What started out as an unremarkable game, sure to slip under the radar, turned into by far the biggest news story of a fledgling club’s short existence.
This time last year, Andover Town was still months from conception; this week they have been hitting the headlines. A goalless draw in the Hants Senior Cup rarely merits column space on the BBC website, let alone a position of prominence, but this proved to be no ordinary stalemate. The penalty shootout that followed to decide the tie was to eventually enter the record books, thanks to 29 consecutive spot kicks hitting the back of the net – a new English record.
Whilst the victors on the occasion, Brockenhurst, must not be forgotten, it is Andover Town who have received the bulk of the media glare, thanks largely to the misfortune of their player Claudio Herbert whose penalty, the 30th of the tie, finally broke the sequence of success. He has found himself elevated from unassuming full-time student to a guest on Colin Murray’s TalkSPORT radio show, taking in good humour the banter thrown his way as he enjoys his 15 minutes of fame for reasons he probably wouldn’t have chosen.
However, all the focus on a missed spot kick has drawn the attention away from the real story to be found around Andover Town. The club only came into existence in the early summer months of 2013, formed as part of an agreement that saw local further education establishment Andover College take over the long-term lease of the local Portway Football Stadium. The agreement was made on the proviso that the college supplied the local town with a senior men’s football team, and so Andover Town was born.
A meeting with the FA at Wembley, in a suite overlooking the famed pitch no less, saw Town successfully campaign to be entered into a higher than usual league for a newly formed team, going straight into the Wessex League First Division. This has opened up access to grants for improving the stadium, but also offers a great platform for the squad of players to hone their skills. For over half of the Andover players are homegrown, developed at the Football Academy run by Andover College’s sister campus at Sparsholt College. The Academy acts as a development programme to produce players for Southampton Football Club as part of a link-up agreed between the two parties.
Andover Town has enjoyed a positive start to life, sitting top of the table at present under the management of Neil Benson. When the club was formed just months ago, most involved would happily have settled for this encouraging set of opening games and the supportive coverage of the local media. What Benson and his squad could not have foreseen was the flood of attention they have enjoyed in the past days, with an equal share in an English football record thrown in for good measure. Few non-league sides get their day in the sun, and even fewer achieve such infamy inside their first year of life.
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