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)

When West Auckland Ruled The World

The story behind West Auckland Town’s claim to be two time World Champions is a really fascinating one and tells of a time when English teams playing matches outside of the United Kingdom, were rare indeed.

The story starts with Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, a self made millionaire from his grocery stores and tea merchants. He was a keen sportsman himself, being a regular competitor for the Americas Cup. He was awarded the honour of a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order and had honours bestowed upon him throughout Europe and America. The City of Nîs in Serbia made him an honorary citizen for his work in the catastrophic typhus epidemic of 1915. Earlier he had been honoured by the Italian government and ever humble he asked what he could do in return. The reply from King Victor Emmanuel III was a request to organise an international football tournament to be contested in Turin in 1909.

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Sir Thomas Lipton

The FA’s of England, Germany and Switzerland were contacted and asked to provide a suitable club to take part. The English FA flatly refused permission for any Football League team to compete so it would be an amateur team that was sent over as they did not need the acquiescence of the Football Association. Quite why the honour fell to West Auckland is shrouded in mystery. Local myth suggests Woolwich Arsenal were Lipton’s ideal choice but the letter went astray and was sent to another WAFC instead! More likely is the theory that a trusted employee of Lipton had links to the Northern League and one of their sides was to be selected to represent England.

West Auckland were a team of coal miners and were struggling in their league in 1909. Even though the players’ pit wages would be stopped during the tournament they readily made the trip to Turin.

In the semi final West Auckland defeated Stuttgarter Sportfreunde 2-0 to set up the “World Cup Final” with the representatives from Switzerland, FC Winterthur. The Swiss had overcome a Torino XI (mixed from Torino and then amateur side Juventus) by two goals to one. The men from County Durham beat Winterthur 2-0 in the final with goals from Bob Jones and Jock Jones. The team including memorable names like Charlie “Dirty” Hogg, “Tot” Gubbins and “Ticer” Thomas.

Two years later West Auckland returned to Italy to defend their trophy. FC Zurich were Switzerland’s representatives this time and West Auckland won their semi-final 2-0. In the other semi final Juventus beat Torino.

In the final they drubbed Juventus 6-1 with goals from Bob “Drol” Moore 2, Fred Dunn 2, Andy “Chips” Appleby and Joe Rewcastle. Interesting only two of the team from 1909, Bob Jones and Charlie Hogg, played in both tournaments as the others simply could not afford to lose their wages for a second time.

It was this second competition and the cost of travelling over that actually put West Auckland in severe financial trouble upon their return the north east. A condition set out by Thomas Lipton stated any club winning the trophy twice consecutively could keep it. Heavily indebted, the club actually folded in 1912 and in order to clear their debts, the club reluctantly put the trophy up for sale. It was duly sold for £40 to Mrs Lanchester, the landlady of the Wheatsheaf Hotel which was the club’s headquarters at the time. The club reformed in 1914 and competed in local leagues. It was 1934 before they returned to the Northern League on a permanent basis.

In 1960, Mrs Lanchester was still alive and agreed to sell the trophy back to the club for £100. The trophy was displayed in the Eden Arms owned by Syd Douthwaite, West Auckland’s secretary. However, after the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen in Westminster in March 1966, the trophy was locked away for safekeeping for several years before coming back out of storage for display in the Working Mens Club on Front Street.


In January 1994 the trophy was stolen and despite the offer of a sizeable reward it was never recovered. A replica was funded by public donations and was recreated by Jack Spencer of Sheffield. It remains on display in the Working Mens Club but in a specially constructed security casing. Ironically the original trophy nearly never made it back to England in the first place. The 1909 team managed to leave the trophy on the platform of the Gard du Nord station in Paris and returned home empty handed. Fortunately the club was reunited with their trophy a couple of days later.

