Notes From A Small Island 5 – Isle of Wight

Football came relatively early to the Isle of Wight and, undoubtedly, Cowes were one of the first organised clubs on the island, being formed in 1881. However, the club failed to complete the 1899/1900 Southern League season, disbanding after a home League game against Tottenham Hotspur, which Cowes lost 6-1. The club was resurrected as the existing Cowes White Star club took over the Cowes name in 1903 and bought football back to the Brooklyn Ground in Park Road which boasted a stand to house 700 people. The pitch had a notorious slope but this had been levelled in 1898. Sadly, by 1912 the landlord wanted to build houses at Brooklyn so the club had to look for a new site in the Northwood Park area of the town. The resulting move to their current ground at Westwood Park in 1912 proved hugely beneficial and Cowes saw crowds regularly surpass four figures for Hampshire County Division matches. In 1917 Westwood hosted a match between Cowes and a Portsmouth ladies team, it was agreed the men’s team would play the match with their hands clasped behind their backs!

The current stand at Westwood Park was built in the mid 1920’s, apparently by local shipbuilders who who had been given 24 hours notice to erect it ahead of a match against Newport. Prior to then, a small stand with bench seating had been erected on the opposite side. It is recorded that the 1926 Good Friday match at Westwood against Ryde, attracted 3,400 people. In a smart move Cowes purchased the freehold of Westwood Park in 1945 for £665. In the 1980’s Cowes merged with Whites Sports to become Cowes Sports.

Cowes Sports

Newport were relatively late to the burgeoning growth of football on the island. The first mention of the club comes in January 1888 when they lost a game against Lugley House School. Newport moved to Church Litten, then called Well’s Field, around 1898 and erected a grandstand in 1920. The club bought the ground from Winchester College for £3,000 in 1924. Football was proving so popular the stand had to be extended further in 1928. The ground was big enough to allow 6,000 people to gather for the visit of Watford in the FA Cup in 1956. The pitch was eventually turned around ninety degrees meaning the main stand was behind the goal. By 1988 the club had accepted £2.5 million for the land which became a Morrisons supermarket, and a purpose built ground at St George’s Park. In a remarkable parallel to their Church Litten departure, the St George’s Park ground had only just had it’s 30th birthday, when the club were ousted from it at the end of the 2018/2019 campaign.

St.George’s Park, former home of Newport

The club were promised a new ground by the developers and entered into a temporary groundshare at East Cowes Victoria Athletic. Newport’s new ground, to be called WhiteFibre Park, is to be built near the Racecourse Roundabout between Newport and Wootton Bridge but the start has been delayed due to the global pandemic. The St.George’s Park Stadium lies derelict, a new Asda Superstore has been built next door and McDonald’s and Wickes have stated their intention to open units on the site of the old ground.

East Cowes Victoria Athletic were formed in 1885, and originally played at the Recreation Ground in York Avenue and then at the field near Norris Castle. Similar to Cowes they lost the use of their ground in 1912 and after considering a return to York Avenue they nearly moved to the Tower Road Recreation Ground but objections were raised by the neighbouring hospital. They then secured land at Beatrice Avenue and built a wooden grandstand which was replaced until the current stand in the mid 1990’s.

Newport playing a home game at East Cowes Victoria Athletic’s Beatrice Avenue ground

For clubs that don’t play in mainland leagues, the Isle of Wight league was formed in September 1898 with East Cowes Victoria Athletic being crowned inaugural champions. At that time Cowes, Ryde and Sandown Bay were competing on the mainland as members were of the Southern League. There had been organised football on the island before this with ad hoc leagues operating in both Cowes and Ryde featuring long lost teams such as Osborne Corinthians, Cowes St Mary’s Guild, Newport Excelsiors and St Helen’s Blue Star. It is perhaps also worth noting, as it was reported in the County Press newspaper, that at Christmas 1892 a match had taken place at Appuldurcombe between the Total Abstainers and the Moderate Drinkers!

