It feels like ages since I’ve been to a game, and even longer since I’ve been to a Wessex League Premier one so I was quite excited to be on my way to Millers Park, home of Totton and Ealing FC to see them take on Blackfield and Langley from just down the road.
First of all though I’m faced with a grim realisation that I’ve made a mistake. I must have got the date wrong when I looked at the fixture list – or at least that’s what I think when just before the ground I catch sight of a handful of people in blue scarves featuring a stags head design at either end. It has to be AFC Totton fans – surely they won’t have a game scheduled for the same day?
“It doesn’t happen often” confirms the friendly gent manning the turnstyle at Millers Park, but as it turns out AFC Totton have a cup game, an FA Trophy tie against Clevedon Town. For Totton and Eling this means in all likelehood a lower gate than could otherwise be expected for a local derby against one of the divisions top sides.
That the clubs have adjoining door is mainy due to the fact that both of their former grounds were snapped up by the same developer, Linden Homes, for housebuilding. In the case of Totton and Eling – then known as BAT – this was a rather traumatic affair as their ground at Southern Gardens had been sold from under them in 2006 by their corporate benefactors British American Tobacco who were also in the process of closing down their Southampton factory.
Things looked bleak for a time and amid the uncertainty the club made the decision to disband it’s first team and continue with its reserves two divisions below. Ties with BAT were fully severed with the name change to Totton and Eling in 2007. Things began looking up with both the prospect of a new home thanks to the deals done as part of the planning process for the development of Souther Gardens and Testwood Park sites.. Promotion back into the Wessex Premier in 2009 saw he club regain it’s original level with the move to Millers Park coming in 2009/10
The story isn’t untypical of many former works sides. Redbridge FC – previously Ford United – were forced out of their home, the company owned Rush Green, in 2000 when the firm would only offer a one year lease on the facility – not enough to satisfy the league authorities. Closer to home Eastleigh-based Pirelli General FC folded in 2003 following their Chestnut Avenue ground being put up for sale a year after the main part of the cable works closed down. Ironically Pirelli’s old ground is now occupied by AFC Stoneham – formerly known as Ordnance Survey, who themselves suffered the loss of a ground when the Civil Service ground closed in 1999
The challenge faced by the clubs who survive is in shaping a new identity, not always an easy task – especially when you’ve got a bigger club next door. One thing I feel would help in this respect is a new badge. I can’t help but think the current effort – a basic text font – could be replaced by something a bit more iconic. Sad as I am I’ve actually done a design! Not that I’m a graphic designer, as you can tell, but here’s my effort. Its meant to be based on a cog from the Tide-mill at Eling where the club takes it’s nickname of ‘The Millers’ from, though I wonder whether a waterwheel would work well too.
Millers Park itself isn’t bad. It’s very neat and shiny, but, probably like the new homes which now occupy Southern Gardens, its what an Estate Agent might describe as compact. Even the small number of people there are here today – mostly Blackfield and Langley fans and dignitaries – it feels quite full up.
Most of that crowd would have been happy though with what was a solid Blackfield and Langley performance. Like the last time I saw this side, against Fareham Town last season former Southampton man Kevin Gibbens was the one pulling all the strings with Totton and Eling seemingly helpless to prevent his flick on’s as his team mates hit him again and again.
Unsurprisingly Gibbens himself grabbed the first goal in what was a very one sided first half where the hosts best chance came from an under-pressure pass-back which looked, momentarily, to have wrongfooted the Blackfield ‘keeper.
To imply that Blackfield are a one-man team however, would be to do them a diservice. Proving Gibbens isn’t the only Blackfield player with a nose for goal Alex Baldaccino hit a free kick from the edge of the area past the to make it 2-0 early in the second half putting an end to a spell of Totton and Eling pressure at the beginning of the half. Gibbens then finished the game off when he bundled the ball over the line from a corner-kick for Blackfield’s third before former Totton and Eling player Craig Feeney scored with an impressive flying header, then to seal Totton and Eling’s misery added another with a nonchalant spin and backheel over the line.
A late penalty, scored on the rebound brought some consolation to the home side – who always knew they would would have a tough game against the reigning champions. Final score Totton & Eling 1 – Blackfield and Langley 5.