Home has been the theme of the week here on Lost Boyos. First, Matt took to quoting Dickens as he exorcised his teenage demons and visited Treharris’ Athletic Ground for its primary purpose as a place for watching football, and then I explored why it took me a quarter of a century to return to Penydarren Park and watch football in Merthyr Tydfil. However, we would not be Lost Boyos if it were not for the various homes away from home that we have made for ourselves. Over the past decade or so, Incheon, Liverpool, Manchester, Pamplona, Portsmouth, San Sebastian, Seoul and Swansea have all played home to one of us.
Another, for me, has been Southampton. The port city is my wife’s hometown, and our time in the UK over the last ten years has mainly been divided between South Wales and Southampton. Football isn’t usually on the agenda for our short visits, but with a bit of extra time this summer, I felt it was worth catching up on the pre-season fixtures. First up, I suggested my brother-in-law and I attend the Saints’ friendly against Espanyol and by the time we actually got around to booking tickets, the marketing department were offering the friendly together with the Europa League qualifier against Vitesse Arnhem in a bundle.
Facebook, among others, struggles to tell the difference between Matthew and I, but fortunately the stewards didn’t confuse me with the hooligan who last visited St Mary’s for Lost Boyos. The Vitesse game was the Saints’ first European game in 12 years- a relatively short gap for any mid-table team, and all the more impressive considering seven of those 12 seasons were spent outside the Premier League- and it was a full house for their return. Just as the large crowd were getting restless, Graziano Pelle put the home side ahead. Dusan Tadic and Shane Long added further goals and the performance suggested the Saints would be moving into the final play-off round (which they did with a 5-0 aggregate win). A much smaller crowd were in attendance for the Espanyol friendly, which was played at a typically pre-season tempo. Jay Rodriguez’s long-awaited return from injury was the highlight, and he marked the occasion with a powerful long-range strike. That game finished 1-1.
The two Saints games were, as the title of this post suggests, merely the warm-up for the main footballing event of my most recent stay in Southampton. St Mary’s sits on the Itchen River and just the other side of the arcing Itchen Bridge is the suburb of Sholing, which, as well as being where my in-laws live, is home to a football team of its own. I’ve been visiting here for nine years now, but wasn’t aware of the team for most of that time. This, however, is already their second Lost Boyos 2015/16 appearance, Matt having witnessed their earlier friendly against Arundel FC.
The club have been known as Sholing FC since 2010, but their history goes back much further. The internet offers various names and dates for teams linked to the modern-day club, but I’ll go with the ‘Club History’ section of the Sholing’s own website, which begins with Woolston Works FC in 1884. Over the years, mainly spent in the Hampshire and other regional leagues, the club were known at various times as Thornycrofts (Woolston), Vosper Thornycroft FC and VT FC. When the defence company Vosper Thornycroft ceased to exist the team became Sholing FC.
The club eventually appeared on my football radar in the 2012/13 season when they lined up in the Southern League Division One (South & West) alongside Merthyr Town (I always had an eye on results, even if I never went to games). Both games ended in draws, but when the sides were paired again at Step 4 this past season, the bragging rights in our house- not that my wife was particularly bothered- were mine with Merthyr winning both games (7-1 and 1-0).
Sandwiched in-between those two seasons was probably Sholing’s best in their history. Despite a 7th place finish the previous season, the club had taken a voluntarily demotion to the Wessex League to concentrate its efforts and finances on ground redevelopment. They won the 2013/14 Wessex League, but more importantly also claimed the FA Vase with a 1-0 against West Auckland at Wembley. Sholing FC will be back in the Wessex League for the 2015/16. Despite finishing outside the relegation places, they were demoted because the ground still fails to meet requirements.
This was going to be a quiet Tuesday night visit. The club’s Silverlake Arena is about a 30-minute from my in-laws and I was thinking about maybe a pint or two along the way. Instead, I was invited into the city where Kathryn was with family and friends who were celebrating good news over mid-afternoon Caribbean cocktails. I had a few Red Stripes and a Raspberry Reggae cocktail to set me up for the evening.