The Isle of Wight league started with seventeen teams, of which founding members Brading Town, Bembridge and Ventnor still compete in the competition while fellow founders, East Cowes Victoria Athletic and Newport have competed in mainland leagues for many years.

One of the enduring memories of the Isle of Wight League came from Professor Barnes Wallis, inventor of the “Dambuster” bouncing bomb which had such a pivotal impact on World War II. As a young man in the 1920’s he worked for the aircraft manufacturer Saunders-Roe and latter in life he recalled a game involving the works team being played in torrential rain, possibly at Wroxall (his recall wasn’t clear and alas there was no record of whether he played in the game or was a spectator, although island folklore says he definitely played island football in his younger days). During the game the already heavy leather ball had become waterlogged and the pitch so awash with water a hefty clearance saw the ball bounce continuously across the surface of the water. He said the memory stayed with him and recalled how a heavy spherical object had its path controlled by repeatedly striking water was the inspiration for his bouncing bomb.

The league membership has fluctuated greatly over the years with in excess of 500 teams having participated in the competition. Sides like Long Common,Totland Bay, Ryde St John’s, Shanklin Rangers, Royal Ulster Rifles, Saro Sports, Cowes Denmark Road Old Boys and works teams like Plessey (electronics), J.Arthur Dixon (greetings cards), Ratseys (sailmakers) and the British Hovercraft Corporation have come and gone.

Currently the Isle of Wight League consists of two divisions of 23 clubs plus the reserves of Cowes Sports and the “A” team of Newport. Then there are two further Combination Leagues for the reserve and “A” teams of Isle of Wight League teams. Whilst many member clubs play on public parks with spartan facilities in this article I will highlight some of the more interesting grounds from the Isle of Wight League.

Brading Town have played at Vicarage Lane since their formation in 1871 although in the early days they also used a pitch at Beech Grove. Life at Vicarage Lane wasn’t always easy, for season 1938/39 the club had decided to charge admission for the first time, to which the Archdeacon would only give his consent if the club erected a canvas screen to block visibility of the pitch from the graveyard. The club now boast one of the best facilities in the island league mainly due to their lengthy stint in Hampshire/Wessex Leagues between 1973 and 2012. The clubhouse was built in the 1980’s and around the same time the floodlights were acquired from Erith & Belvedere. In more recent years the ramshackle old wooden cover has been replaced with modern modular units on either side of the pitch. In 2008 Vicarage Lane was renamed The Peter Henry Ground following the passing of a club stalwart who had given 62 unbroken years of service to the club.

Brading Town

Ryde Saints are the current incumbents of the Smallbrook Stadium in Ryde, primarily a speedway venue used by the Wight Warriors team. The traditional Ryde team, Ryde Sports, were formed in 1888 and enjoyed lengthy spells in the Hampshire League and a single season, 1898/99, in the Southern League. The club’s demise was precipitated by a move from their traditional home at Partlands which was sold to developers in 1990. The Smallbrook Stadium is somewhat out of town and despite arranging high profile friendlies against the likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton, the club struggled financially and failed to complete the 1997/98 season. They were briefly replaced by Ryde ‘98 but they too fell by the wayside. The stadium has one very long shallow stand more suited to watching speedway than football. Ryde Saints also struggle to attract support which must be a concern for of the island’s traditional footballing hotbeds.

Ryde Saints

Whitecroft & Barton Sports play at the Whitecroft Sports Ground and have won the last five completed Division One titles. Their ground, opened in 1904, is situated off Sandy Lane and boasts a sizeable clubhouse with a shallow seated stand attached to it. The ground has fine views of the listed clocktower of the former Whitecroft asylum.

Whitecroft & Barton Sports

Moving to the south of the island and the town of Ventnor provides stunning vistas of the English Channel. Ventnor FC play at the Watcombe Bottom Sports Centre which also provides facilities for Ventnor Rugby Club and Rew Valley Youth Football Club. Although Ventnor was used as a venue in the 1993 Island Games it wasn’t used during the 2011 Games, despite the football pitch having decent cover on the sizeable banking.

