip in the area. I decided to keep it on the poll despite this (in the hope that I'd find some other means of getting there if it won), but in reality this was a pointless endeavour.

In any case, my destination was decided by Monday evening, so all I could do was wait during the week and hope that the weather would improve after being consistently awful for the best part of three weeks (ever since Storm Ciara came in on Sunday 9th of February). The week got off to a dry start and that filled me with some optimism, but from Wednesday onwards the rain arrived and barely abated for a moment.

Friday was a particularly bleak day on the weather front, with torrential rain for much of the afternoon as Storm Jorge heralded its arrival. This meant that a lot of matches went from looking likely to go ahead to suddenly being in danger of being off. In fact, all three of my feasible options - as I'd learned East Grinstead was truly impossible at this point - were set for morning pitch inspections before I went to bed on Friday night.

By the time I woke up yesterday morning, Hungerford Town had already bitten the dust and Andover and Fareham had both followed suit by 10:30am. I did briefly consider looking for other options on grass, but an early morning hail storm in Guildford put me off of that idea, as it felt like there would be too much of a risk of matches on grass being abandoned in the rare cases where they were going ahead.

Thankfully, I had this in place as a last resort on the 3G, so I gladly booked my train tickets after the hail storm subsided, having plenty of time to get ready and have an early lunch before leaving the house at 12:50pm. Having got cash out on Friday, I had a little more time to spare upon arrival at the station, collecting my tickets and getting on the 1:25pm train to Aldershot with ten minutes to spare.

The journey was a quiet one, with the trains being almost empty as I headed towards Alton, re-reading Frankenstein for University on the way. After fifteen minutes, the train arrived at Aldershot and I got off there, getting on another train heading to Alton ten minutes later. This train arrived at around 2:10pm and I arrived at the ground just over ten minutes later, after a short and direct walk to the ground.

Upon arrival at the ground, I paid £3 for student admission and £1 for the programme (rather than the £1.50 advertised on the cover). After taking a few moments to prepare for my circuit of photos, I encountered a familiar face from the Tony's Non-League Forum, who I last bumped into at Marlow at the end of the November. This was an unexpected surprise for both of us, as from our postings on the forum we both expected to be elsewhere entirely, but with the weather decimating the fixture list again, it perhaps wasn't too surprising that we ended up at the same place.

We chatted for a few minutes, with him advising me to sit at the back of the stand to properly avoid any rain, before heading our separate ways for a while. After this, I went and did my usual circuit of photos, before ordering a cheese burger with an egg for £3.50 from the tea bar by the entrance. This was the first football food I'd had since visiting Saffron Walden Town in early January, and it was excellent.

I then took a seat at the back of the main stand as kick-off approached and dark clouds begun to appear overhead, leaving my seat at half-time to take advantage of the free tea voucher on offer in the programme. I then returned to my seat at the back of the stand, even though I knew that being at the back offered no protection from the elements (the hail storm and blizzard in the first half soaked me even at the back) and that the sun - which came out again after half an hour of football - shines right towards it and into your eyes.

Looking at the table and recent form of both sides, there was only one outcome that seemed likely here, though I did predict that the crazy weather would potentially act as an equaliser to some degree.

Here's my report on a competitive match with Totton & Eling nicked at the death, having twice come back from behind in a match played in chaotic weather conditions:

The match began in blizzard-esque conditions as hail - and eventually snow - battered the ground in amidst winds strong enough that players couldn't keep the ball in place at set pieces. This led to some frantic opening exchanges, with both teams punting the ball upfield in an attempt to make the most of the conditions. As a result, there was little flow to the match at first as neither team was able to keep control of the ball for long.

As we approached the fifteen-minute mark, the two teams started to keep the ball on the ground and this saw Alton spurn a couple of decent chances as they went on the attack: in the 12th minute, Liam Knight crossed into the box from the left wing and Matty Benham shot over the bar after having an initial effort blocked; two minutes later, a free kick from deep was nodded on to the centre of the box where a player volleyed goalwards, only to be flagged offside.

At the other end, Totton & Eling could only break on the counter and wasted a golden chance in the 17th minute: a ball over the top set Jo Sutherden through on goal and he first had a shot blocked by Alton keeper Stephen Douglas. He then attempted to round the keeper, only for Douglas to push the ball away and force Sutherden to shoot from a difficult angle and miss the target. Six minutes later, Alton's Luke Perkins audaciously shot from 25 yards and rattled the crossbar, with George Bowerman being flagged offside in his attempt to score on the rebound.

