“Who’s that playing?”
“Which ones are they?”
“Blue and white stripes”
“Who’s the team in the yellow?”
“Erm, I mean 0-0”
The man asking the questions had appeared, like an apparition, just behind my right shoulder. I was relieved as it meant I was no longer the only spectator at the match – that is apart from the few lads camped-out on the patio chairs in front of the changing pavillion who periodically took a stroll past the point where I had found shelter on their way to the clubhouse-bar, and who seemed to be wondering why someone would show up, in the rain, to watch a Bournemouth Saturday League game.
The reason is quite simply history. Founded in 1868, mid-way through the reign of Queen Victoria, the Turks are in fact one of the oldest surviving football clubs in England. Having spent the morning holed up in Totton Library with a copy of Norman Gannaway’s The Turks 1868 – 1993 ; Fordingbridge Turks Football Club I can also tell you that the ‘Turks’ moniker was added sometime after the five month siege of Plevna, an event during the Russian-Turkish war, where the Turkish mounted a heroic defence of the town in the face of overwhelming odds. This story, which at the time resonated around the world, duly found it’s way to Fordingbridge and led to the local football team naming themselves Fordingbridge Turks. Another factoid is that the Turks are also holders of one of the worlds oldest cup’s having won the Captain May Cup first in 1880 against Mechanical Engineers of Basingstoke and then a year later against Queens Free Grammar School, the second victory giving them the cup outright.
Like any old survivor the Turks have had to endure some close calls. In his foreword to Gannaway’s book the then club Chairman John Yetton, comments that “Like all clubs with a long history, Turks have had periods of good and ill fortune” before adding wearily ” Over the last few years, times have been hard on and off the field of play.” The crisis he no doubt had in mind was the point during 1991 when a chunk of the Turks side walked out. Struggling to field a team the Turks slumped the following season to finish second from bottom in the Hayward Bournemouth league Division three with only nine points.
Just over two decades on and the Turks are once again second from bottom in the Bournemouth Hayward League division three. After eight games the Turks have won one and lost seven, with a goal difference which wouldn’t look out of place on a Siberian thermometer – minus thirty.
Their visitors AFC Bransgore have fared little better picking up six points from eight games so both teams will be undoubtedly looking at the match as an opportunity to gain an achievable three points. Predictably the first half is a close run thing. The Turks’s game plan – which I happened to overhear – was to play the ball out to the wings, where the pitch is less boggy. For much of the first half this is where their best opportunities came from, their number 11 managing to break through on the right wing several times, but his shots -mostly from range were dealt with effectively by the Bransgore goalkeeper. Elsewhere Bransgore’s captain, a powerful centre back and their stand-out player, added to the frustrations of the Turk’s front line – at one time pulling off a last ditch saving tackle which sent his opponent sprawling in the mud. For all their defensive proficiency however, Bransgore offered comparatively little attacking threat, barely mustering a half chance and the first half to finish 0-0.
Like the pitch the game in the second half looked stodgy and worn. In a change from the first half it was Bransgore who appeared, just about, to have the upper hand though they still looked a long way from scoring a goal. Just as it appeared nothing much would happen a speculative Bransgore shot from 20 yards hit the cross-bar, shooting high up into the air. This statement of intent, originating from a flash of individual skill, was soon followed by a team goal. Some passing around the area ending with a low shot finding it’s way into the far corner of the goal. With twenty minutes left to rescue at least a point the Turks began surging forward. At this point a couple out walking their dog also took an interest in the game leading to the attendance figure momentarily peaking as they stood behind the goal which was the focus of the Turk’s exertions.
Like Plevna, however, the Turks would ultimately suffer defeat. Bransgore held on to win 1-0. The visitors undoubtedly happy as they left the muddy field of battle with three points. For the Turks though it is a victory still – perhaps in the long run an even greater one. They have added one more day onto their long history.