Ventnor

The best of the grounds to the east of the island is to be found in Seaview. The club are one of the oldest on the island with a history dating back to 1890 when they played on a field off Seagrove Manor Road before moving to Holgate Farm in 1935. The old wooden pavilion at the current ground, Seaview Park, was destroyed by fire in December 1974 and the current Seagrove Pavilion was opened the following year with the help of a fund-raising match against Portsmouth. It is a quite magnificent and well maintained structure, and the ground is augmented further by a large covered stand which replaced a smaller wooden stand. As if this venue couldn’t be any more perfect the far end provides stunning views of the English Channel.

Seaview

The western town of Freshwater has been represented by a number of clubs in the Isle of Wight League including Royal Garrison Artillery Freshwater and Freshwater Royal Artillery who were champions in 1906/07. However, the best known town team is West Wight who started life at Freshwater Comrades. In 1922 the club were asked by the Freshwater British Legion to drop the Comrades suffix as the Comrades of the Great War Society from where they had taken their name, had amalgamated with other associations to become the Royal British Legion. The club elected to change the name to West Wight Athletic. The Camp Road ground was railed off with a decent stand, largely due to a stint in the Hampshire League from the mid 1980’s. The old stand has since been replaced with a more modest structure, but one that will still keep spectators dry when needed.

West Wight

Other Isle of Wight League venues worthy of mention despite their lack of spectator accommodation are Shanklin’s County Ground, a substantial railed off venue which recently saw upgrading work being carried out to the clubhouse. Oakfield’s Recreation Ground is also a railed off pitch but has the added bonus of a dramatic backdrop of hillside houses. Sandown & Lake now use the Fairway Sports Complex having lost their traditional ground at Fairway Park which boasted a sizeable wooden grandstand.

Oakfield
Shanklin’s County Ground

While most other clubs play in public parks, the Clatterford Recreation Ground, home to Carisbrooke United, is no ordinary public park. While it is bereft of any football furniture of note it affords quite stunning views of the neighbouring castle parts of which date back to the twelfth century.

Carisbrooke United

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2020 issue of Groundtastic Magazine (Issue No.103)

A Tale Of The Unexpected (Lowland League Groundhop 2016)

The second Scottish Lowland League groundhop got underway at Raydale Park home of phoenix club Gretna 2008. The old club spectacularly imploded when owner Brooks Mileson’s money stopped funding the clubs’ meteoric rise to the Scottish Premier League. While the “Boy’s Own” goalscoring exploits of Doctor Kenny Deuchar and his teammates are just a fading memory, the current club have manfully persisted in trying to maintain a football presence in the border town.

Raydale Park had been opened in 1946 and was only a modest ground when Gretna played in the English non-league pyramid. English businessman Brooks Mileson took over the club in 2002 after it had been elected into the Scottish Football League in place of Airdrie. Mileson had made a fortune from both construction and insurance and he pumped large sums of money into his new project. Raydale Park could not keep up with the teams’ progress and a plan to move to an “eco stadium” in neighbouring Gretna Green came to nothing. Gretna played their last season,2007/08, at Motherwell’s Fir Park before Mileson fell ill and the club went out of business.

Gretna 2008 rose from the ashes and initially played at Everholm before gaining security of tenure at Raydale when it was sold to the Raydale Community Partnership. The ground has not aged particularly well with the pitch length cover on the far side now roofless. The main feature is the stand behind the goal, a large modern cover build over temporary bleacher style seating. The main stand and dressing rooms remain on the near side.

Tonight’s game against near neighbours Dalbeattie Star is an attritional affair with two very evenly matched teams bludgeoning each other into submission, two fine displays of goalkeeping ensured the scorers were not troubled in this game.

Friday March 11th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League 

Gretna (2008) 0

Dalbeattie Star 0

Att: 366 (at Raydale Park)

The hop moved east for days two and three to the fine city of Edinburgh and its surrounding area.