In August 2009 the current West Auckland Town team returned to Turin to take part in a rematch of the final against Juventus. The Northern Leaguers were pitted against the under 20 side of the Italian giants and were promptly hammered 7-1. Sadly the club reported that Juventus were less than hospitable towards them, providing them with bowls of crisps as a post match meal and presenting them with a blank plaque and two books on flowers at half-time of the match.

In October 2013, after several delays, a statue commemorating the centenary of this remarkable story was unveiled on the village green, a lofty goal kick away from West Auckland’s Darlington Road ground. The two bronze figures of a footballer and a coal miner sit on top of a stone plinth using stone from the Dunhouse quarry. The two figures share the same face and the height of the kicking foot is said to be the exact height of the mine shaft at the West Auckland Colliery where the players worked in horrendous conditions. The statue cost £167,374 and is the work of sculptor Nigel Boonham. The magnificent statue was jointly unveiled by Sir John Hall, actor Tim Healy who starred in a TV drama “A Captain’s Tale” about the West Auckland story, long before his success in “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”, and ex-England international David Ticer Thomas. It was his grandfather, who bore the same name, who captained the first Auckland team in Italy.

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The story of this amazing period in Northern League football is recounted in a display in the covered terrace at the Darlington Road ground. It is truly refreshing that a club is so reverential to its history, three cheers for West Auckland Town.

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Sunflower (SSVg Velbert 02)

Sport und Spielvereinigung Velbert were originally formed in 1902 as Velberter FC 02. The club underwent a number of mergers and demergers including an enforced wartime merger with Borussia Velbert due to a shortage of players. In the immediate post World War II years the town had two rival clubs SSV and VfB but by 1961 SSV had become the dominant force, competing at the then third tier Amateurliga Niederrhein. VfB struggled and eventually threw the towel in and merged with SSV in 1964.

The merged club rose to the second tier of the Regionalliga West by 1969 but a steady decline followed and by the end of the century Velbert were in the sixth division of German football.The turn of the century saw the club performing better on the field, winning the Oberliga Nordrhein but insufficient financial guarantees saw them denied a promotion to the Regionalliga West in 2003.

Velbert finally climbed to the fourth tier in 2012 winning the Oberliga Niederrhein. Their stay lasted just two seasons although they gained an immediate return winning the Oberliga at the end of last season. The man that guided them to promotion was Lars Leese who after a modest career with minor German clubs suddenly found himself keeping goal for Barnsley during their brief stint in the Premier League. Leese surprisingly left Velbert for DSK Köln in the close season.

Velbert play at the delightful Stadion Sonnenblume which can hold 4,702 people. The stadium was opened in October 1969 and incredibly the whole stadium was built in under five months. Velbert’s first opponents at the new ground were TSV Marl-Hüls. Their second match was against near neighbours SV Wuppertaler, and this set the all time attendance record at the Sonnenblume of 13,000. Prior to the opening of the Sonnenblume Velbert had played most of their existence at a ground called Platz Am Wasserturmhochaus. This venue was considered unsuitable for Regionalliga football and the first seven games of the 1969/70 were spent playing in Ratingen before the Sonnenblume was ready for inauguration.

Known since a 2012 sponsorship deal as the Christopeit Sports Arena the ground boasts a covered grandstand and open terrace one side and a long open terrrace on the far side. This area is segregated and today houses a decent sprinkling of visiting fans from Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. Both ends are curved with ample terracing some of which has seen nature take over with grass covering the concrete steps.

This afternoon’s game is a very one sided affair as Oberhausen dominate proceedings from the off. Aside from a brief period when a towering header from Velbert skipper Niklas Andersen got the hosts back in the game the result was never truly in doubt. Andersen then scuppered his sides chances of a comeback when an injudicious challenge was punished with a second yellow card.