After a finely-poised ten minutes of football, Alton took the lead in the 33rd minute when Bowerman was unmarked to head home from a corner. It could have easily been 2-0 in the 36th minute when Bowerman latched onto a perfectly-weighted through ball and found himself one-on-one with Totton & Eling keeper Oli Eyres, but his first touch let him down as he rounded the keeper and the ball drifted out of play to somehow earn his side a corner. Just before half-time, Totton & Eling equalised after a scramble in the box: an initial effort hit the crossbar and, through a scramble of bodies, Sutherden was able to poke in. There was some controversy around the goal, with claims of it being handled over the line, but the referee gave it after consultation with the linesman.

The second half started slowly as both teams struggled to regain their first-half rhythm, but Totton & Eling seemed to be playing with a greater urgency and causing a few more issues for Alton. However, it was Alton who had the half's first clear-cut chance in the 57th minute when a cross from the left wing was carried goalwards, forcing a fingertip save from Eyres. After clearing the corner that followed, Totton & Eling went up the other end and almost took the lead, Harry Burns' curled effort being just inches away from nestling in the top corner.

In the 62nd minute, Totton & Eling came close again when a free kick was excellently played towards the far post, but neither attacker could get a touch on it to poke it in. From the goal kick, Alton were quick to play the ball upfield and earned themselves a corner moments later, with Phil Moore being left unmarked to head in and reclaim the home side's lead (it looked like his header was being played back across goal, but it ended up catching everyone out and drifting into the net instead).

There was another lull in proceedings after this as Alton sought to frustrate Totton & Eling and limit their chances, while the away side tried to break through as they pushed for an equaliser. After a couple of positive substitutions, Totton & Eling began to up the pressure and eventually made it count in the 79th minute: Alton were unable to get the ball clear and this allowed the away side to get a cross into the box, with Luke Cron dummying to let the ball run to Johnny McAulay for an easy finish.

The last ten minutes largely remained at a tense impasse as both teams cautiously sought a winner, while trying to avoid leaving too much space open for counter-attacks. This meant that the next clear-cut chance didn't come until the 89th minute when a Totton & Eling defender hesitated to clear, giving Alton's Steve Black time to clatter a shot into the post. Then, deep into stoppage time, Totton & Eling's Burns nicked a winner: Morgan Callaway was able to break on the left wing and charged goalwards, squaring the ball to McAulay who then set Burns up for the finish. After play resumed, Alton had one last chance to try and equalise, but it was too little too late and the away side claimed the points.

While it took quite a while for both sides to adapt to the conditions, we got an entertaining contest once both teams were able to get and then keep the ball on the ground, even if tensions did threaten to boil over at times. A draw probably would have been a fair result on the balance of play, but Totton & Eling did well to keep up the pressure until the very end.

As happened at Marlow, I was offered a lift back to the station and, after an afternoon of ridiculous weather, I was happy to take him up on his offer. This only took a few minutes and, after thanking him for the lift, I headed into the station with around fifteen minutes to spare, though my train was already on the platform. 

I initially headed onto the train and went to the toilet, before heading back out to watch a steam engine (No. 30925, "Cheltenham", according to Wikipedia) departing from the Mid-Hants Railway, a heritage railway positioned directly next to the main Alton station. I got a video of the train departing and was about to head back onto my train, but stayed outside for a few minutes more as the Flying Scotsman came into the station. I then got that on video before getting back on my train as it prepared to depart.

After all of that, the train journey back was once again quiet, though much of it was wasted on trying to get those two videos to upload to Twitter. After that was done, I got off at Farnham at around 5:25pm and finished reading the last of Frankenstein, before getting a train from there to Guildford ten minutes later. This arrived back in Guildford just before 6pm, meaning I got back into the house at around 6:20pm and got to work on sorting my photos and writing out my match report.

Up next will be a visit to Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night, with Norwich hoping to reach the FA Cup Quarter Finals with a victory. After that, I'll be trying again for Fareham Town next Saturday, with the weather hopefully being more cooperative this coming week after a miserable February weather-wise.

The Ground

Anstey Park is a good ground for Step 6 with a decent amount of character despite being a reasonably new build. The only seating at the ground is in the form of a 150-seater Arena stand on the near side which, as mentioned previously, is terribly positioned: on Saturday afternoons, the sun faces right into the stand and if it rains the wind consistently blows it all the way to the very back of the stand.

On the far side of the ground is a large area of terracing, two-thirds of which is covered while the rest is uncovered. The uncovered terracing is visibly older than the covered terracing, with moss covering the vast majority of the steps. This terracing probably provides standing for around 500 people overall, with around 300 of this being under cover.

That aside, the rest of the ground is flat, open hard standing, with plenty of space for expansion as and when the need arises in the future.