Visiting Hamble Club’s ground, the Hamble Community Facility, the one really striking thing is the newness of it all. Signs of recent construction are still everywhere from the nails and screws which litter the floor of the new stand to the heavy plant tracks in the mud. It was all very different the last time I came here, back in late 2012. The ground which, then named the Shell Mex Ground, was a fairly run of the mill – and slightly run down – Hampshire League ground. There are still a few leftovers from this time – the tea hut in the old portakabin, the dugouts, and an old section of pathway, but apart from these it is all gleaming and fresh – so much so that before I take my seat in the stand I instinctively check to see whether the paint on the back wall is wet.
My last visit had been to see Hamble Club’s reserves play AFC Aldermaston’s reserves. Neither the smell of wet-paint, or success in evidence as the reserves were enduring a season which could best be described as a little difficult. In their first six games of the season they had shipped 73 goals for only three at the other end and were firmly rooted to the bottom of the Hampshire Premier Combination (whilst the first team were themselves at the foot of the Hampshire Premier League). I was the only spectator who was not either a club official, or relative of a player which left me a bit self-conscious – not helped when I got smacked in the face by the ball.
How times have changed – to begin with I notice that reserve fixtures now cost a couple of quid to get into. On field success in the Hampshire league has meant that Hamble were contenders for promotion to the Wessex League, but such a step-up necessitated substantial work to the ground in order meet the much higher Wessex League standards. Hamble though have risen to the challenge and the programme carries a statement from the league which congratulates the club, and fellow promoted side Baffins Milton Rovers on managing to upgrade their facilities in such a short time-frame. Having been involved in a project to upgrade a semi-derelict cleaner’s supply cupboard into a community room which has hit snag after snag for 18 months I can vouch that virtually creating a football ground from scratch in a tight time-frame is quite some achievement so it therefore seems a bit churlish to say that the stand at Hamble Club affords a pretty poor view thanks to the number of posts supporting the roof of the structure, but I suppose you can’t have it all.
The appearance of Hamble Club on the Wessex League stage and the development of the ground also raises something of an interesting question as to just who are the biggest team in the village? Next-door neighbours Folland Sports have the history, but as things stand Hamble Club sit atop the Wessex’s Division One, whilst Folland’s languish toward the bottom of the table.
I’ll leave that up to others to decide, but seeing them in action against bottom-club Pewsey Vale it is apparent that Hamble Club boast a strong side and the Monks (Hamble’s recently acquired nickname, which seems a little odd for a side whose roots lie in a social club) dominated the opening to such an extent that it was at least quarter of an hour before Pewsey Vale even look like mounting an attack which came by way of a long free-kick hoisted into the danger area which the Hamble defence cleared easily.
Pewsey’s biggest friend in the first half is the Linesman’s flag. Hamble were adjudged offside so many times that I lost count, but it seemed like getting on for double figures. Still, Hamble did manage one attacking foray which didn’t end in a raised flag and through this took a one goal lead into half-time.
Such a slender lead meant that though Pewsey, who were outplayed both in terms of skill and physical power, were down they were by no means out of the game. Their number three did a particularly good job of keeping his colleagues spirits up by offering plenty of encouragement and praise to ensure shoulders and heads didn’t drop toomuch and around 20 minutes into the second half Pewsey won a couple of corners in quick succession. These didn’t produce anything to test the Hamble ‘keeper, but served as a reminder that Hamble’s failure to put the game to bed early could have cost them dear had Pewsey got a stroke of luck.
With both sides still seeking something from the game the pace of the game really picked up in the final stretch. To aid their efforts Hamble brought on Nathan Lynch a big centre forward, playing in the number 12 shirt. As desired this succeeded in shaking up the Pewsey defence and Lynch had a hand (literally according to the Pewsey Vale players) in the second Hamble goal, putting Hamble’s number 7 Nick Watts clear through on goal.
Watts is a player whose name I clocked on the team board when I arrived as he has been with Sholing, one of the top Wessex League sides where he was part of the squad who won the FA Vase. Throughout the game his short passes and good movement were a key element in Hamble’s attacking play and I had him odds on to make the most of his chance. The margin of error was narrow, but Watts managed to just squeeze the ball past the onrushing Pewsey goalkeepers outstretched foot and just inside the right hand post. The Hamble players celebrated, knowing that at this late stage the game was beyond Pewsey. Final score 2-0 to Hamble Club.