Fairytales, thrillers, drama and record-breaking feats – the top 10 non-league games I’ve covered for The News in 2021
FA Vase fairytales, cup thrillers, top of the table drama, shock wins and club record defeats - it’s been a memorable year covering non-league football for The News.
In 2021 I’ve seen all our area’s National League, Southern League, Wessex League and Hampshire League teams in action. From Hawks in the sixth tier, down to the likes of Paulsgrove and Hayling at county league level.
When football returned last April after the third national lockdown, I even took in a handful of Mid-Solent League games at Westleigh Park.
With no other league football taking place, it was a nice chance to give parks players the chance to be featured in The News.
And as I look back on my top 10 games of 2021, in date order, that is exactly where I’ll start …
Mob Albion 4 Meon Milton 6
Mid-Solent League, April 17
In a title six-pointer, Meon stormed back after falling 2-0 down inside the opening five minutes at Westleigh Park.
A brace from top scorer Harry Potter has handed Mob the initiative, but Meon’s remarkable recovery saw them lead 5-2 at the interval.
Potter completed his hat-trick as Mob reduced the arrears to 5-4, but Bayley Whitcombe struck his third goal in the closing stages to finally seal victory.
Whitcombe spotted Mob keeper James Griffiths off his line and produced a superb 40-yard chip. Adam Beckett, Chris Foy and Barry Jeans also netted for Bickram Singh’s side.
It was a crucial victory - Meon ended up winning the title by four points from Mob. They then completed a double by beating Mob 3-1 in the cup final at Front Lawn - Whitcombe netting twice.
Tavistock 1 US Portsmouth 3
FA Vase, April 24
Down in deepest Devon, USP wrote another remarkable chapter in a fairytale FA Vase run.
They stunned much-fancied Tavistock - the fifth higher division club Glenn Turnbull’s men had beaten in the tournament - to reach the quarter-finals.
In a hugely entertaining and open game, sadly played behind closed doors, US took an early 2-0 lead through Jack Chandler and Andy Todd. Though Tavistock pulled one back, a second half Dec Seiden penalty completed a shock success.
All these months on, this remains the best game I’ve covered for The News in 2021. USP’s Vase run - eventually only ended with a heartbreaking semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat - was certainly the best story.
US Portsmouth 3 Bemerton 3
Wessex League Cup semi-final, May 15
In addition to their Vase heroics, USP also reached the Wessex League Cup final for the first time in their history.
To do so, they defeated Division 1 rivals Bemerton on penalties after a remarkable final few minutes.
Down to 10 men following a red card for defender Harry Birmingham, USP trailed 3-1 when Ronan Clancy fired in the rebound after keeper Tom Price had beaten out Justin Bennett’s 88th minute penalty.
US sub Tyler Moret, though, promptly scored twice in as many minutes to force the team’s second shoot-out in eight days.
Having lost their Vase semi-final to Binfield, US booked their WLC final place with a 4-2 victory - Price scoring a spot-kick (as he had done in two Vase shoot-outs) and saving another Bennett effort.
US went on to lose 3-1 to Hamworthy in the final at AFC Portchester - the last game for most of the beaten squad before following Turnbull to Moneyfields.
US Portsmouth 3 Bournemouth Poppies 3
Wessex League Cup, August 31
Another six-goal WLC thriller at the Victory Stadium followed by another penalty shoot-out.
But this time new-look USP failed to complete a stunning recovery by losing 5-4 to Bournemouth Poppies.
Trailing 3-0 early on, the hosts hit back through Joe Johnson and Brodie Spencer before Tom Jeffes bundled in an injury time equaliser.
Poppies had been given a helping hand with home defender Obi Saidy conceding a farcical own goal in the opening two minutes - his back pass sailing past debutant keeper James Hedley and into the net.
It was an evening to forget for Saidy, who missed the vital penalty in the shoot-out - firing his effort over the bar.
Hawks 4 Torquay 2
FA Cup fourth qualifying round replay, October 20
Hawks had earned a dramatic draw in south Devon, James Roberts hitting a 20-yard leveller in injury-time.
