Hastings United 3 Blackfield & Langley 0 (20th October 2012)
It’s nigh on obligatory for anyone mentioning Hastings to make a 1066 reference, I’d imagine, but at least having visited the Battle site before the game, I have more excuse than most.
The area does bill itself as “1066 Country”, which despite sounding more like a Hank Williams obsessed music station than a tourist destination, sees local businesses only to glad to cash in in any way they can. The “Route 1066” Cafe/diner near the town of Battle, urged people passing through to “Get their chips at 1066”, and anything from there is downhill.
The Battlefield itself was closed due to the rain making its slopes dangerous, although it would have a been a mite more dangerous exactly* 946 years previously, as the actual battle was taking place. The pitch at Hastings United’s Pilot Field wasn’t quite as risky, although the ball-boy who slipped over in pure slapstick fashion, leaving him with a sodden and mud-splattered posterior for the remainder of the game, wouldn’t have been too pleased.
Had Blackfield & Langley scored an early penalty it could have been “one in the eye” for the home side, but unlike Harold, Hastings would be fully equipped to defend their home ground.
And a pretty decent home ground it is too. Pride of place, no doubt, goes to the 1000 seat main stand – a real old fashioned propped roof throwback to an era when all grounds seemed to have a stand that looked like it. While most of the stand still has wooden bench seating, one half has been kitted out with modern maroon tip-up seats, which will no doubt make it look very handsome if they ever finish the whole stand. Even without them, it has an air of grandeur to it which few modern stands of the same size match, with its substantial mass dominating the arena, declaring Pilot field to be a “proper” ground.
From within it also offers a great view, despite a distance to the pitch itself, as has quite a cosy feel despite its inadequacies. The bench seats aren’t great. There are pillars in the way, and a rather unattractive green mesh hangs from the rafters so that the seagulls don’t roost and turn the seats below into a guano farm. Larger crowds would no doubt help – the 800 there today was by far the best of the season – but there was a warmth of character about the stand which gave it a different feel to most grounds at this level.
If this side presented the best Pilot Field had to offer, the other was, structurally at least, the worst. Pilot field is built into the side of a hill. Gaps in the fence behind the main stand, for example, show the back of the stand is on stilts and the slope drops away behind. Opposite the hill rises up to an embankment which curves high around the ground. If terraced it would hold several thousand and be mightily impressive, but covered in lumpy grass and cordoned off by fences saying you must keep out, it does look a little forlorn. On the plus side it does give the side a sense of enclosure that would otherwise not be there, and incredibly it does offer a small bit of terrace right at the top of the slope. That sliver of terrace offers an excellent view, if leaving you somewhat detached from the proceedings, as if you were sneakily watching over a wall. Further along the top of the slope, people stood on the patio of a social club next door were doing exactly that.
At one end the ground was the entrance, marked by a smart looking turnstile block, with “Hastings United Football club” picked out on an ironwork arch, and a turnstile that couldn’t have been stiffer had it taken a whole packet of viagra.
With the curve of the hill continuing round this end, a large covered terrace stood solidly behind this goal, again providing a view far better than you normally get at this level. Until relatively recently it had a very similar neighbour to its left, and a “Welcome to Hastings Utd Football Club” banner tacked on to the remaining slope, with more messy fencing, seems a poor substitute.
Since then though, on the other side of the terrace, a new clubhouse has been built. The actual bar might be small and boxy, and they don’t serve Guinness, but anywhere where they not only allow you to take beers out to the ground, but serve it in stiff plastic glasses rather than those horrible flimsy ones, deserves some credit.
On three sides the spectator accommodation is a fair distance from the pitch, in an oval round the ground. The perimeter is also used as an exit from the small (players & officials only) car park. Signs urge a 10 mph speed limit lest any players fancy trying their hand at rally style power-sliding round past the West Terrace.
The car park itself is behind the East goal, meaning this end is hard up against the pitch, with just a small three-step covered terrace filling this end. With Hastings kicking towards this goal in the first half, it was moderately occupied, if not actually filled, by Hastings’ more vocal contingent.
In a very even opening, with no obvious sign of there being two divisions between the teams, the away side ought to have taken the lead early on. A poor challenge on a slippery pitch led to a penalty for Blackfield & Langley, but it was hit wildly, so high it was more in danger of taking out a few passing seagulls than getting anywhere near the net.
With teams looking to pull of a “cup shock” as Blackfield & Langley certainly were, it’s easy to slip into the cliche of wondering whether they’ll be made to pay for such a miss. Just three minutes later that was proved right. A Hastings set-piece was stopped on the line, but not cleared, and Hastings striker Zac Attwood was on hand to poach in the rebound from about a metre out.
It got worse for the Wessex League side eight minutes later. Hastings had started picking out passes and getting behind their defence with worrying ease, and one such ball picked out a winger, and his unchallenged run to the byline inside the box allowed a simple cut back and finish to make it 2-0. In truth the score was harsh on the away side, as Blackfield & Langley continued to play a full part of the game.
That full part was pretty much snuffed out early in the second half, with a set-piece being powerfully headed in on 52 minutes, to all but seal Hastings’ place in the hat for the next round. From there perhaps both teams would have been a little disappointed not to have scored afterwards. The home side certainly had openings, but were rather wasteful when well placed. The away side were looking for the consolation goal their play probably deserved, and to give their green and white clad away followers something to cheer. One of their number decided to strip off to just a couple of green comedy wigs, wearing one on his head, and another somewhere else to protect his modesty.
So, unlike 946 years ago, it was the home team declaring victory, even if some of the more Anglo-Saxon expressions of victory from an element of the home support left a little to be desired. Telling fans of a County League level club who’d brought the equivalent of an entire home gate nearly 120 miles that “your support is f***ing shit” and to “f*** off back to Langley” did make you wish that a few Norman archers could come back, just to do one last job.
* the actual date of the battle is the 14 of October, not the 20th, but assuming that date was using the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one, the 6 days of error between the two that existed in 1066 means that the 14th ought to have really been the 20th, hence exactly 946 years…I think.