Back in Sholing, my first stop was the Millers Pond. It’s a nice pub with a big beer and is where I usually head to watch Sky Sports’ live games when staying at my in-laws. The landlord was intrigued by the Osasuna shirt I was wearing. He hadn’t heard of them, but as a Brighton fan he obviously knew one of their most famous imports, Michael Robinson. The football shirt led to a discussion on rent prices in Spain and assorted new football season chat. One pint soon become two and by now the locals were intrigued by the accented newcomer in the foreign football shirt. Soon they were teasing my Welshness- accent, rugby, the usual- in a gentle way that I took as acceptance. It was a nice way to spend an hour, but it was time to press on.
The Silverlake Arena is hidden behind some bushes just off Portsmouth Road. There were quite a few cars already parked in the field next to the various sheds and portacabins. Entry for the game was just £3 and I bought two tickets for the half-time draw at £1 each (I didn’t win). The ground is quite a small one, hemmed in by a fence that goes all the way around. There is a small stand on the one side of the pitch, although it was largely locked up for this game, and a small covered standing section next to it. The most noticeable thing, however, was the how the pitch sloped from one goal to the other.
With the season proper beginning on Saturday, there were several representatives from other teams among the official crowd of 89. There seemed to be more; perhaps others were copying one punter’s tactic of using family ties to one of the players to try to avoid the £3 charge. I don’t know whether she was successful as I headed to the clubhouse where I had a Tanglefoot. It was a touch warm, though, and I wasn’t too unhappy to have to leave some in the bottle as kick-off approached.Visitors Peterfield Town FC, who will play one step above Sholing in the Southern League Division One Central, began with the advantage of attacking downhill. To counter the slope, Sholing seemed to have settled on using the long ball. It looked like it was going to be a successful tactic with pace on both wings and home captain Byron Mason very dominant in the air early on. Petersfield slowly came into the game more and neutralised the long-ball threat. The away team took the lead when Michael Dixon was twice allowed to turn near the edge of the box, and he lashed home on the second. Sholing equalised very quickly when big centre-back Pete Castle headed home following a second ball into the box.
I wasn’t confident of sinking another beer during the interval and didn’t remember there being any windows with a pitch view in the clubhouse, so I joined the coffee line. I had timed it well as my coffee arrived just as the second half started.
And it was a good thing. In the very first attacker, Sholing wideman Barry Mason went very close after cutting in from the right. His effort earned a corner which he delivered to the far post for Dean Faithfull, on as a substitute for first scorer Castle, to nod the ball down and over the line. Petersfield probably had more chances, but several of their efforts ended up over the fence and in the next field. That gave the dozen or so fans in the stood under the cover to gently goad the opposition. They were a reasonably loud and witty lot, my favourite being the ironic He’s got no song / And that’s so wrong chant for Jack Smith. They certainly provided entertainment in the second half as the game wasn’t especially high in quality. This was probably due to neither team treating the game like a friendly at this late of pre-season, an attitude summed up by Sholing’s captain becoming increasingly vocal as they tried to see the game out. They did, and the game ended in a 2-1 win. I got a tray of delicious chips and curry sauce from a nearby Chinese takeaway and headed home.
The Silverlake Arena is a nice-enough little ground, but there are obvious flaws. What’s less obvious is why the club are unable to secure the help they need to redevelop it. With just one league finish outside the top ten in the last five years, the team are clearly capable of pressing ahead under the right circumstances. If Sholing can get out of the Wessex League for a second time in three seasons, hopefully they will no longer have to worry about the ground holding them back.
GOOD: nice pint and conversation in the Millers Pond; another pleasant summer evening for football; a good, hard-fought pre-season friendly; Sholing’s singing section; the spread of chips and curry sauce
BAD: warm clubhouse beer