Whitehill Welfare’s Ferguson Park got the day underway with Gala Fairydean Rovers providing the opposition. The hosts were formed in 1953 and went on to dominate the East of Scotland League with a record 16 championship wins, the club also being more than a match for Scottish League opposition in the Scottish Cup. The club is based in the small Midlothian village of Rosewell and were formed by staff of the Whitehill Colliery which was closed only eight years after the clubs formation.

The village originally had two clubs, junior outfit Rosewell Rosedale played on a field in the centre of town which was eventually swallowed up for housing. Both clubs needed a new home and Ferguson Park was opened having been named after the farmer who supplied the turf for the new ground. The Rosedale club folded in 1957 leaving Whitehill Welfare as the sole occupants. The ground has undergone extensive modernisation since the old pavilion was demolished in 1997 and is now a very well presented ground with a sizeable seated stand.

The game is a one sided affair with three very high quality goals from the hosts being punctuated by our very own “Rosewell Incident” when Gala’s captain, Jamie Gibson, reacted to a heavy challenge by punching the aggressor and earning himself a straight red card. Not a good day for the men from the “San Siro”.

Saturday March 12th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League

Whitehill Welfare 3 (Connolly 17, Muir 29, Devlin 76)

Gala Fairydean Rovers 0

Att: 324 (at Ferguson Park)

The hop then moved east to Prestonpans where things to a decidedly unexpected turn. Upon arrival at Pennypit Park visibly distraught club officials greeted us with the terrible news that the referee had called the game off due to a small area of “soft” turf near the halfway line that he deemed was unsafe. Despite appeals to reconsider the man was not for turning and months of planning and not inconsiderable financial outlay were cast asunder by one over zealous official.

March 16 082

After heartfelt commiserations were extended attention turned to an alternative fixture for the afternoon slot. Broxburn, Bonnyrigg Rose, Dalkeith Thistle, Linlithgow Rose and Civil Service Strollers were the choice of some but I opted for nearby Tranent of the East Region Juniors.

Forrester’s Park has a smart new pavilion and 3G facilities next to the old ground which has a large cover on one side of the venue. A healthy crowd gather and the pitch is immaculate, being barely three miles away from poor old Preston Athletic. Crucially, of course, Tranent is on higher ground than its coastal neighbour.

The hosts are top of the table and give their toothless opponents a real mauling, scoring some terrifically well worked goals. An enjoyable if somewhat unexpected digression.

Saturday March 12th 2016 – East Region (South)

Tranent Juniors 6 (Fisher 5, McMillan 10,23,37, Manion 72,90)

Easthouses Lily MW 0

Att:185 (at Forrester’s Park)

Back in the heart of the city for the 5pm kick off at Ainslie Park a massive modern sports complex and home to inaugural Lowland League champions The Spartans.

The pitch us state of the art 3G and is accompanied by a sizeable stand and impressive clubhouse with an elevated viewing veranda. The homogeny of it all coupled with some petty and over officious stewarding make this a slightly sterile experience. It is a certainly a far cry from the homely City Park which I visited in 1998 and had been Spartans home ground between 1976 and 2009. Strangely Spartans’ record gate at City Park came just three years before its demise when 3,346 watched a Scottish Cup tie against St.Mirren.

In 2008 with Ainslie Park still a year away from inauguration Spartans applied to take the place of the ill-fated Gretna in the Scottish Football League. Unsurprisingly given the ageing facilities at City Park, Spartans were overlooked in favour of electing Annan Athletic.

Similar to the Gretna match the previous night the hosts and visitors Stirling University pretty much cancelled each other out until Keith Murray scored a sucker punch winner on the stroke of full time.

