As September turned into October, the Swansea fixture list was following a similar pattern to how it had looked for the opening months of the season. Of course, I’m talking about those Sunday afternoon kick-offs – one of the very few deterrents of playing European football. Let’s not complain too much though: firstly, the move to Sunday afternoon football is only a result of the mighty Swans playing in the Europa League on a Thursday and it’s hard not to adore watching the mighty Swans take on Europe (and win a lot at the moment). And secondly, a Sunday fixture means that I can go watch Swansea play on a Sunday and venture elsewhere on the Saturday afternoon before. Two games a weekend! A great thing for a football fan who loves to dabble into other realms of the footballing world, outside the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, like myself. This week’s Sunday fixture would see the Swans taking on Southampton meaning that I had the opportunity to find a Saturday afternoon kick-off on the south-coast the day before.
With my pal Harry living in Bournemouth, I made sure I had a place to crash on the south coast before heading to Southampton on the Sunday. Now just to find a game to go to on the Saturday afternoon in the Bournemouth area. Of course, the obvious choice would be AFC Bournemouth v Millwall, but having visited Dean Court (or whatever they call it now) in January, I wanted to explore elsewhere and not really spend my day hanging around with Millwall. A look through the leagues and non-leagues seemed to bring up nowhere close to Bournemouth. I eventually found myself on the Sydenhams Wessex Football League website, as you do, and rolling through their fixtures I found my game: Bournemouth FC v Christchurch.
Bournemouth FC should not be confused with AFC Bournemouth. Both orbit completely different footballing worlds with Bournemouth FC plying their trade in the Wessex Premier DIvision, the 9th tier of English football, whilst AFC Bournemouth currently live it up one league below the Premier League in the Championship. Perhaps the easiest way to avoid getting these two almost identi-named clubs mixed up is by referring to the non-league counterpart as The Poppies, the nickname the club brandish about to ensure they are differentiated from their Cherries cousins.
The club began life as Bournemouth Rovers in 1875 by a group of gentlemen, which included future Mayor of Bournemouth Alderman J Nethercoate, making the club one of the oldest clubs in the country. The club, after a brief stint as Bournemouth Dean Park, became Bournemouth FC in 1899 after merging with local side Bournemouth Arabs.
After a four and a half hour train journey to Bournemouth from Manchester, which began at 7:30am, I arrived into Bournemouth station and was greeted by Harry, who had also just arrived back into the town after a night out in Winchester. After recent gearbox issues with his Skoda (it doesn’t have one), Harry was car-less for today, but his mother had kindly agreed to taxi us back to his home in Christchurch – the small town east of Bournemouth and the home of The Poppies’ opponents for today’s game.
Even better than the lift provided were the bacon sarnies made for us on arriving back at the Hugo household and the amazing cheesy rolls they were placed in (I need to try more of this crazy cheesy roll concept). We enjoyed our post-travelling sarnies with a spot of Manchester City v Everton, as Harry arranged for his mate Connor to pick us up and take us to his home, which apparently was within walking distance of Bournemouth FC’s Victoria Park.
Shortly after 14:00, we were leaving Connor’s home and making our way through the streets of Winton. Harry alluded to the idea that this was a ‘rougher’ part of Bournemouth, but just as I had when he had warned me of the ‘rough’ part of Bath, I reminded him that I was brought up in Merthyr Tydfil, have worked in the Anfield area of Liverpool and live and work in Salford and that I was going to be unfazed by a housing estate on the south coast. Predictably the area seemed fine, although there was a bizarre mix of random shops on the main high street of Winton ranging from ‘Greyhounds In Need’ to ‘Military Collectibles’.
We had been walking for half hour now and Google Maps was beginning to inform us that we were close. We soon spotted Namu Road (great name) and I recalled that this road’s name featured on the club’s address. However, my usual tactic of skimming the skies for the signs of a floodlight or two was just not working today. Still no sign of a ground. We carried on wandering the surrounding the streets, until eventually we spotted some small floodlights tucked away in the middle of a housing estate. Now just to find a way into the ground, as we were struggling to find a roadway or path that led into Victoria Park. After correcting our footsteps, we found the road which curved around the houses and into the middle of the houses where Bournemouth FC’s home was found.
The club’s current home Victoria Park is the third home that the club has had during its long history. The club’s original homne was to be at East Common, before they moved to Dean Park, where they changed their named to Bournemotuh Dean Park. Interestingly, in 1878, Bournemouth FC were to play one of the first games ever played under (experimental) floodlights whilst they resided at Dean Park with the game’s flood-lit novelty being advertised as “a grand exhibition of the new electric light”.
“What a shithole! You are going to love this,” were Harry’s views on the grounds, as he once again semi-mocked my love of ramshackle football grounds – and this was definitely ramshackle. Nonetheless, it was likable (but i would think that of course). On entering the guy at the gate wasn’t even sure how much to charge us for entry and he made it sound like he was haggling with himself
“I’ll let you all in for £4 each,” he eventually decided after eyeing us up and settling on a price none of us had actually pushed for. Cheapest I’ve paid for football in a long time though!
