The View from the Bar
We haven’t had a whole lot of luck in the Wessex League Cup over the years, with the notable exception of 1999. Twenty years ago? Where did that time go? Back in the days when every round (bar the final was a two-legged affair, and we managed to make it to the final despite only winning two of our six games en-route.
In fairness, we did come out on top in our two-legged semi against Eastleigh on away goals with what had looked like an unlikely 1-1 draw at Ten Acres after a goal-less affair here at Westwood. The travelling faithful that night couldn’t quite believe it. Well, in fairness, we weren’t sure what we couldn’t quite believe the most, the fact that we’d beaten Eastleigh over two legs, the fact that we’d made it to a final, or the fact that Andy Watson had scored a goal (bit unfair on Watter that, probably…)
And so to the final – a one-off game and a trip back to Ten Acres to take on Lymington and New Milton – the undisputed kings of the Wessex League and surely an insurmountable challenge for the plucky Yachtsmen? More of that in a minute.
Eastleigh of course have come a long way since their Wessex League days and are now firm fixtures in the Conference, with regular appearances in the early rounds of the F.A. Cup. Today, their redeveloped Silverlake Arena home is barely recognisable from the days when it was known as Ten Acres, but it was still a suitably prestigious venue for a final and a day out in the sun, even if we were on a hiding to nothing (and probably headed for a literal hiding, also).
Back to Lymington. They were easy to dislike, not least because they were so damned good. They’d won the Wessex League for the previous three seasons, but never in an any kind of endearing way, they’d just steamroller teams (including us), and had more than a few players who it wasn’t exactly easy to warm to. In our ten league matches with them prior to the final we’d taken a grand total of one point off the Linnets, and that was in our first Wessex League meeting back in 1994. In fairness, we had beaten them the previous season in the league cup, but that was a 1-0 victory at their place after they’d won 2-1 here at Westwood, so even when we finally beat them, we still ended up losing (on away goals).
So it was more in hope than expectation that a hundred or so Cowes fans travelled over in the bank holiday sunshine. A few of us had been out on the razz in Southampton the night before, so greeted the hordes arriving on the Red Jet with Cowes flags draped over the side of the pier as we enjoyed a hair of the dog, when there were still a couple of pubs down the wet end of Town Quay. Upon arrival at Ten Acres the travelling Yachtsmen promptly took over the clubhouse and, an hour or so later, the modest stand too. We might not be going to win the day on the pitch, but we were always going to win it off it.
And then the game started, and something very strange happened. We were awesome. Lymington looked somehow less intimidating than normal in their yellow and green away strip (still no idea why they wore that), and – this might be a bit rose-tinted thanks to the passing of time – we tore into them. Somehow they managed to keep it goal-less in ninety minutes, and somehow Jimmy Sheppard managed to get away with just a yellow card when he cynically hacked down Lee Dent as he sprinted clean through on goal. It really seemed like it wasn’t going to be our day – same old story against Lymington – and yet, they weren’t managing to find the 30-yard wonder-strike that they always seemed to pull out when things were going against them either. Something strange was definitely going on.
I can’t remember much about extra-time (we were probably onto our seventh or eighth hair of the dog by this point, to be fair), but this was goal-less too, and so to penalties. So close against Lymington, and doubtless we would now get brushed aside as we always had before. But no. With nine penalties taken we were 3-2 ahead, and none other than Lymington ‘keeper Wayne Shaw (one of the more likeable members of the Linnets squad) stepped up to take their last spot-kick. He fully put his weight behind his strike and it seemed to travel goalwards at about mach 2, but what was this? Before it had a chance to burst through the net and continue its trajectory towards Winchester, Joe McCormack somehow managed to get in the way of it and beat the ball out.
A brief moment of disbelieving silence, then mayhem amongst the travelling support. We’d done it! Winning the cup was special, doing it against Lymington was even, erm, specialer. The pained expressions on the Lymington faces as they applauded the winners as they lifted the trophy made it even sweeter. And then it was all back to Westwood for a party!
So maybe the Wessex League Cup hasn’t been so bad to us after all. That was twenty years ago now, mind. But it can happen. It. Can. Happen.
Enjoy the game,