Saturday March 12th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League

Spartans 1 (Murray 90)

Stirling University 0

Att:435 (at Ainslie Park)

The final match of a gruelling day came at the magnificently fading splendour of the Meadowbank Stadium. Built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games it is a concrete lovers paradise. Despite renovations in the mid and late 1990’s this beast of stadium (capacity 16,500 with 7,500 seats) looks like it has suffered from a lack of investment. The erstwhile home of Ferranti and Meadowbank Thistle has been earmarked for demolition or redevelopment since 2006, however the favoured Sighthill Stadium project ran into problems and the council are currently reconsidering options for this under occupied venue.

The current club are a 1986 reformation of a club original formed in 1928. The old club had a dismal spell in the Scottish Football League before the war after they had beaten Nithsdale Wanderers in a ballot to replace Clydebank in the Scottish League in 1931.

The club played at City Park but in 1955 were refused a new lease and went in immediate abeyance. Eleven years later a club called Postal United were formed and in 1986 they successfully applied to use the long lost name of Edinburgh City. The club has twice unsuccessfully applied for Scottish Football League status in 2002 and 2008 following the liquidation of Airdrieonians and Gretna. However, with a promotion route now available to the Scottish Football League, via a Highland and Lowland League play off process, the club must have a very good chance of returning Scottish League football to this ailing leviathan of a venue.

Saturday March 12th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League

Edinburgh City 1 (Paterson 67)

East Kilbride 1 (Hastings 24)

Att: 418 (at Meadowbank Stadium)

I was taken by Meadowbank’s fading star that I went back the following morning for some daylight shots.

Sunday bought just the one game in the delightful surroundings of Peffermill, the home since 1978 of Edinburgh University. The football club has been sectioned off from an impressive looking hockey venue and is now called East Peffermill. Behind the modern modular seating unit is the brooding south side of Arthur’s Seat while to the south were stunning views of the Pentland Hills on what was a pleasantly mild morning. The club are most welcoming and friendly and a perfect remedy to yesterday’s trials and tribulations.

The University formed its football section in 1878 and the club is steeped in history and success, being the most successful University side in Scotland. They played at Corstorphine, Craiglockhart and Canal Field before acquiring the land which became Peffermill Playing Field. Initially it was little more than a field with changing rooms but recent investment has given the club a most acceptable venue with a 3G training pitch as well.

The hosts race into an early two goal lead with great finishes from Nathan Evans and the impressive Jack Guthrie. A wonder strike from Selkirk’s Ross King then reduced the arrears before half time. The visitors have the hugely experienced former Hibs, Birmingham City, Lokomotiv Moscow and Tom Tomsk striker Garry O’Connor in their team and despite being a little on the heavy side, his endeavour bought a well deserved equaliser four minutes from time. The home side pressed for a winner and when the visiting goalkeeper dropped a routine cross at the feet of Ross Patterson the winger didn’t need to be asked twice to notch the winning goal.

Sunday March 13th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League

Edinburgh University 3 (Evans 7, Guthrie 14, Patterson 88)

Selkirk 2 (King 19, O’Connor 86)

Att: 294 (at East Peffermill)

 

North Berks League Hop 2015

The North Berkshire League has really always been a village league with the strict ruling that member clubs must be situated within a 20 mile radius of Steventon Green, however, latterly the burgeoning reputation for the League has seen it take in various waifs and strays that have fallen on hard times following exploits at a higher level. Similarly to last year, the 2015 Groundhop commenced with an additional Friday night game at one of the few floodlit grounds in the League. Last season it was Abingdon Town that provided the venue for the additional game to the main event and this time they were the opponents for another club that had also chosen to drop out of the Hellenic League.

Friday September 18th 2015 – North Berks League Div.1

Wallingford Town (0) 0

Abingdon Town (0) 1 (Pitson 60)

Attendance: 125 (at Hithercroft Sports Park)

A very tight encounter with two very evenly matched sides looked initially as if both sides would cancel each other out particularly as both goalkeepers were in fine form. However, it was the visitors that took the points when Steve Pitson netted with aplomb when Wallingford were caught on a swift counter attack.