The first thing I noticed on entering the ground was the red-bricked building just to the side of the pitch, covered in graffiti and with the word ‘Pesto’ in big writing ‘tagged; on the wall – clearly, they must love their pasta on the south coast. However, the main structure that dominates the ground is the one stand that sits on the halfway line. The stand is beautifully battered with all the seating in the stand purely consisting of wooden benches. Easily my favourite part of the whole ground though is the brilliant conservatory-like building that adjoins itself to the stand; even better, the conservatory holds within it the bar area, meaning spectators can sit within its windowed walls, enjoy a beer, watch Jeff Stelling on the two widescreen TVs, as well as enjoy the live football on show at Victoria Park. As per usual, the bar was the first port of call and with only half our pints drunk, we decided to stay in the ‘conservatory’ whilst the game kicked off outside in the fairly pleasant Bournemouth sunshine, but on the hideously, bobbly pitch.
As the teams lined up, I had noted that Christchurch, in the blue, looked a much younger and smaller team than their hosts today, but within the opening minutes it was clear that Christchurch were the better team. The league table reflected this with Christchurch sitting in mid-table and Bournemouth at the foot of it, after only picking up their first win of the season days before.
Before the game, Harry had hyped up Christchurch’s young attacker, and mate of his, Dan Saul as one to watch and it was Saul who would break the deadlock in the early minutes of the game as he ran into the Bournemouth box and finished well from 6 yards out with the keeper coming out and a defender desperately trying to thwart him. The 19-year-old Saul was to have an excellent game and due to his lethal nature i front of goal and his no-nonsense approach on the pitch, I opted to compare him to the equally fierce Darth Maul from Star Wars and immortalise him with the nickname ‘Darth Saul’ (this is easily the geekiest player comparison that I’ve ever made on my travels thus far).
As we began our wander of the ground, a stray ball flew over the Christchurch goal and I could not resist running after the stray ball just to have a kick. Of course, this brings up the predicament of making a tit of yourself in front of a crowd and predictably my pass to the goalie hit the top of the metal bar surrounding the pitch and bounced back towards me instead of reaching the pitch. Oh well, the Christchurch keeper seemed to find it amusing anyway. Whilst talking of the away team’s goalie, he seemed to be quite a character and seemed to be jovial and enjoying a good laugh with himself and the spectators throughout the game. He also made a few very good saves, although he did have an uncanny resemblance to legendary (used loosely here) Football League striker Jon Parkin, who I met at Flixton at the start of my 2013/2014 travels,
By the time we made it past the two dugouts opposite the main stand and down to the Bournemouth goals, Christchurch were making it 2-0 with an easy tap in. A spectator had earlier alluded to us that the Poppies’ goalie was susceptible to a spot of ‘dodgy keeper syndrome’ – well, he was certainly showing the symptoms of the condition during today’s game.
We watched the rest of the half from the wooden benches in the stand as Christchurch continued to dominate. The score would remain the same as the whistle was blown for half time.
HT: Bournemouth FC 0 – 2 Christchurch
A bizarre element of Bournemouth’s ground was the fact that there appeared to be nowhere selling food in the ground, so a ravenous Harry and Connor went in search of a shop somewhere outside the ground (at least we knew they could find Military Collectibles anyway), whilst I headed back to the clubhouse for a pint and the half-time scores from Jeff (my half time food consisted of a packet of Flame-Grilled Steak McCoys crisps).
Harry and Connor arrived back at the ground about 5 minutes into the second half, only to find me still happily sitting at the bar watching the opening exchanges of the second 45 minutes out of the window in the clubhouse. Christchurch were carrying on their first half dominance, as I exited through the doors of the clubhouse, complete with smashed window, and soon enough it was 3-0 to the away team. Once again, it was ‘Darth Saul’ with the goal, after the goalie saved his initial headed effort, before Saul converted the rebound.
It was game over now and the rest of the game was a rather dull effort as Christchurch settled for their 3 goal lead and Bournemouth viewed the clawing back of 3 goals as an impossible task.
FT: Bournemouth 0 – 3 Christchurch. A good game all in all, but it is hard for any game to follow the incredible display that I had witnessed at the Etihad Stadium 3 days earlier. Although perhaps I had made a major error by not visiting Dean Court on this Saturday afternoon, as a short distance away from Bournemouth FC’s Victoria Park, AFC Bournemouth came back from 2-0 down against Millwall to win 5-2. Nevermind, I bet they didn’t get to watch the game through a conservatory window they did!
Following the game, we made the walk back through Bournemouth suburbia to the sound of Harry moaning about how tired he was and how much his feet hurt. We endured his moaning until we reached the Broadway pub, a great pub, which my hosts informed me was the perfect destination for a hangover. There was a loud roar in the pub as we entered as Sunderland took the lead against Manchester United (before the Adnan Januzaj show began) and much of the talk at the bar was about the disco the pub was hosting at 9pm. We decided to give it a miss and head into Bournemouth instead, fuelled on Glenmorangie whisky from Connor’s house.
A pleasant day on the south-coast all round – much nicer than watching Swansea lose 2-0 at St Mary’s the next day anyway.
Highlights: decent game, great clubhouse, cheap entry.
Low Points: ground was quite hidden away, not much around the ground.