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Tuesday 22nd July 2018 ko 19.15

Pre-season Friendly

VIRGINIA WATER 1 (Griffiths 25)

BANSTEAD ATHLETIC 3 (Holden 11 38 Evered 88og)

Att 40 at The Timbers

15 years ago, when I started groundhopping this is what Step 6 in the South-East looked like. For the most part, a railed off pitch with a clubhouse was all you needed, and it was only when you started heading north that the difference in facilities became obvious. I remember a group of London-based hoppers not coming on one of the early Central Midlands Hops, because they’d decided there’d be all fields. The depressing thought is that I still hear these bleats even now. Remember the Notts-based hopper who told everyone 2-3 years ago that the South Peninsula League Hop would be “All fields”. What? St Austell? Wendron?

Of course the prejudice is based on lack of knowledge, and I tend these days to simply smile and carry on finding the little gems, whilst wading through everything else alone the way.

In the past, The Timbers would have been a fairly standard ground in the Hellenic League’s Division One East but times change, and now the ground grading regulations mean that The Timbers isn’t suitable for the level the club find themselves at. Virginia Water’s first eleven now play at Windsor FC’s Stag Meadow, so a friendly represents just about the only way you’ll see the first team play at home. The club is still very much based here, and all non-first XI fixtures are played here.

It doesn’t take much to see why, even if you manage to miss the planes taking off and landing at Heathrow Airport nearby. This isn’t so much commuter belt, it’s more millionaires’ row and to make it even less likely for the club to get floodlights and a stand, the area is public parkland. The club have a few irons in fires, and the talk is of moving to one of three sites locally, with a timescale of two to three years. A few years ago I’d have inwardly smiled and mentally looked at it as a long-term groundshare. But looking at it now, seeing the likes of CB Hounslow moving and Abbey Rangers improving their ground, I now take the view that anything is possible!

But let’s scroll back for a second, and remember The Timbers. Yes, it’s on convenanted land, and the locals would surely object to improvements, but take away the FA’s regulations and consider what facilities do the club actually need? This is football at the tenth level of the English game, isn’t a well-appointed clubhouse and a railed-off sufficient? A little hard-standing perhaps but why do you need 150 seats when attendances are seldom into treble figures?

Interestingly the club have submitted an application to improve The Timbers but without inclusion of either a stand or floodights. https://www.vwfc.co.uk/copy-of-preparing-for-new-season-2 . Is this a stop-gap or is this a tacit agreement that Step 6 in the long-term will be unobtainable?

Nominally this was a one division mis-match, Banstead who have no ground-grading issues play one division higher in the parallel Combined Counties League Premier Division. The won this simply by being more clinical on front of goal than their hosts but as ever this was a training exercise more than anything else.

In the end this was a visit that boiled down to a club identifying the level of its potential, rather than its ambitions. The groundhopper will tend to look at the lack of pitchside facilities but here that’s only a tiny part of the story. Virginia Water have moved heaven and earth reach where they are now, but over the next few years they’ll find themselves having to understand that Gordian knot of facilities tangled with their ambitions. I wish them well in that.