Friday, 30 December 2011

A Look Back At 2011

2011. It's been a fantastic year for AFC Totton. Full of lots of ups and very few downs, if any.

The club began the year in the Zamaretto League South & West Division, and will finish it in the rebranded Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division vying for promotion to the Blue Square Bet South (Conference South).  It's a lot of sponsorship to get through, I know. It don't half make it a chore to read and, for me, write.

League winner's shield
2011 has seen The Mighty Stags win the South & West Division title, the Hampshire Senior Cup (for the second year running), and the Zamaretto Southern League Fair Play Trophy. There were also individual honours for Mike Gosney (Southern League Golden Boot with 36 goals) and Michael Charles (Hampshire Senior Cup Golden Boot with 6 goals). As well as this, Totton's new Testwood Stadium home was awarded the trophy for 'Best New Non-League Ground in England'.

The Testwood Stadium. There's something we can talk about. The new ground is a significant chapter in the club's history. Having played at Testwood Park since 1933, the club played their first game at the Testwood Stadium on the 19th of February 2011, christening the new turf with a 5-1 win over Paulton Rovers. Mike Gosney had the honour of scoring the first ever goal at the new ground, albeit in slightly unusual circumstances, as his 7th minute corner went straight into the net off the keeper.

The new home of AFC Totton: Testwood Stadium

In fact, if it weren't for a matter of a few inches, I wouldn't even be talking about the new ground in this article as it would have been opened in 2010. The club should have moved into the new ground a few months earlier than they did, but the pitch was made slightly smaller than FA rules and regulations would allow them to play on. A few blades of grass later, we were good to go.

Anyway, after the 5-1 victory over Paulton Rovers, Totton went on to win 10 of their remaining 13 games of the season, culminating in a 1-0 win against Gosport Borough at Privett Park on the final day of the season to clinch the league title. The Totton fans behind the goal spilled onto the pitch at the sound of the referee's full time whistle to celebrate with the players and a few bottles of bubbly!
Totton fans swarm onto the pitch after winning the league
With the league campaign behind them, Totton's season ended with the Hampshire Senior Cup final at St Mary's Stadium, home of Southampton FC. The club had won the trophy the previous season, beating Aldershot Town 4-0 in the final at AFC Bournemouth's Dean Court. This time the opposition was Sholing. The Southampton based team were looking for revenge after losing out to Totton in the title race.

Sholing took the lead with a cracking goal from Lee Wort from about 20 yards. Totton equalised just before half time when Mike Gosney's free kick was turned in by Michael Charles and then Gosney gave The Stags the lead less than a minute after the restart with a thunderous strike from the edge of the box that hit the roof of the net. Charles made sure of victory in added time with a cool finish under the keeper. Full time: AFC Totton 3-1 Sholing.

The Totton players celebrate winning the Hampshire Senior Cup

So Totton retained the Hampshire Senior Cup having only won it for the first time the previous season, thus completing a thoroughly impressive league and cup double. The Southern Premier League awaited Totton, while Sholing were left to fight another year in the South & West Division after losing the play-off final 1-0 to Frome Town who subsequently joined Totton in the Southern Premier.

The Hampshire Senior Cup final marked the end of Michael Green's Totton career as the talented left back, 22, was signed on a free transfer by League Two side Port Vale. Other players to leave Totton in the summer of '11 were young winger Tom Price who went to Poole Town, and midfielder Ryan Scott who was forced to retire through injury.

As for signings, in came left back Tom Baddeley, versatile defender Matt Oldring, right back Ryan Hill (returning for a second spell at Totton), and midfielder James Coutts. The club also signed winger David Abe after he impressed in a pre-season win away at Romsey Town. However, since that day, no one has seen or heard anything of him. It's as if he has just vanished off the face of the Earth...

Pre-season went pretty well for Totton. After a bland 1-1 draw away at Blackfield & Langley in a game made up entirely of reserve players, youth players and trialists, Totton welcomed a Southampton under-21 side to the Testwood Stadium. Amongst the young ranks of the Saints was contract rebel Jason Puncheon. The midfielder wanted to leave St Mary's, with Rangers, QPR and Millwall amongst those interested. So he was probably with the youth team players as punishment for his shenanigans.

Southampton won 1-0 thanks to Andy Robinson's first half goal. So Jason Puncheon, a player that had scored in the Premier League against Everton and Chelsea on loan at Blackpool last season, was kept at bay by the Totton defence. Going by this evidence, we can conclude that Jamie Whisken, Ian Richardson and Grant Porter are better than John Terry, David Luiz and Petr Cech.

Who needs 'em?
Totton went the rest of pre-season unbeaten (not including the Linden Homes Tournament were an under-strength side lost 1-0 to Thatcham Town). Wins over Farnborough (3-2), Romsey Town (4-1) and Winchester City (2-1), and a 2-2 draw with Salisbury City, made for a pretty successful pre-season programme.

