Let me take you down/ cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields/ Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about/ Strawberry Fields forever
When the Beatles sang the lines strawberry fields forever they hadn’t counted on urban sprawl and the caprices of supermarkets. For it was these two things; pressure for land and the desire for ‘standardised’ produce, along with competition from abroad, which did for the strawberry fields of Locks Heath according to a local history website. The decline, it says, began in the 1930s and today the fields belonging to the once thriving industry supplying strawberries the length and breadth of the country now have more in common with The Member’s song Sound of the Suburbs than the Beatle’s Strawberry Fields:
Same old boring Sunday morning/ old mans out washing the car/ Mums in the kitchen cooking Sunday dinner her best meal moaning while it lasts/ Johnnys upstairs in his bedroom sitting in the dark/ Annoying the neighbours with his punk rock electric guitar
Locks Heath is these days, it seems, made up of a succession of small closes, this pattern of development is apparently due to the small size of the strawberry plots. Exploring some of these the sights of the suburbs are also very much in evidence; mock tudor styling, shiny cars parked on driveways, well turned out kids riding round on gleaming new BMXs and people spending a sunny afternoon tending to their gardens.
With time to spare before the match, and keen to get a sense of the place, I headed to the town centre. Like much of the rest of Locks Heath it is relatively new, being constructed in the 1980s. From the pictures I’d seen in advance I expected it to be a soulless car-park-supermarket-mini-mall-any-town development, but the sun seemed to have brought out its best features. Once out of the car-park and away from the supermarket it had an almost continental unhurried atmosphere – or was that just the Costa Coffee sat bang in the middle? It was all capped off by a clock tower which, like such features tend to, acted as a focal point for the local youth who seemed to be enjoying sitting around doing not much at all.
Saturday morning family shoppers crowding out, the centre of town/ Young blokes sitting on the benches shouting at the young girls walking around
I decided to take a look in the nearest charity shop. If the recession has given taught me one thing it is the merits of charity shops. Like the Fall they are – especially in terms of their layout – always the same, but also excitingly always different; You never know what you might find, and so I found myself holding a copy of a biography of Joe Kinnear contemplating the claim made on the back cover:
Joe Kinnear has been one of the most successful football managers of the last 10 years
Joe Kinnear – as in the Joe Kinnear who is now most famous for his ability to squish 52 swear words into one five minutes minute tirade – and in so doing just out-did the band Super Furry Animals who used the word F*** 50 times in 4 minutes 46 seconds in their 1996 cult single The Man Don’t Give a F***. Well F*** me.
But, the astonishing thing is, with a bit of help from Google and Wikipedia I can verify the claim actually stacks up. The book was published in the year 2000 – so if we go on the previous 10 year period then there is of course Fergie at Man United, George Graham at Arsenal, Leeds and Tottenham, but few other managers consistently did well over this whole period. Kinnear meanwhile guided a modestly resourced Wimbledon to 6th, 9th and 8th placed finishes in the Premier league- along the way winning the respect of his peers who in 1994 awarded him with the LMAs manager of the year award. That Kinnear’s achievements in this period were relative takes nothing away from them, though it has led to them largely to be forgotten. I considered buying it, but £2 seemed a little steep as was the £1.50 for a non-descript biography of Ally McCoist. In the end I walked away with a copy of Margrave of the Marshes the autobiography of John Peel, completed after his death by his wife Sheila, for a very reasonable £1.
Succeding in running down the clock I decide to head to the match I’ve come to see; Locks Heath v Paulsgrove in the Hampshire Premier League. On the way though I come across a patch of what looks like over-grown scrub with a sign for a planned development, ‘strawberry fields’ so I pull-up nearby and scramble back down past the concrete blocks which, I presume, are to keep out travellers from what was, I deduce from the sign, once a strawberry field which had no doubt once relied upon the casual labour provided by the travelling population. I wander round the site taking pictures for a few minutes before I realise that I’d better get to the ground.
