A rain-free Saturday sees me finally making it to Cams Alders home to Fareham Town and another one that’s spent a while on the to do list. It might not be raining, but it is cold – very, very, very cold!
Fareham Town are in actual fact one of the first football teams I was ever aware of. This was because as a kid growing up in a single-parent household in the 1980s football was never on the telly (not that it was even on telly much in those days) and the dark-days of hooliganism meant that my Mum, like many other parents, refused to let me anywhere near a football ground – I was 14 when I finally saw a live match, Saints v Huddersfield in the Coca-Cola Cup when it was £1 for under-16s and virtually my whole school went.
For me football consisted of Subbuteo and the familiar even-tones of the results service. I remember it coming on, sometime after the A-Team and Supergran; I’d be over my Nan’s, who looked after me whilst Mum was working – and who would usually take me into Portsmouth or Fareham for a day out – and Nan would always let out a little cheer when it was announced that Fareham Town had won.
It all seems so long ago, Fareham Town – on the results service, on prime-time TV! The 1980s were truly golden years for the club who played in the Southern League Premier Division between 1982 and 1989. Back then it was, I remember, known as the Beazer Homes Premier Division and was one of the three leagues which sat one-step below the GM Vauxhall Conference.
These days Fareham Town play in the Wessex League Premier Division, four steps below the Conference Premier. The reason for this, according to the clubs website, was the big decision taken back in 1998 that the clubs future would best be safeguarded by dropping out of the more costly Southern League altogether and ever since the club has been pursuing a quiet existence away from the spotlight like a reclusive film-star.
This was apparently not, as you would expect, an uncontroversial move, but ,for a number of reasons, it’s an interesting one – posing questions as it does about what we want from a football club and what we define as success.
Fareham Borough has, according to the 2011 census, a population of 111 600. This is higher than the the 82 600 population of the neighbouring borough of Gosport whose side play in the Southern Premier League and a little short of the 125 200 who live in Eastleigh Borough which is home to a Conference South club; In short it is a town which, based on size, should be able to support at least a Southern League side.
But is success just a matter of rising as high in the pyramid as possible? Fareham now position themselves as a community club – the programme bears the motto ‘The club at the heart of your community’ – with an active youth programme. Both the youth and adult sections of the club have also gained FA charter standard status, but perhaps most important of all in this day and age there is still a club there living what appears to be quite sustainable and contentedly within its means. Is all this more, or less important than league tables?
In my view Fareham’s approach is the right one one. More clubs need to prioritise the benefits they bring to their communities; if on-field success follows this then so be it, but to chase on-field glory at the expense of everything else is self defeating. I’d much rather a club spent £500 on employing a youth coach or community officer than on some mercenaries wages in an attempt to claw their way up the pyramid.
In any case success will just bring in new fans who want to see more of it and as the Dalai Lama says, in relation to possessions, but no less applicable here:
in the case of wanting more expensive possessions, if that is based on a mental attitude that just wants more and more, then eventually you’ll reach a limit of what you can get; you’ll come up against reality.
and many clubs do, with reality often arriving in the shape of an HMRC winding-up order
All this brings us nicely to today’s visitors, Blackfield and Langley, (pop. <15 000). Despite Fareham’s impressive historical record against their opponents (averaging 2.4 points per game over 14 meetings) the form book means little today. Blackfield are now amongst those mounting a serious challenge for the Wessex League title currently lying in 5th place, five points behind the leaders Downton, but with six games in hand.
Quite how such a small and previously un-fancied club from a particularly out-of-the way village have suddenly come from nowhere is a mystery, and that’s not even thinking about the FA Cup run. What is clear though is that they are quite a good side.
Fareham themselves occupy 7th place, but there is a noticeable gulf between the two teams. Sure Fareham have some players who can tackle hard, run hard and head the ball hard, but Blackfield possess the greater amount of flair and in Kevin Gibbens they have a former pro who knows how to play a smart ball or two.
Even when Fareham take the lead on 53 minutes Blackfield’s quiet confidence remained unruffled so they were probably unsurprised when after forcing a desperate save from the Fareham ‘keeper a back-peddling defender stuck the ball in his own net for the equaliser and they were probably even less surprised when late-on the ball was bundled over the line from a corner.
2-1 to Blackfield – the better team on the day, but the more successful? You decide.