On Non League Day, Alton FC (formerly Alton Town) took on Ringwood Town (formerly Ringwood Town) in the Sydenhams Wessex League Division One. The bacon sizzled, the beer flowed, the football was thoroughly entertaining…and then the heavens opened forcing almost every spectator into the stand, where they generally got very wet indeed as the strong crosswind blew the rain in. The lack of chips was almost forgiven.
Alton FC were formed earlier this year, when Alton Town FC merged with Alton United Youth FC. The new club have a brand new ground, The Enclosure, built on the site of Alton Youth’s former ground with money from Coors Brewery, upon whose land the former Alton Town FC used to play. The Brewery wanted to sell the land for development, and as a condition of that sale Town had to have a new home. Eventually it was decided that the solution was to build in Anstey Park- if eventually is an appropriate word to describe a decade of wrangling between brewery and council. The result is rather fabulous, so long as you aren’t one of those folk who object to 3G on the grounds that you can’t mow it or feed it to a goat.
At a cost of around a million pounds, The Enclosure has exceptional facilities for this level and is a true community asset. With a well equipped Clubhouse, a new stand, improved (albeit uncovered) terracing, new floodlights, upgraded changing facilities and an excellent refreshment kiosk with really good burgers and bacon rolls (we will gloss over the missing chips as it would be wrong to make a big deal of it. That’s the MISSING CHIPS we’re glossing over). Club officials were justifiably proud, and before long the team had given them something else to be proud of.
Both sides had proved inconsistent so far this season; indeed Alton’s previous home fixture had ended in an unprecedented 9-0 defeat to the marvellously named Laverstock and Ford. How they recovered from being thrashed by the two lead characters from The Producers might have defined their season, and they started the match looking rather nervous. Ringwood took advantage and may have taken the lead had River Smith been able to connect with a glorious through ball in the second minute, only to be- just- beaten to it by Mo Nyamunga in the home goal. Nyamunga spent much of the game playing the role of sweeper-keeper in the manner of Manuel Neuer, but unlike the Bayern keeper and his Bavarian cohorts it often seemed as if Nyamunga and his defence had never previously met. It wasn’t that any of them performed badly, just that they were on an entirely different wavelength which often led to mild panic.
Alton then took some semblance of control, with their number ten, Curtis Thorn, particularly dominant. But they couldn’t manage to get an effort on target, with Dec Shuttleworth- twice- and Sam Hutchings the culprits. They were almost made to play as Ringwood’s Elliot Peck charged clear of the defence only to be thwarted by a beautifully timed tackle from Ben Hotchings. The ball was cleared, the Ringwood defence had pushed forward, and Shuttleworth was able to beat them for pace before slotting past Tom Edmunds to put his side ahead.
As a number of spectators too thrifty to pay the six pounds admission watched from outside the perimeter fence- one had even brought a camp chair- Alton attempted to take the match by the scruff of the neck. Again prompted by Thorn, further chances from Shuttleworth and Sam Hutchings came to naught, before the talking point of the half left the Ringwood coaching team livid. Peck again ran onto a long ball, Nyamunga again came charging out, and the keeper got some part of his anatomy to the ball around two yards outside of his box. It seemed as it he may have handled, but the referee waved away the protests and the match continued. Within five minutes Alton had doubled their advantage- a beautiful finish from Thorn- and Ringwood were deflated. They were entirely flat two minutes later, as a cross from Hutchings flew right across the box and into the corner of the net. The heavens opened, a steam engine hooted in the distance, and Alton seemed in total control as the half came to a close.
The rain got harder and harder, and the wind blew. 3G pitches may (virtually) guarantee that football can be played in all weathers, but they don’t guarantee that it will be attractive. The second half wasn’t short on endeavour, but the quality of the first forty five minutes was long gone as the players slithered around and the supporters did their best to get into the back row of the stand. Sadly given that there were only four rows in total, many of them failed.
Ringwood had opportunities to get back into the game. They took the first, when miscommunication between Nyaguma and his defence led to the ball being passed to Pete Richmond-Cole, who simply passed it back into an unguarded net. Two minutes later Nyaguma again charged to the edge of his box to tackle but on this occasion missed the ball, leaving Smith the fairly simple chance of firing home. Unfortunately for him, however, he failed to even hit the target. The away team increased in confidence, pushed three up front, and took control of the game- but without managing to make inroads where it counted. Chances came and went, many of them fashioned from rain assisted errors, but there were no further goals and Alton ran out 3-1 winners.
As the crowd gingerly made their way out of the stand, and the players dripped their way off the pitch, it was obvious that for Alton FC Non League Day had been a great success. Not only did they have three precious points, but they had a bumper crowd who couldn’t have helped but be impressed both by the quality of the football and by the quality of the surroundings. Supporters from Reading, Southampton and QPR were notable by their higher league regalia, and they might just be back in future.
Alton is far more famous for its Watercress Line than for its football. But something seems to be stirring in Anstey Park. Perhaps it won’t be long before the good folk in this part of Hampshire appreciate that their entertainment doesn’t need to be steam powered.
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Published on in Steps 3-6.