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Saturday 2nd September 2017 ko 13.30

Isle of Wight League – Division One

SHANKLIN 2 (Nash 7 14) Sam Hart missed penalty 31

COWES SPORTS RESERVES 2 (Holdsworth 55 83) 

Att c35

Entry FREE

If you’re the kind of person who looks for the cheapest and easiest way to do things, you’d never use the hovercraft to get to the Isle of Wight. The parking in Southsea is just too expensive, and its so much more straightforward to take the car across from Southampton to Cowes. But life isn’t about treading the path most trodden, and it was Robyn’s birthday after all!

There is one little money-saving tip that has popped up since I last used the hovercraft. With the Island Line now being run by South West Trains, a deal has been done with Hovertravel so if you book the hovercraft and the train together, you get a day’s travel on the Island Line for less than a quid!

Now with the Island Line still using the Class 483, 1938 ex London Underground Northern Line trains, due to the lack of clearance in the tunnel after Ryde Esplanade station I fully intended to write this part of the article as a piece on gently crumbling obsolescence. The hovercraft was showing its age, and the railway has all the feel of a heritage line, even if at present it is still part of the national network. However that idea disappeared into the ozone when we arrived at Ryde Hoverport to find the new hovercraft ready for service!

You do rattle down the 8.5 miles of the line passing Brading Town along the way, and to get to the County Ground you have the option of alighting at Lake Station or the terminus at Shanklin.

We picked Lake to alight, it is a slightly shorter walk to the County Ground and there is the unusual feature of crossing the line via a gate on the way. Shanklin’s ground sits right on the border between Lake and Shanklin, and seems to straddle the ambiance between municipal and homespun.

Clearly there used to be far more to the place, even over and above the mementoes of the Island Games’ visit to the Isle of Wight. The route of a track is still visible, and the grass banks are man-made. The place is a mecca for dog walkers, who took time out to stop and watch the game for a few minutes.

Those dogs, or rather their waste, is  part of the reason the club took over the running of the County Ground, via a 99 year lease from the Isle of Wight Council. I do wonder though what the potential here is for the club. On one hand the ground’s footprint is huge, with only the railway the bordering one side and the clubhouse the other. However the place would be difficult to enclose, and as for floodlights.. who knows?

Perhaps progress in an FA ground grading sense isn’t relevant here. To be promoted from the Island League means fortnightly trips over the Solent, a massive undertaking and one that Brading Town found too much for them, dropping out of the Wessex League in 2012. I suspect that the finances of mainland football means that for many clubs the Isle of Wight league remains the limit their ambitions.

The game proved to be far better than the first few minutes suggested. A young looking Cowes Sports side were two-nil down and had lost Harrison McCarthy to a suspected dislocated shoulder, and should have been three down and out of sight when Sam Hart missed (and I do mean missed) penalty. Even then the game looked like a question of how many Shanklin would get, and even with the benefit of hindsight I’m not sure how Cowes found their way back into it.

You tend to see it as either Shanklin easing off, or Cowes finding inspiration, probably it was a bit of both. Either way, it was stirring stuff as Ben Holdsworth scored twice to bring his side a point that had looked unlikely at the start, and by the end could easily been all an incredible away win. What a time to be a neutral!

If it is a slightly longer walk to Shanklin station, it is at least downhill all the way, and I have enough OCD to want to travel the whole length of the Island Line, even if since Beeching the extra few miles through the St Boniface Down tunnel to Ventnor have long since been closed.

At first glance Shanklin does look like a terminus station, just the extra, unused platform gives a clue of glories past. Otherwise it’s a typical sleepy Southern Railways station albeit one with unusual rolling stock!

But the fun lies at the other end of the line, at Ryde. Since the catamaran docks at the end of Ryde Pier, Ryde Pier Head station still exists to serve it. So for now the Island Line’s final treat is to allow you ride the train over water then walk back along the pier tracing the route of the former electric tramway closed in 1969. There aren’t many more unusual ways to get to and from a football match!