Although I’d put it in my diary and cleared it in advance with the other half an hour to go until kick-off I was trying to come up with excuses not to go; I felt a spot of rain, it’ll be too cold, it’ll be two reserve teams playing in a competition no one wants to win anyway…..
Paradoxically this last excuse is the reason why I decided to go in the first place. Not to see a reserve team, but to get up close to one of Hampshire football’s most unfancied cup tournaments, the Russell Cotes Cup. I’ve developed something of a fascination with the kind of tournaments no one loves; To me they’re a little like derelict, or semi-derelict buildings which hide often long and rich histories, yielding up stories to those curious enough to poke around.
The history of the Russell Cotes has become more obscured than most. Whilst the Hampshire Senior Cup has a Wikipedia page featuring a list of winners stretching back to the first final – won by Woolston Works in 1888 – there is no such page for the Russell Cotes. Both Google and the website of the Hampshire Football Association fails to yield any further clues so it is pure speculation on my part that the cup has some kind of connection to the one-time prominent Bournemouth resident Merton Russell-Cotes. In its time it was also piece of silverware which had some status and in 1983 formed the final piece of the glorious trinity for a Sholing based team of the past, Sholing Sports, when they defeated Waterlooville in the final, having already won the Hampshire League and Senior Cup.
These days the contest carries rather less prestige. In 2014 cup-holders Gosport Borough withdrew at the quarter-final stage after being told they could not use on-loan players whilst that same year finalists Farnborough were removed from the competition for fielding players who did not have a senior team registration, leading to the re-instatement of the team they defeated in the semi-final, AFC Portchester, who promptly went on to win the cup.
Ahead of this evenings game Sholing manager Dave Diaper had telephoned his opposite number to tell him he would be fielding a team of youngsters with a smattering of fringe players and first-teamers – In fact no fewer than five Sholing players would be making their first-team debuts.
The call which Diaper said he had made out of courtesy appeared not to have influenced Steve Hollick’s selection as Southern league Totton arrived with a strong side. It was little surprise then that Totton took the game to their hosts sustaining the pressure throughout the first half hour. The Sholing kids defended valiantly, but the Stags eventually got their reward on 31 minutes when a Sholing defender appeared to be suckered into making a foul in a dangerous position and the subsequent free-kick was duly headed in.
It was a surprise though that come half time that Sholing were 2-1 up with two goals against the run of play; first a cross-cum-shot which eluded the Totton ‘keeper and the second the result of a piece of penalty area slapstick from the Totton goalkeeper and one of his defenders with Sholing’s Lukas Sabo being the grateful recipient.
In the second half things were a little different and Sholing, who had lacked fluidity going forward in the first half, looked a much more dangerous proposition as they looked to put the increasingly ragged visitors to the sword. Sholing’s third came soon after the re-start when a slick through ball left James Davis one-on-one with the Totton ‘keeper. With the goal sparking a civil war among the Totton back line, it was clear from this point there would be no way back.
By the time substitute Jamie Bulpitt slammed in a 30-yard volley on the 60 minute mark Totton, currently fourth-to-bottom in the Southern League South and West, looked as if they would be grateful for the chance to concentrate on the league. The did manage a late rally with a goal on 86 minutes and a shot which left the crossbar rattling that had it gone in may have set up a tense finale to what had been an already entertaining game… and who knows Sholing may go all the way.
Sholings match report can be found here