At times it had looked like I wouldn’t make it, particularly when that wrong turn had cost me at least 10 minutes, but in the end I’d timed it just right. 2.59 according to my watch and I was striding up to the turnstile at Team Solent’s Test Park ground…
…only the gate was shut. Peeping through the gap revealed only an empty, still ground, no sign at all of a top of the table Wessex league thriller between Team Solent and Moneyfields. I turned back in confusion, there had been no rain today, and in a neighbouring field a rugby game was in full-swing. “Must’ve been called off” said another chap who in the meantime had wandered up and drawn the same conclusion. We stood for a moment pondering the two hour gap in our Saturday afternoons. “Ah, these footballers don’t like a bit of mud these days do they” he added as we gazed over at the rugby field.
So far in life, I’ve resisted the lure of the smart phone, but this was a moment one might have come in handy. I had no idea what to do, or where to head to – QK FC were in the neighbourhood, was it worth swinging by there? Problem was I was on the other side of town and my geography was a little patchy. What was the easiest way to get from here to there….?
I headed off – in the wrong direction. This though turned out to be the saving point of my afternoon as immediately round the corner at Mansel Park I spotted game was in progress. One team in red and one in yellow, not Solent or Moneyfields, but close enough. The ground, consisting of a couple of shipping crates and a fixed railing around the pitch, suggesting Hampshire League.
I ditched the car at the first opportunity and hurried over to the pitch, the first task to figure out who exactly I was watching. It was easy enough to figure out who the home team were, the reds, as their crest adorned one of the shipping crates “Bush Hill FC.”
On the pitch Bush Hill were led by their number 2 a right back who sported a white headband which made him look like a latter day Steve Foster. The steve-foster-a-like possessed a good touch and moved forward well, dictating much of the early play. To me Bush Hill looked the better side overall, playing some nice flowing football despite a slightly bobbly pitch, and took what I assumed was the lead when a low shot across the opposition ‘keeper found the net. The opposition did manage an equalizer after a loose header was gobbled up by an onrushing forward who capitalised on a bit of indecision from the Bush Hill ‘keeper who had failed to anticipate the threat early enough to issue a strong response, but at the other end Bush Hill added two more to give them a commanding, if not quite unassailable, 3-1 lead at half-time.
In fact the only problem Bush Hill really faced at this stage was running out of milk in the tea hut. I wasn’t the only one who had come over from Team Solent’s ground and as a result there had been a bit of a rush on the tea and coffee. I made the crowd to be around 40, a respectable amount even for a Wessex League side.
A Bush Hill goal early in the second half would likely have killed the game, but it was the visitors – who by now I’d figured were Stockbridge -who managed to sneak a goal back with a finish applied from close range after a pass across the goal mouth. With the deficit at just one goal Bush Hill clearly felt the pressure and began arguing amongst themselves. As a player I always love it when the opposition argue as it is a sure sign that the psychological battle is being won and it was probably no coincidence that Stockbridge began to enjoy their best period of the game. When a Bush Hill player, spurning the easy-ball, dithered in midfield and was subsequently caught in possession an almost identical pass across goal led to the equaliser. This turn of events led to the Bush Hill players fuming, but for the second time this week I was lucky enough to witness a game which went right down to the wire.
With tired legs in evidence on both sides Bush Hill attempted to rejuvenate themselves by bringing on a fresh attacker. This brought an added urgency and threat into their forward play, yet still they still could not find the finishing blow. It therefore fell to Stockbridge to take the initiative. Their opportunity came on the break. Suddenly it was 2 on 1 and with a player free on the far post a real sense of deja-vu was kicking in however, instead of passing across the goal to his team mate the Stockbridge forward elected to shoot…. and miss. What happened next was almost morality lesson on the dangers of greed; Almost immediately Bush Hill scored at the other end. Where just a moment before Stockbridge had been odds-on to take all three points, now they had none.
Bush Hill held on for a 4-3 win and all three points, which according to a later Google search sees them move to the top of the Hampshire Premier League. With plenty of games in hand they look very much like taking the championship. Stockbridge meanwhile sit at the bottom of the table.