For me, Romsey will always mean one thing – Romsey Rapids. I remember the excitement of being taken there by my big sister soon after it had opened with its state of the art wave machine and flume – very different to the standard , dull, rectangular municipal pool I had been used to.
The Romsey Rapids were formally opened in the summer of 1990 by none other than Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and the big day itself was such a scorcher that Fergie quipped that she wished she’d brought along her swimwear.
Next door to the gleaming new centre the sun was also shining on Romsey Town Football Club who had that summer been crowned Wessex league champions, finishing ahead of Newport IOW by two points.
This would though be a high water mark for the club and by the time the Rapids were temporarily closed due to the discovery of Legionella in 2001 Romsey Town were scraping along the bottom of the Hampshire League. Both the Rapids and the Football club had, it seems, seen better days.
Both however, managed to make a come back.. The Rapids continues to draw visitors and the Football Club – who currently play is a shirt specially designed to celebrate their 130th anniversary in 2016 – regained their Wessex League status, although a more recent relegation from the Wessex Premier Division sees them now in the first division.
I’m actually quite a big advocate of the Wessex League which I think offers a good standard of football at a good price with the minimum of faff. It’s usually a fiver to get in, a cup of tea will set you back no more than a quid and you can be assured of parking right outside the door and you can take your pick of where to view the game (I’m always a halfway-line kind of guy).
It was this logic which led me to follow in Fergie’s footsteps to Romsey and whilst it might not have been a scorcher of a summer’s day (more a slightly chilly and slightly wet night) it was nonetheless a bloody entertaining game of football.
Blow-by-blow match reports can be a dull business so I’ll cut to the chase. In the first half Romsey took the lead 1-0 thanks to a near-post header. New Milton Town however, secured an equalizer when the ball fell to their striker just outside the six yard box, ensuring that the sides retired to their dressing rooms on level terms.
One of the endearing features of Wessex League football is that at every ground there will be one very vocal fan who continues to shout words of encouragement and advice to the players for the full 90 minutes. That such exhortations are largely futile was in evidence at Romsey. “C’mon Romsey, let’s play some football” shouted the fan as the teams kicked off the second half, but a mere few seconds later the Romsey ‘keeper was picking the ball out of the back of his net after a New Milton striker latching on to a through ball slid it under his body.
Romsey had paid a high price for switching-off, but they were offered a glimmer of hope when a new Milton player was sent off for a second yellow card. With the extra player the game began to turn Romsey’s way, but New Milton, clearly a physical side (I did try to count the number of yellow cards issued, only to lose count), were managing to hold on through some tough defending and through lofting long balls forward to their number 9 were even managing to pose a threat. As a boy racer gunned his motorbike around the Rapids car park a New Milton striker spurned a golden opportunity to put the game almost beyond reach as Romsey argued amongst themselves for failing to deal with the threat.
The game was finely balanced as both sides missed opportunities, but Romsey eventually forced an equaliser, setting up a thrilling finale: As an energised Romsey surged forward in search of the winner New Milton looked to apply the sucker-punch. Bodies flew around, desperate lunges were made and the temperature raised. At one end Romsey had a penalty appeal turned down as a New Milton player appeared to block a goal-bound shot with his hands before a breakaway almost resulted in a goal at the other. Amidst all the tension the Romsey keeper – who had impressed all game with his competence and level-headed communication – found himself with the ball near the half way line. As any ‘keeper – or indeed spectator – knows this is rarely a scenario which ends well and sure enough he was dispossessed, but fortunately for him New Milton failed to apply the punishment.
Not long after the fifth goal of the game arrived. A throw in on the right, a ball played over to the left to a striker who then fired past the ‘keeper into the corner.
It was a sucker punch. New Milton’s ten men celebrated what is surely the winner and a few minutes more desperate defending saw them take the three points.
On the way out of the ground I heard another spectator comment “I admire their spirit, but it wasn’t football” whilst another summed up by saying “It made me wince and I wasn’t even playing.” From my view though it was a game which just showed why the Wessex League is so great. Earlier this season I saw Southampton defeat Sunderland 1-0 in what was one of the worst games of football I’ve ever sat through, whilst a few weeks ago I saw Eastleigh lose 1-0 to Macclesfield in a game as insipid as the cup of tea I’d paid two quid for, but today at Romsey I’d seen a game which was full of drama and passion – In fact I wish I’d brought my boots along and taken part in it. (Please be assured I’m under no illusions about my ability. I occasionally play 5-a-side with a Follands player and cannot even get close to him!)
As a bit of a plug – I’ve recently written a book about cup football which was recently reviewed by The Football Pink. this is available on both Kindle and Paperback.