It’s strange to think when squeezing through the turnstile into Folland’s Park and taking a seat in the small stand that once Folland’s had been one of the top teams in the area.
It was during the second world war that Folland Aircraft, who had been formed just a few years earlier in 1938, had enjoyed, in footballing terms, some of their best times as football league competition was suspended and players took up work in the burgeoning wartime industries turning out for works teams like Folland’s who in 1941 scooped the treble of the Hampsire Senior Cup, the Russell Coates Cup and the Hampshire League title.
Works teams however, live a precarious existence. Although they reap many benefits from the partnerships with their parent company they are just one powerpoint presentation away from having their ground sold off for a housing development. Until fairly recently a few works teams competed in the Wessex League and Hampshire League but the 2000s saw a major decline as the local economy shifted away from big manufacturing concerns which had been the most ardent supporters of local football. Sides like Pirelli General disappeared following the loss of their ground in the wake of the closure of the huge Pirelli cable works in Eastleigh, whilst BAT clung to existence and just about survive as Totton and Eling. Sholing (formerly Vosper Thornycroft) appear to have made the most successful transition; Only a disaster can stop them winning the Wessex League title this season, but there has still been pain along the way with the club dropping out of the Southern League last season on financial grounds.
Perhaps it was the future in mind that after a few name changes inspired by the shifts in ownership of the aerospace plant to which the club were attached GE Hamble, as they were then known, switched their name back to the more historic Folland Sports.
Although they are the biggest club in Hamble Folland’s are one of the smaller clubs in the Wessex League. One other feature of works teams is that they tend to have poor followings and Folland’s have some of the smallest crowds in the Wessex League – today being no exception. This though only makes their achievements this season all the more impressive; fifth in the league and firmly on the tails of big-boys Winchester City and Newport (IOW) Folland’s are on a nine game unbeaten run with their last game being a comprehensive 6-1 victory over Lymington Town.
It is a run which should – on paper at least– be easily extended. Their opponents, Romsey Town, who arrive in 20th position out of 22 are having a season not much better than the last one in which they were only saved from relegation last season by a technicality which saw Hayling United demoted based on ground grading.
Romsey though look like a tough side; the sort of team built to go and grind out a result on a freezing cold night as the rain lashes down and their opponents are only thinking of their warm beds. When they take the lead on 31 minutes after their towering number nine finds himself in space on the left and sends a half-volley drifting across the face of the goal, beyond the reach of the Folland’s ‘keeper and into the net they want to hold onto it, and they do so doggedly.
And they would have got away with it too, were it not for a bit of bad (or good depending on which side you support) fortune. Just when it appeared to have been a lost-cause, Folland’s, who had been so well contained by a deep-playing Romsey that they had barely mustered a decent attempt on goal, finally broke through late in the second half. After the ball being pinged around the Romsey goal area it found the net. The Romsey players, incredulous with rage, appealed for offside, as did the Romsey supporter sat next to me, but the referee awarded the goal.
Sensing the decision had wounded the Romsey beast a galvanised Folland’s surged forward. As Romsey cleared one attempt off the line they may well have felt a sense of inevitability.Soon after came a shot, smashed low into the bottom right hand corner. 2-1 to Folland’s. Surely the winner?
But with a flick of the tail, Romsey were on the counter. A misunderstanding between a Folland’s defender and débutante Goalkeeper Scott O’Rourke led to a desperate fumble and the ball at a Romsey players feet. Maybe, just maybe Romsey could still earn a point. The angle though was too tight for the Romsey player as his shot veered off into the side netting.
It made the next incident all the more cruel. At the death Folland’s were awarded a free kick outside the Romsey area. Floated in and met by a Folland’s it was 3-1, the point of no return.
Folland’s move up to 4th leapfrogging Newport (IOW) and three points behind Winchester City in 3rd, with a game in hand. A huge achievement for the club.