Velbert badge

Saturday November 7th 2015 – Regionalliga West

SSVg Velbert 1 (Andersen 59)

SC Rot-Weiß Oberhausen 4 (Reinert 18, Jansen 27, Steinmetz 65, Engelmann 79)

Att: 640 (at Stadion Sonnenblume)

Entry: €8

Programme: Free

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Velbert prog

Velbert ticket

Men Without Hats (FC 08 Homburg-Saar)

When Homburg appeared on the agenda for this trip I immediately made the association to the famous hat of the same name, sported so dashingly by Al Pacino in The Godfather. However, not untypical of Germany more than one town has the same name and the hats come from Bad Homburg in Hesse rather than this sleepy little town in deepest Saarland.

Football Club Homburg were formed in June 1908 and competed in local leagues before making a steady climb to the Regional second division. The club folded in 1936 but months later a new multi sport club, VfL Homburg, were born and football made a rapid return to the town. During World War II the Nazi party disbanded all associations including all football clubs and leagues. The club were allowed to reform as SV Homburg and were placed in the third division of the Saarland amateur championship which they duly won. At the time the Saarland region was occupied by France and, indeed, Homburg’s near neighbours 1.FC Saarbrücken played in the French Second Division at this time. Saarland was eventually returned to Germany after attempts to become part of France or their own independent state, failed. Saarland competed as its own entity at the 1952 Olympics and in qualification for the 1954 World Cup.

After Saarland returned to Germany, FC Homburg as the club was now known, competed in the Saarland Amateur leagues before climbing up to the 2.Bundesliga. Incredibly they won this league in 1985/86 and ascended to the top tier for the first time in their history. After a two season stay the club were relegated but made an immediate return to 1. Bundesliga when they finished runners up to Fortuna Düsseldorf. Aside from beating Bayern München in the DFB Pokal in 1991 that was the zenith of Homburg’s golden era.

Financial trouble lead to a steep decline and by 1999 Homburg had been refused a licence for Regionalliga football and were demoted to the Oberliga Süd-West. Ups and downs between the fourth and fifth tiers have marked the clubs recent history with their latest ascent to the Regionalliga coming after an Oberliga title win in 2011/12.

Homburg play at the photogenic Waldstadion which boasts a capacity of nearly 22,000. The ground was opened in August 1937 when Jahn Regensburg were the inaugural visitors. The council had engaged architect Willy Schwilling from Ludwigshafen to design a suitable arena for the newly formed VfL Homburg. The old disbanded FC Homburg had previously played on a modest ground at Schlossberg. In its heyday the Waldstadion boasted a 38,000 capacity but an extension to the grandstand in 1990 saw this reduced to the present capacity but providing far more seats than the original stand. The renovations included the current floodlighting system which looked glorious sited in front of tall autumnal leaved trees.

Having been to Hennef 05 last season, another club promoted from an Oberliga, it would appear there is a yawning gap in playing standards between levels four and five in Germany. Tonight’s visitors, Saar 05 Saarbrücken were promoted from the Rheinland-Pfalz/Saar Oberliga last season but have struggled at the higher level, accruing just two points and losing all eight away games so far. They had one chance on this game, a whipped in corner saw a header smack the Homburg crossbar, the visitors wilted after this as if they knew they would not muster anymore chances in the game. In the first half Homburg were awarded a soft penalty when a powerful shot hit a defenders arm and the referee decreed it was a deliberate handball. Kai Hesse dispatched the spot kick with customary teutonic aplomb. After Saar’s solitary goal attempt the hosts duly wrapped up the points when Thierry Steimetz scored a really well taken goal.

Just before the end the stadium announcer declared the crowd to be 1,118 which was greeted with howls of derision by the home fans, there were clearly significantly less than that there tonight on a rainy night in the Waldstadion.

As we slunk out of the ground and into the dark of the night the rain continued. Sure could have done with one of those hats.

Homburg badge

Friday November 5th 2015 – Regionalliga Südwest

FC 08 Homburg-Saar 2 (Hesse pen 32, Steimelz 68)
SV Saar 05 Saarbrücken 0

Att: 1,118 (at Waldstadion)

Entry: €8

Programme: Free

Gallery

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Homburg prog

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