Ground Number: 349
Saturday 29th March 2014
Sholing 2-2 Eastbourne United Association
FA Vase Semi Final 1st Leg
Originally on this day I had been planning to go to Weston Super Mare with Anwar, as it was one of the few that I had left to do in the Conference South. But he decided to go to Birmingham instead, and knowing that he was keen to do WSM and that I could get help with petrol, I started looking for alternatives. There were a few possibilities, but one that jumped out was the FA Vase Semi Final between Sholing and Eastbourne United. The home team were based in Southampton, so it wasn't a huge way to go and I had enjoyed my Vase games at Hartley Wintney and Ampthill so far this season.
Sholing were originally known as Vospers Thorneycroft up until 2010, or to be more precise VTFC. They were a works team of the British shipbilding company, but when the American owners off loaded that part of the business they needed a new name and chose one the reflected the local district of Southampton that they played in. I think it sounds a lot better and they pay homage to their former guise with their nickname of 'The Boatmen' The club started in the Hampshire League, progressing to the Wessex League in 2004. It took them just 4 seasons to go up again, this time to the Southern League D1 South & West, where they yet again did well. They gained their best ever position of 2nd in 2010/11 but lost out in the playoffs to Frome Town, having led the league for a lot of the season. Despite finishing 7th, they took the decision to resign from the Southern League and return to the Wessex League due to financial constraints. It was certianly paying dividends as they were enjoying their best ever run in the FA Vase, with a potential Wembley trip in the offing. They gave their best ever performances in the FA Cup and FA Trophy last season, getting to the 3rd Qualifying round in both. They are currently 2nd in the Wessex League Premier but with so many games in hand, it will take an almighty collapse to stop them finishing as Champions.
Eastbourne United Association ply their trade at a step lower than their opponents, the same can be said of St Andrews in the other semi final against West Auckland Town. The club were in their current guise thanks to a merger with Shinewater Association in 2003. Since then they had bounced between the Sussex League's 2 Divisions. As Eastbourne United their record finish was 4th in the Isthmian League Division 2 in the 1979-80 season, whilst the year before they had their best run in the FA Cup getting to the 4th Qualifying Round. They included ex England manager Ron Greenwood amongst their former coaches. Like the home side they were enjoying their best ever season in the FA Vase, whilst in the Sussex County League Division 2 they were clear at the top with a game in hand.
I woke up at 8, watching a bit of TV and having a bath. I did my blog form the Chatham game on Thursday, really I should have had it done before but I spent so long looking for and ordering a phone and then the same with the case. I was especially keen to get something with proper protection after what happened to my current phone after dropping it in the week. The branded ones were either of dubious authenticity or stupidly expensive, so I got a rugged looking generic one, and see how it goes. Normally I like to start my blog with history for both of the teams before I even go to the game, but in this case I was just glad to catch up after a busy week and even left late to get it done. I was planning to go down town after posting a programme to someone but the queue in the post office was so stupidly long that I didn't have time and had to go straight there. I did stop at their local Tesco though, picking up some chicken, Irn Bru and a can of cider for the game, as well as some bread and fruit that I needed for home.
I got to the ground about 2 and saw a groundhopper I had bumped into a few times this season. He used to go to Wycombe home games regularly many moons ago but now just goes to random games all the time. I paid a highly reasonable £5 to get in (their normal adult league price) and £2 for a special edition programme. I would have bought some merchandise too, but it was pricey at £10 for scarf - one of the perils of being a smaller club and not being able to order in large quantities I guess. I had a look at the temporary area set up behind the goal and it was selling food from a burger van and cans of booze. As there was nothing special I had one of my cans from Tesco to save a bit of cash, as well as my chicken and crisps. It was a shame that the normal bar was used for corporate people as there might have been something better in there.
I took my place along the side of the pitch and noticed it was in fantastic condition, which is a miracle after the winter we have had. During the game an amusing tannoy announcement went out..... 'Would Barney Cook please go to the entrance of the ground as he has locked his wife out of the house!!' This bought much amusement from the Sholing fans who were really vocal throughout the game, as opposed to their Eastbourne counterparts who I hardly heard all afternoon. As for the game, the match report from the Non League Paper is below.
I was delighted throughout the afternoon to see that Wycombe were drawing 0-0 at Scunthorpe, who were 23 games unbeaten and in the automatic promotion spots. Ainsworth said on Thursday that be was going to play a counter attacking game and to give him his dues, he was 100% right to do that. He's not made the correct decision on lots of occasions this season, but he was spot on today. Northampton and Torquay lost too which helps us out. The only dark spot was Portsmouth winning and going above us, but at least we did our part. There was comprehensive coverage of the Portsmouth game on Radio Solent and they gave a good amount of coverage to the regions non league teams too which is nice to see. The journey home was fine until I got to the A404 going onto the Handy Cross Roundabout. I was delayed for 25 minutes due to a car breaking down in one of the lanes, but still got in just after 7.
SILVERLAKE ARENA is typical of many league grounds nowadays, being that it has pre fabricated stands. They are both on one side - seating for around 200, and standing for 150 It must have been good enough for the next step up as they were in the Southern League D1 South and West last season. I didn't try out of the any facilities as they had bought in external suppliers to cope with the large crowds but in any case they were a really nice club and worth a visit, especially as they are not greedy with the admission price. There wasn't a whole lot near the ground from what I could see, either in the way of pubs or takeaways.