Alderway to Alderney

Another away day and another 6.30ish start from a virtually deserted Overton – one obese dog of doubtful parentage and a very slow moving jogger the only sign of life –  and after a longer journey than usual because of the “xxxxxx” Car Fest that blights the village at this time of year, arrival at Southampton Airport and travelling companion Ian Craig. A sort of Wessex League away day!

Flights to Jersey and Guernsey are by Flybe but Alderney is served by the smaller and yellow planes of Aurigny (pronounced “oor-eee-nee) Airlines, an enjoyable experience in itself. With the minimum of formality we headed for the plane and soon discovered that being smaller it does not cater for those of six feet in height since the ceiling is a foot less than that from the floor – as I discovered when I head butted same. There were just sixteen people aboard seated one each side of the small gangway – no room for Stewardesses or Trolleys – and a view into the cabin. Smooth 25 minute flight and Alderney. Through the small airport building and armed with a map we set off on foot for the Island’s small and only Town, St Annes. What happened to the other passengers is a mystery as nobody else followed in our footsteps. The Town was very picturesque and boasted a Tourist Information Centre in which we enquired as to where we might obtain some breakfast. The elderly gentleman considered the matter and suggested a place near the harbour, which was on the way to the football ground as the only possibility. We exited the Office, turned left and four shops down found a Café and a first class breakfast! On down to the harbour and a right turn and walk along the coast and the ground was suddenly below us on the left with the sea beyond. This was around seventy minutes before the scheduled 1.00 kick off and we were met by a very pleasant gentleman who turned out to be the Manager of the home side (and a Hearts supporter) and chatted happily about football in general. We then went for a wander further up the road and on our return were introduced to the person representing the local paper who, having had our presence explained, wanted to take our picture for his paper. What that will do for the circulation remains to be seen and when asked as to when the paper came out he said he could not be sure this week as he had a couple of days off!

The ground was flat and virtually completely surrounded by a waist high breeze block wall about fifteen yards from the touchline on either side but closer behind the goals. It was also “bookended” at both ends by hills containing Military fortifications. It is because of these that the Ground, proper name Mount Hale, is known as “The Arsenal”, fortunately no connection whatsoever with the North London side of the same name. There was however nothing else between the wall and the touchline – the pitch was not roped off at all – so rather lacking as far as ground grading as we know it but was perfectly acceptable. The Clubhouse straddled the halfway line and included the dressing rooms, an upstairs bar and a very good tea hut and that was it. There were no dugouts, just a couple of rows of chairs on the far side. The game kicked off some fifteen minutes late because of “travel difficulties” which seemed strange as we had seen some of the opposing players in the Town in the morning and their minibus arrived at the ground at the same time as ourselves. There was no charge for admission or the smart looking programme though the latter was much overladen with adverts. We also became Vice Presidents of the Club for the princely sum of ten pounds per annum. This is a rather novel fund raising scheme for they have approaching two thousand such people which is putting the best part of twenty thousand pounds in the kitty. Add the monies from the programme adverts and they are a long way towards the £25,000 travel costs they have to meet each season to compete in the Guernsey League. (I am not sure where on my CV Vice President of Alderney comes amid a couple of spurious GCEs, Secretary of the Sydenhams Wessex League and a Godparent Certificate.)

The game itself it has to be said was poor. The pitch was hard, causing the ball to bounce a lot and the referee, a very large man in all respects, freequently had to adjudge as to what were challenges and what were collisions caused by the bounce. Neither side posed any threat in front of goal despite both goalkeepers handling being on par with that of the West Indies fielders at Headingley. The visitors, Guernsey Rovers, had won the League last year, but there looked little between the two sides and the game seemed doomed to a goalless draw. We watched proceedings from the wall on the far side of the ground with the home manager frequently coming across for a chat – does not happen over here – and a head count from that vantage point suggested a crowd of forty although small children and dogs (of which there were many of each)  were not wholly visible from that range. The referee rather lost his way a little bit in the second half with a few yellow cards, one of which should have been red, before the visitors took the points with a scruffy goal three minutes from time which was somewhat hard on the home side. Halftime incidentally was a throwback to years ago with spectators – boys, girls and small kiddies – kicking balls around on the pitch.

So with the train that runs across part of the Island overtaking us and views of a golf course high to our left we commenced the walk back and unfortunately encountered a problem all too often experienced on my travels only infinitely worse this time. Walking from the Airport through the Town in the morning it was not noticeable that we were going downhill all the time. It was certainly noticeable going back. Well over a mile by our estimation and very steep through what was a largely deserted Town at four o’clock compared to the morning. The Captain remarked on the plane that we were travelling at 6000 feet – well we walked half the way to that height ! The little Airport was staffed by a very small number of friendly people and the absolute minimum of formality saw us back on the plane- with another encounter with the ceiling – for the 25 minute flight home to end a lovely day.

A first visit to Alderney and blessed with superb weather, it was a lovely Island and the most peaceful and enjoyable of days.

Pity about the football.