Tuesday, 9 May 2017

#51 Days Park, Swanage Town & Herston

Swanage Town & Herston Reserves 1 Canford United 1
Saturday 6th May 2017, Dorset Football League Division One

As the summer drew ever closer and the English football season was entering it's final few weeks, the family and I were down in Dorset for my birthday weekend and I was looking to cross a particular ground off my list. As my Dad is a Bournemouth native we visit Dorset fairly regularly and last year to escape high street browsing based boredom, I slipped off to check out the ground of local leading lights of the Dorset Premier League; Swanage Town and Herston. Unfortunately it was close season so there was no football to be had but I was especially enamoured by the empty ground and have wanted to see a game there ever since.

This time around though we were in town for the reserves' penultimate game at Days Park against fellow Dorset team Canford United, which utilising his immense local knowledge Dad described as "a posh village by the cliffs". I can't find any information about the team online so that will have to do for today. Canford start the afternoon in 6th while Swans ressies are 10th. We parked up at Days Park and went into the impressive clubhouse for a cider. One thing I noticed was the various bits of #COYS insignia dotted around the place, which tells me Swanage either don't know how hashtags work or they're all really big Tottenham fans.

Days Park is a slightly ramshackle but utterly charming little ground situated on the edge of town next to Days Park playing fields, from which it takes it's name. As you enter the ground through the single turnstile, you're presented with a concrete path that runs behind the goal. I'm pretty sure this piece of hard-standing is a recent addition as I don't remember it being there when I was trespassing last year. My application for world's most boring man is in the post. This path leads up a small set of stairs which takes you up a grass bank where the ground's main stand sits.

The main stand is sandwiched between the three stone sheds that make up the dressing rooms for the opposing players and the referee and another which serves as a tea hatch. The stand itself is made up of a metal roof supported by nine thin iron poles and is elevated slightly as well as being on top of a hill, ensuring an excellent view of the action. A set of concrete steps lead up to the wooden stand which has what looks to all the world like a job lot of plastic school chairs with the legs kicked off screwed onto it. Apart from the middle section that is, which has a handful of incredibly retro looking wooden chairs painted black and white and marked 'directors only'. I say retro because I can't imagine there would be a director at this level that would take themselves so seriously that they would insist on sitting here, swatting away the Bovril-stained peasants who attempted to encroach on this sacred zone.

Back down the hill behind the far goal there is a path made up paving slabs down behind the goal and another small grassy knoll which hosts a couple of benches dedicated to fallen stalwarts of the club, which is a lovely touch. Last but not least on the list is a vast and surprising terrace, seven steps high and spanning half the pitch. It's hard to imagine any point in Swanage's history where this crumbling, weed-infested beauty would have been teaming with supporters, as the highest the club have ever played is the Western Premier from 1987 to 1989 but nevertheless it carries with its mere presence a sense of an enthralling yesteryear where the Swanage old boys would tear chunks out of the likes of other feared and respected Dorset League firms such as the Hamworthy Recreation Rollickers or the Corfe Castle Crushers every other Saturday. Right now though it was deserted and due to the less than stellar structural integrity of the thing, a misjudged lean could send you tumbling into the undergrowth behind where you might at long last unearth the mysteriously lost body of Grizzly Gaz the Parley Sports Punisher (sorry I'll stop this now).

The rest of that side of the ground is dominated by the back of the massive barn-like clubhouse building. Amusingly, when the home players come onto the pitch they have to descend a massive stone staircase from the upstairs changing rooms which seems a bit showy but you've gotta keep them muddy boots out of the bar somehow. Overall the ground left me absolutely besotted. It's bursting with classic features and is well-loved and rustic without being off-puttingly tatty.

In the opening exchanges Canford United look very much the more threatening side and are always troubling the Swanage box. On about 15 minutes they smashed the crossbar from a distance but the deflected ball bounces dangerously inside the goalmouth but the keeper was eventually able to nervously gather it up before any damage was done. A mere two minutes later, another certain goal-scoring opportunity for Canford is denied by a Swansea defender who put in a sliding clearance near the goal line to save his keeper's blushes.

At around this time Dad and I are alerted to one of Days Park's occupational hazards, namely losing a wayward ball in a massive pile of stingers. This happened during the first half and after the responsible player approached the mighty pile of pain-dealing foliage he stopped, looked nervously at the officials and was eventually told not to worry about it and a spare ball was chucked onto the pitch. Now a lot is said these days about the unsung heroes who keep non-league running but I'd like to give a particular doff of the cap to the unused Swanage substitute who was made to go and gather the ball as the game went on around him because his primadonna mate couldn't be arsed to find a dock leaf.

My hero, my mate.

On about the 28th minute there's a dubious tackle against a Canford player who clearly thought he was fouled, causing the home side to momentarily switch off. This lapse in concentration allows a Canford man to wriggle free and lob the keeper from afar, finally notching his side the 1-0 advantage they deserved from the half.

Half-time arrived but a second pint was out of the question as the barman from earlier was now running the line (doff). Instead we headed for the tea hut, receiving the rare ultra-low league treat of being given a mug rather than a paper cup. Scenes. The clouds which had been threatening the match towards the end of the first half finally began to shower us with summer rain, so it was time to find a seat in the main stand without too many holes above it. During the break I passed the time watching a dog that had been tied to the railings outside the tea hut gaze indignantly at it's owner as the rain came down. Eventually the owner took pity and tied him back up under shelter but within five minutes the moist mongrel had wandered back out into the rain in order to chew diligently on a hard clump of mud.

Straight out the blocks we can see a difference from Swanage in the second half. In particular the young number 9 for the home side looks bright up front. He was caught offside four times during the first half (although with the barman and a Canford player running the lines who knows how accurate that was) but made up for it in the second with a well made solo goal to draw Swanage level just 4 minutes into the second. Receiving the ball on the wing he cuts in and flutters past 3 defenders to slot a daisy-cutter across goal and into the bottom corner. I mean daisy-cutter as well, the playing surface being chock-full of the things, maybe the groundsman was on the beach. A well deserved goal for the lad after a frustrating opening half.

With around 5 minutes left, Canford seize the impetus to finish the season on a win when the Swanage keeper comes forward to deal with a loose ball but only manages to tap it into the path of a marauding opposition forward, who now has only him to beat. The forward chases the keeper back to his goal, runs across the mouth looking for his opening and looks certain to score but somehow the keeper makes up for his mistake and is able to paw it out for a corner, winning his side a point in the process.

Canford could be forgiven for being disappointed not to have capitalised on their strong first-half performance and failing to see-off that final chance but Swanage deserved the point for their two moments of brilliance and some tenacious defending. They did a lot better than the first team, who were defeated 2-0 by Gillingham Town Reserves in the Dorset Premier League Cup final which was being played at the same time. This big away game probably explains why there were only about 12 people here today and I would love to come back and see the first team in action some day.

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