Hithercroft has changed considerably in recent years notably the old main stand has been replaced by the increasingly ubiquitous Arena Seating modular unit. The club have prepared well and the old double decker bus converted into a bar downstairs and an elevated viewing gallery upstairs is every bit as genial as it is quirky. A crowd of 125 isn’t bad at all considering the ground had been “hopped” in the inaugural North Berks hop and the considerable attraction of the televised England v Fiji opening game of the Rugby World Cup.

Sept 2015 037

Sept 2015 040

Sept 2015 041

Saturday September 19th 2015 – North Berks League Div.2 (Kick-off: 10.30am)

Hanney United (2) 4 (J.Bishop pen 16, 41, Woodside 77, Webster og 88)

Marcham (2) 2 (Larman 7, Dodds 24)

Attendance: 171 (at War Memorial Ground)

Hanney originally played at The Meads in West Hanney before the War Memorial Hall was built in the 1970’s. The clubs pitch was originally at the far end of the cricket field but in recent years the club has used a pitch to the right of the cricket pitch. The club put on a grand opening to the day’s events making superb use of limited facilities to make sure everyone is fed with breakfast followed by enough cake to give Mr Kipling a run for his money. The North Berks Cup is on display as well as a fascinating display of the clubs history which included winning this handsome trophy in four consecutive seasons in the 1940’s. Heady days for Hanney.

The game itself is an entertaining affair with the opponents Marcham out of the traps the quicker and looking stronger than their hosts. However, an equaliser for the hosts before half time proved pivotal and Hanney dominated the second half as Marcham seemed to run out of puff.

Sept 2015 048

Hanney

Sept 2015 050

Saturday September 19th 2015 – North Berks League Div.3 (Kick-off: 13.30pm)

Grove Rangers (4) 4 (Pickering 2, Dix 18, Cramp 21, 23)

Benson Lions (0) 1 (Radcliffe 88)

Attendance: 154 (at Cane Lane)

Grove Rangers have a lengthy history dating back to the turn of the 20th Century and usually play on the pitch behind the clubhouse of Grove Rugby Club. With the oval ball guys also having a big match on today the football club were asked to use the “back pitch” ironically their original pitch often called Wasbrough Field. Still the unexpected change of venue gave the added bonus of the statue of a DeHavilland Venom close by which marks the runway of a wartime RAF base.

The hosts take the lead within two minutes of the start of the game and when three more quickly follow the watching crowd begin to fear for the visitors shorn of many regulars due to active service. However two half time changes, a late arriving centre back and outfield player taking over in goal from another outfield player had a steadying effect and Benson escaped further punishment. Indeed their veteran player/manager Jon Radcliffe earned a late cheer when he scored a cracking goal which was celebrated in equally fine style.

Sept 2015 054

Sept 2015 059

Sept 2015 056

Saturday September 19th 2015 – North Berks League Div.1 (Kick-off: 16.30pm)

East Hendred (0) 1 (Rowe 48)

Long Wittenham Athletic (1) 1 (Cheong 25)

Attendance: 204 (at Mill Lane)

Back into the top division for the days’ final encounter and the step up shows with both sides looking fitter and faster. Another very even encounter eschews on a good service which sloped alarming downhill in the final third of the pitch at the far end. A goalkeeper taking a goal kick could only be seen from the waist up from the pavilion end such is the camber of the pitch at that end. The match was for the James Rennie Memorial Trophy and a draw was just about the right result although the hosts missed several chances in the second half.

The club put on a great event with curry and Bolognese available as well as yet another cake stall (oh I couldn’t possibly…well ok then just a small piece). The club live up to their nickname of The Owls by having a local expert conduct a display with a collection of different owls, one of which was purported to be 36 years old. East Hendred were originally formed in 1912 but folded in 1982 due to a lack of volunteers. Fortunately they reformed in 1994 and gained promotion to the top division last season having finished runners up in Division 2. On today’s display they certainly do not look out of place in the top tier.

Sept 2015 062

Sept 2015 067

Sept 2015 074