This time Hawks piled on the early pressure against their higher division visitors and skipper Joe Oastler headed in a corner to give them a deserved lead.
Totally against the run of play, Torquay struck twice in a few minutes just before half-time to take the lead.
The key moment in the second half saw Jake McCarthy volley in a stunning equaliser from Billy Clifford’s corner on 67 minutes.
Six minutes later Gulls sub Dan Martin received a straight red for a foul on Tommy Wright, handing Hawks the initiative.
In a pulsating finale, Scott Rendell headed the hosts back in front on 82 minutes and Wright sealed a memorable victory.
Moneyfields Reserves 3 Denmead 3
Hampshire Premier League, October 30
The battle of the top two teams in the HPL - the two teams who had been promoted in the summer - produced another six-goal thriller.
Again, there was a late, late leveller - Moneys striker Dan Penfold grabbing the final goal in injury-time at Dover Road.
Denmead had taken a second minute lead, Owen Milne’s curling free-kick from out wide deceiving keeper Sam Richards, but the hosts hit back to lead 2-1 thanks to a Josh Bailey double.
Milne fired his second from outside the area and Ryan Chandler put Denmead ahead minutes later as the game enjoyed another twist.
Horndean 1 Fareham 5
Wessex League Premier, November 27
Entering this game, table-topping Horndean had only conceded 11 goals in 19 league games. Fareham, meanwhile, were down in 12th place after a 5-1 home hiding by Brockenhurst in midweek.
But in one of the most startling results of the 2021/22 non-league season, the Creeksiders stormed to victory.
Going down the slope, they were 2-0 up in six minutes thanks to goals from Jack Breed and Garry Moody.
Zac Willett reduced the arrears with Horndean’s 100th competitive goal of the campaign. But there was no stopping the visitors, who extended their lead after the interval through Breed, Gary Austin and Stuart Morgan.
Fareham 6 Downton 4
Wessex League Cup, December 14
If it’s goals you want, Fareham are the team to watch. As a result of this rollercoaster cup tie, the Reds’ 31 competitive games in 2021/22 had produced a staggering 161 goals.
They twice trailed in the first half against lower division Downton, but went in level at half-time. In a breathless second half, Fareham led 3-2 and 4-3, with the visitors hitting back on both occasions, before taking the lead for a third time with an 89th minute penalty.
Elliott Holmes finally eased the Reds’ nerves in injury time, as his side booked an ‘El Creekio’ semi-final with AFC Portchester.
Fleetlands 5 Paulsgrove 4
Hampshire Premier League, December 18
Down to the bare bones, Paulsgrove boss Steve Ledger persuaded his former Baffins Milton Rovers colleague Ashton Leigh to play in this HPL derby.
Leigh normally turns out for Bognor, four tiers higher in the English pyramid, and his class was obvious as he struck four times on his debut in a fixture switched to Cowplain School.
Leigh still finished on the losing side, though!
After his first two goals had put Grove in command, Fleetlands hit back through an Alpay Ali double to level at half-time.
Jamie Wrapson and debutant George Gregory kept the Coptermen’s recovery going before Leigh made it 4-3.
Gregory and Leigh then traded further goals in an end-to-end encounter that was as open and entertaining as the scoreline suggests.
Dorking 8 Hawks 0
National League South, December 26
Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable scorelines of this, or any other, National League season.
A club record loss for Hawks and the first time in 910 league games, stretching back to their formation in 1998, that they had conceded more than six.
A horrendous start saw them trail 2-0 after five minutes with Paul Rooney having been sent off for a foul on Alfie Rutherford.
It was 5-0 after just 36 minutes - Rutherford having completed a first half hat-trick - and Dorking refused to take the foot off the pedal in the second period.
Another ex-Hawk, Jason Prior, netted twice in one of the most amazing games I’ve ever covered as a journalist.
My first game of 2022 will be the rematch at Westleigh Park on Sunday. Stranger things have happened in football than a Hawks victory …