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Saturday 17th August 2013 ko 15.00

Wessex League Division One

ANDOVER TOWN 3 (Yates 11 Foot 27 Dixon 37)

HYTHE & DIBDEN 0

Att 61

Entry £5

Programme £1

When I was growing up my Dad used to comment that Andover ought to be where the tax office is based ( ‘and over… ok I’ll get me coat!). The Hampshire town is most famous for its military connections,  RAF Andover was opened on Andover Airfield, to the south of the town, during the First World War and became the site of the RAF Staff College. Before then, in 1846, the town came to public attention after an enquiry exposed the conditions in its workhouse. The Andover workhouse scandal brought to light evidence of beatings, sexual abuse and general mistreatment of workhouse inmates by the overseers. Inmates were noted as being driven by hunger to eat the bones which they were supposed to crush to make fertilizer.

These days the town is a base for the likes of Twinings, and Stannah stairlifts. Being situated on the A303, the town has excellent links to the M3, M4 and M5.

To tell the truth, the footballing side to this story is rather convoluted to the uninitiated. The roots of it all lie in the old Andover FC who folded due to financial issues in July 2011. They played at the purpose-built Portway Stadium, in the north-west of the town, but since their demise the stadium has lain derelict. A phoenix team was formed, Andover Lions (Lions being the nickname of the old Andover FC) and they continue to play at the nearby Charlton Leisure Centre, and ply their trade in Division One, the second tier of the Hampshire Premier League. I visited them around 18 months ago. http://wp.me/p1PehW-d9

So you can imagine the surprise when an entirely different team appeared on the scene! Andover Town are a new team formed from the Sparsholt and Andover Colleges in the town, and even more significantly have agreed to take on the Portway Stadium, to use it for both first-team games but also as a community sporting arena. They’ve signed a 10-year lease, but the ground having been derelict for 2 years needs attention to make it fit for use.

The new club applied for both the Hampshire Premier League, and the Wessex League. My spies at the Wessex League thought the latter application was a means of testing the water to see what would actually be needed for a future tilt at senior football, so I would imagine the club officials were pleasantly surprised when their application was accepted!

The good news meant that they’d need to play their first few games at another ground up to Wessex League standards whilst the Portway was brought back to life. The league have helped by scheduling a disproportionate amount of games away from home, and for the others the club are using the Hampshire FA ground, in the Winklebury Football Complex, near Basingstoke.

Initially three games were scheduled, then reports surfaced that the pitch was too short, and that the condition of the pitch left a lot to be desired, and the club were going to switch this tie to Hythe and Dibden. Fortunately the club has excellent Twitter and Facebook pages so it was easy to get confirmation that the game was to take place as planned.

The stadium is well worth a visit, with its futuristic stand, complete with bridge to the committee rooms! There are a mere 66 seats, odd when the stand could easily hold more, but for this game it kept all present dry, and the sight-lines are excellent. What isn’t excellent, however is the pitch. Frankly, it was a disgrace, with weeds in profusion, and the bumps and ruts inadequately masked by sand. If the Hants FA does employ a groundsman for this otherwise fine facility, I’d question their work as the surface looked like a full season has been played on it, not the first game of the campaign.

Andover made light of the poor surface, and whilst the game was entertaining, it was one-sided. Former Andover FC midfielder Ollie Yates opened the scoring with a superb curling free-kick, providing a neat link to the past. The lead was doubled from the penalty-spot, Lloyd Foot making no mistake after Lewis Benson had been tripped. The half-time score of 3-0 was a fair reflection on play, after Yates turned provider, crossing from the left for Michael Dixon to head home.

The fact that the score remained at 3-0 was more down to Andover losing their scoring touch than the visitors having anything like a renaissance. Both Dixon, and Benson missed glaring chances, that against stronger opposition could have been costly. Nevertheless this was a good win for Town, and will no doubt give them great confidence going forward.

After the final whistle I walked out on to the pitch and had a closer look at the surface. I marvelled on how the players managed to play at all on the surface, and I’m sure all concerned are looking forward to home turf at the Portway. As it stands there is one other fixture scheduled for Winklebury, on 28th September vs US Portsmouth. I hope that the Hampshire FA carry out some remedial work on the pitch before then. Finally here’s the full address if you’d like to visit.

Winklebury Football Complex
Winklebury Way
Basingstoke
Hampshire
RG23 8BF