The first game of the season was away at Arlesey Town who, like Totton, were promoted to the Southern Premier last season, winning the Central Division. Being at the same level as Totton the season before, Arlesey were a bit of an unknown quantity. Would the two teams be evenly matched or would one outshine the other? The answer came at full time as Totton won 2-0.

After that though, the real test began. These were now all teams which were established at this level. How would Totton shape up against these teams? Could they compete at this level? Evidently, they could. After beating Arlesey, Totton swept aside Oxford City (6-0), Swindon Supermarine (4-0) and Hemel Hempstead Town (3-0). 4 games into the season and The Stags were top of the table with a record of: Won 4, scored 15, conceded 0.
Lovely weather for it. Totton v Swindon Supermarine.
However, all good things must come to an end and Totton came back down to Earth with a bump as they went down 2-1 away at Leamington despite taking the lead. After this though, Totton won their next 4 games including impressive victories over former Conference side Weymouth and St Albans City who had played in the Conference South the season before.

8 of Totton's next 13 games were cup games of one form or another. Fleet Town (2-0), Clevedon Town (2-1), Weymouth (again) (4-2) and Hanworth Villa (3-2) were all dispatched in Qualifying Rounds on the way to achieving the club's first ever appearance in the FA Cup First Round Proper. The Clevedon game marked Ryan Scott's surprise return from football retirement after it turned out that his injury was not as bad as originally feared. Scott made an immediate impact, scoring the winning goal (well okay, it was an own goal, but it was his shot that caused it), against Clevedon.

The Stags were paired with Northern Premier League side Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup First Round Proper and many expected a tight affair with no team really standing out as clear favourites. As it turned out, Totton made all sorts of history as they demolished Bradford 8-1 to set up a Second Round tie against League Two Bristol Rovers on December 4th. They became the first post-war non-league side to score 8 in the FA Cup Proper Rounds, Stefan Brown came off the bench to score the fastest hat-trick by a substitute in the history of the FA Cup, it was Bradford PA's biggest ever defeat in the competition and a record crowd of 2,315 packed into the Testwood Stadium for the match. You can see all the goals from the game in the video below.

Totton played Weymouth (again!) in the 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Trophy in October but went down 3-2. But enough about Weymouth, we've got them to come (AGAIN!!!) in the away league fixture in January. (Cosmic). Let's get back to the FA Cup, and the small matter of Totton's first ever competitive fixture against Football League opposition.

The game was televised live on ITV1 and all the big names were there to cover it. Adrian Chiles, Gareth Southgate and Andy Townsend graced the humble surroundings of the Testwood Stadium to present, talk about and analyse the game, while up in the gantry Clive Tyldesley and Jim Beglin were the commentators. There haven't been names that big at Totton since Iain Brunnschweiler.

Gold dust.
Unfortunately for Totton, the cup dream was shattered within 13 minutes as Rovers scored 3 of the best goals you will see all year. Bristol made it 4-0 before Nathaniel Sherborne sent the Stag Army wild with a headed goal from Tom Baddeley's cross. Chants of "We're gonna win 5-4!" were quickly altered to "We're gonna win 6-5!" as the League Two outfit scored a minute later before going on to win 6-1. A sad way to end the cup run, but Totton could be proud of a fantastic achievement and look forward to a more quiet night away at Fareham in the Hampshire Senior Cup 3rd Round the following Tuesday! It didn't do the club coffers any harm either.

After beating Fareham 4-1, it was back to league action for Totton after what seemed like a lifetime of cup game after cup game. A 2-0 win over Hemel Hempstead completed the league double over The Tudors after the 3-0 away win earlier in the season. The Stags also ensured they were unbeaten against Oxford City this season (6-0 in the home fixture) with a 2-2 draw after a dramatic last gasp Ryan Hill equaliser. 
Class of 2011
With everyone slightly hungover and feeling as stuffed as the turkeys they'd eaten the day before, a crowd of 577 watched Totton play Bashley on Boxing Day in this season's local derby. The two clubs are separated by just 13 miles of New Forest and met for the first time in league competition for over 20 years. The Stags triumphed 2-0 in their penultimate game of 2011.

A trip to Wiltshire to play Chippenham Town on New Year's Eve is all that remains now for Totton. 12 months ago, The Stags began 2011 with a 4-1 away win against Wimborne Town on January 3rd. Can they end the calendar year the way they started it? You'll find out later.

So there you have it. A pretty darn good year for AFC Totton, wouldn't you say? League title, promotion, the county cup, a fantastic FA Cup run, and all sorts of records broken. The Stags' league record (not including Chippenham on New Year's Eve) in the calendar year 2011 reads like this:

Played: 44. Won: 34. Drawn: 3. Lost: 7. For: 123. Against: 33. GD: +90. Points: 105.

Onward into 2012, where promotion to the Conference South is up for grabs and Mark Osman celebrates his testimonial after 10 years at Totton. Here's to another prosperous year for The Mighty Stags.

Happy New Year!

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