Locks Heath play their football on the council owned Locks Heath recreation ground. Abutted by what appears to be a new housing development this has been their home for 80 years and the ground is equipped with floodlights, dugouts and a rail around the pitch as well as a changing room block and social club. A number of accoutrements are however missing; there is no fence of any kind around the perimeter of the ground, no entrance gate and no stand -though a few people brought their own fold-up seats – lack of which ultimately led to the clubs withdrawal from the Wessex League. There is also no matchday programme – and you know how much I like my programme.
Unchallenged by anyone asking for so much as 50p to put in a biscuit tin I stroll from the car park to the pitch, past some cricket nets and right past the teams who are both waiting patiently outside the changing block. As I approach the pitch it seems there aren’t many spectators – the people of Locks Heath evidently preferring pottering in their gardens, or sipping cappuccinos to Hampshire league football.
After a seemingly inexplicable delay the teams begin a procession along the not inconsiderable distance from changing rooms to the pitch. This all allows time for at least a few more spectators to drift over from the social club, though when the teams enter on the field of play there are more people on the pitch than around it. Meantime a group of grey-haired men debate which match to tune their radio to; Southampton vs Arsenal at the Emirates, or Portsmouth vs Walsall at Fratton Park. Locks Heath is not just a halfway point in a footballing sense, it is also geographically the half-way point between the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.
Locks Heath, who begin the match in 4th place, take the initiative early on against the visitors, who lie mid-table, hitting the bar after around 15 minutes. The Locks Heath goalkeeper seems to be having a particularly good game commanding his area well and sending long kicks upfield – something which is often a bit of an achillies heel for goalkeepers in the lower reaches of the game. The ‘keeper however can do nothing to stop Paulsgrove taking the lead around the half hour mark. A Paulsgrove player is brought down in the area earning the offending defender a yellow card and the penalty is slotted into the corner. Paulsgrove though fail to go in at half-time with the lead. Just before the break a cross evades the flapping arms of the Paulsgrove keeper and is volleyed-in from close range; an impressive goal to lift the home teams spirits.
I take the opportunity to wander into the social club in search of food. A bacon roll and a cup of tea is mine for £1.60. With the John Peel book, the free match and now this I’m having quite a good time on a shoe-string budget. Back out to the pitch-side I sit down. Right here in the sun would be the perfect spot for a picnic, though the chances are a ball would at some point land slap in the middle of the spread. The Paulsgrove number 3 wanders over and leans casually against the railing as he takes long drags on a cigarette. Looking at a boy dressed in a Southampton kit he says with a mock disdain: “what sort of kit is that?”, “Saints” the boy replies to which his friend pipes-up “booooo Saints.” “what’s the score?” the number 3 asks with a glint in his eye knowing it was 4-1 to Arsenal at half time.
Hopefully the number 3 enjoyed his brief break as the Paulsgrove defence was offered little respite in the second half by a home side looking for the win. Again and again Locks Heath attacked, but still Paulsgrove tenaciously held on. Several times the number 7 broke through the defence who though formidable in the air looked decidedly weak on the ground, but a succession of poor touches gave Paulsgrove just enough of an opportunity each time to desperately scramble the ball away while the Locks Heath number 9, with a clear-sight of goal, chose instead to attempt to knock a passing pigeon out of the sky. Towards the end a cloud of dust was thrown up by one Locks Heath player scuffing his studs along the ground after yet another attack broke down.
And so it ended. A draw is a funny thing; The same outcome of one point gained can mean two very different things; for Locks Heath who really should have won the game disappointment and frustration, but for Paulsgrove delight and relief at holding on – certainly the Paulsgrove players, out-played on the day, seem to be the happier ones as the teams exit the pitch. I also left the field happy. I’d seen a reasonably entertaining game of football, with plenty of tension and excitement on a sunny day and at the end of it have spent no more than £2.60. The people of Locks Heath are missing out on something by sipping their cappucinos and mowing their lawns.
Details of the Hampshire Premier League can be found on the F.A full-time website