One of the worst times of the year being a massive football fan is the close season, which I normally class as mid-May until mid-July. I would often watch the wee Glens (Glentoran FC) in their pre-season matches through the years and this included seeing them play friendlies against the likes of Everton, Crystal Palace, Dundela and Knockbreda Parish. Even though these matches are not as physical or competitive as a proper League or Cup match, they allow for a different experience of watching your favourite football team. In Summer 2004, it was the first time I was going to witness close and pre-season away from my Northern Ireland homeland. The way I was working at the time didn’t allow for a lot of time off to watch the pre-season matches, but my mate Neil and I decided we should “do Eastleigh” on a Monday night in July 2004. Eastleigh were playing AFC Bournemouth in a pre-season friendly, (incidentally a fixture which also just took place today again with AFC Bournemouth winning 4-0, and Neil again going, though I couldn’t make it).
I decided I would drive down and so Neil and I arrived in Eastleigh and found the stadium easily, the nice Silverlake Stadium on the outskirts of Southampton. At the time I was living on the Holdenhurst Road in Bournemouth and so the drive only took about 30 minutes. I think it was about £3 entry into the stadium and there was a wee bar, but I don’t remember a programme, though I have a sheet somewhere detailing the teams on the night. Warren Feeney had just left the Cherries, and we had a few new players including Diogo Andrade and an Italian guy called Michele Di Piedi. Di Piede didn’t last though and was only a trialist. However this night we had a full team out pretty much and were wearing our new all red shirt, with black shorts. Eastleigh played in all white and Neil and I perched ourselves behind the nets at the nearside for the first half. It was a fairly lacklustre match, with Alan Connell being in my opinion easily the best player on the pitch that night. He created a lot of chances and did a lot of running.
It appeared to me that Alan Connell would go on to become a regular in the Bournemouth team for the upcoming season. I was to be proved wrong, but for this night I enjoyed singing “The Alan Connell Alan Song.” The song itself is just like this:
Al-an Con – nell, Al – an Con – nell slow to start with and then it goes: Alan Alan Connell Alan; Alan Connell Alan. From this day on he would be known to me and my group of mates and acquaintances as Alan Connell Alan.
Darting runs and silky skills had Alan Connell look most likely to break the deadlock and nab the Cherries an expected away win in a pre season fixture in darkest Hampshire. Neil and I moved at half-time to behind the nets where the scene of a football pitch in the middle of the forest was my lasting memory of the location. As we stood behind the nets, there was about 300 odd AFC Bournemouth fans at the match if I recall with a few singing. We didn’t really sing that night except the odd “Alan Connell Alan” chant as the blond forward cantered down both flanks looking for the opening. It was Connell who prodded past an offside trap to fire the ball past the keeper, but against the post. As it rebounded to safety, Connell knew he had missed a good chance, but wasn’t put off by it.
The purple summer sky gaped in on us, right behind the nets where we all laughed at the serious size of the Eastleigh goalkeeper – “fat bastard” chants were spot on and this keeper took some stick, despite making a few decent saves for somebody who didn’t look like the most agile of keepers. Then it was another charge for the Cherries towards the end of the match, where Alan Connell Alan obviously fired a winner right into the net in front of me and Neil. The goal was timed at 86 minutes, and we had a 1-0 win to our name.
In fairness it wasn’t actually a great result from the Cherries, but the performance was great and I had become in the period of 90 minutes an Alan Connell fan. Sadly the following season wasn’t a great one for Alan Connell, whose only goals I remember were against Colchester in a 3-1 defeat, Wrexham in a 1-0 win and a corker against Bradford City around Christmas time. Within a year Alan Connell Alan had moved on to Torquay United and is now playing for Brentford. Perhaps I’ll get to see Alan Connell play again this season, and where did it all go wrong for such a great player. After the match Neil and I popped in to a nice country pub called The Cricketer’s Inn for a post match pint and to raise a glass for Alan Connell Alan.
Alan Connell Alan’s record:
2001-2002 Ipswich Town 0 – 0
2002-2005 Bournemouth 54 – 8
2005-2006 Torquay United 22 – 7
2006-2007 Hereford United 44 – 9
2007- Brentford 42 – 12