Downton play their home games at the Brian Whitehead Sports Club (or as they call it The Nest) on the Western edge of the village of Downton, some six miles South of Salisbury. There is parking available at the sports club, although it is limited and is not only for use by the football club. However, there is very clearly marked overflow parking opposite the ground.
They say first impressions count and in the case of Downton FC, first impressions are extremely favourable. The first thing that catches the eye is the signage. Above the entrance is an arch welcoming visitors to Downton FC as well as a separate sign showing the club sponsors and their respective logos. Upon entering through the main gate, you find yourself near to one of the corner flags. Immediately to your right is the clubhouse and snack bar window. Next to that is the players and officials area and entrance onto the pitch. Also on this side of the pitch is the main covered seating area, The Ian Drinkwater Stand or as the sign on the side says, Drinky's Stand. The stand was renamed in 2021 to honour a stalwart of the club who sadly passed away in 2018. The opposite side of the ground features the dugouts and yet more Downton signage. It is tightly hemmed in by trees, giving s rural feel to the ground. At the leisure centre end there is a feature that may well be unique to Downton, a matchday drinking shelter. This is a wooden structure set back a little from the pitch that also has a patio area to the side of it and is specifically designed for people to enjoy a drink whilst still having a great view of the game. Between the drinking stand and the entrance gate there is also a large scoreboard (not electric), something else that is a rarity at this level. Everywhere you look there are Robins club crests. This is a delightful ground in my opinion. Obviously a well cared for community club. I think I have a new favourite non-league ground.
On the night the Robins Review was a double edition, combining Saturday's FA Vase game with Ringwood Town (which Downton won 5-0) with this evening's league game with Hamworthy. As with the ground, the programme is a very professional looking full couleur magazine with the club shade of red being the predominant colour. The content is also excellent. Features include manager's notes for both games, a message from the chairman, meet the opposition features for both games, match reports, squad lists, a league review, all the usual stats and a couple of articles about other teams and grounds. The programme costs £2.00, but is great value for money.
Downton have played in the Wessex League structure since their promotion from the Hampshire Premier League in 1993. In that time they have seen a couple of promotions and relegations, spending five seasons in the Premier League. They won the Division One title in 2011 to secure the second of their Premier League adventured, which lasted for three seasons until they dropped back into Division One in 2014. Hamworthy Recreation celebrated their first season the Wessex League system last year having won the Dorset Premier League for the ninth time in 2022. They performed well in their inaugural season, ending the season in a very creditable fourth spot. This position was helped by doing the double over Downton, who themselves finished sixth. A 3-1 win for Hamworthy at Magna Road came courtesy of goals from Christopher Long (2) and John Webb. Lee-Bradley Haensel replied for The Robins. The reverse fixture at The Nest was won 2-1 by The Rec. Christopher Long scored again, this time aided by a strike from Frank Rosenwald. Oliver Davies notched for Downton.
Both sides have started the new season in sparkling form in both league and cup. At the start of play Downton sat atop the table with a 100% record after five games. Hamworthy were one place and two points adrift having won four and drawn one of their opening five, their only blip being a 3-3 draw at Cove. Neither team had been shy of scoring either, with both having scored 16 times, an average of just over 3 per game.
At the weekend bot sides came through the 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Vase with flying colours against fellow Division One sides. Downton hammered local rivals Ringwood Town 5-0 whilst Hamworthy also scored five as they saw off Fawley by a score of 5-1
The initial sparring between the sides was almost immediately ended by the visitors taking the lead in the third minute. A quick break up their left flank led to the ball being squared to Ben Cooper in a central position just inside the box. Will Betts was quick off his line, but the power of Cooper's strike squeezed under his body into the net. 0-1.
Downton tried to respond in kind and Jamie Smith fired wide in the sixth minute but it was as close as they got despite having slightly more of the ball. Neither side was giving any quarter when it came to challenges, a theme that continued throughout the game. However, where Hamworthy looked dangerous on the attack whenever they ventured forward, Downton seemed to the wherewithal to break down the Rec defence.
Tyler Rudd times a volley nicely on fourteen minutes but could only fire straight into the body of Downton stopper Will Betts. However, as we hit the halfway mark in the first period, the visitors struck again. After winning the ball back in midfield with another strong challenge that Downton thought was a foul causing them to hesitate, Christopher Long was slipped in behind the Downton defence and finished precisely, low into the right-hand corner. 0-2.
Again Downton went for a quick response. Ollie Davies with a good rundown the left, put in a cross that was controlled by Joe Smith at the back post, only for his snapshot to sail high and wide of the mark. Just before the half hour mark a scuffed clearance from Betts almost handed a third to the visitors but the quickly returned effort was cleared off the line by a defender with the keeper out of his ground.
A Jamie Smith header that went over in the 32nd minute signalled something of a resurgence by the home side. Having been second best all over the pitch for much of the half, they suddenly looked more like a team at the top of the table, finally matching their opponents in the tackle and looking slightly more threatening on the attack. They couldn't find a goal back before the break but at least their renewed vigour hinted at better things to come in the second half.
HT Downton 0 Hamworthy Recreation 2. An impressive performance from the visitors who, for much of the half, looked stronger, quicker and more inventive than their hosts. Downton only seemed to awake from their slumbers after going two down. However, their improved showing in the final 10 minutes of the half showed that the game was not over by any means.
The tackles were still flying in from both sides and, as it had from early in the first period, the game always felt as if it could boil over. Thankfully, this did not happen, despite the referee letting a few dubious looking challenges go.
With just over 20 minutes left to go, Downton manufactured their best chance of the game to date when Kris Krysztofowicz was played in only to see his shot drift just wide. He was possibly offside anyway, but it was a warning to Hamworthy that Downton were not going down without a fight. The warning became reality six minutes later when Harrison Clarke was Johnny-on-the-spot to get the final touch on a bit of a scramble in the Rec goalmouth. 2-1. The goal gave Downton extra hope and they set about the task of trying to find an equaliser with renewed urgency. Joe Smith turned sharply in the box but his shot went straight at Fredericks. Callum Sweeny also stabbed an effort just wide inside the final 5 minutes. The Robins were rapidly running out of time and throwing players forward, forcing a series of corners that the visitors did well to repel. In added time Hamworthy almost wrapped things up on the break but saw their effort come back off Betts' right-hand post. Ultimately, Downton's much improved second half showing was not quite enough to break down a resilient Hamworthy defence for a second time, even with what felt like an eternal amount of added time.
FT Downton 1 Hamworthy Recreation 2. A much improved performance from the home side in the second period. However, the damage had been done by a superb first half display from Hamworthy, who then showed considerable resolve to withstand the late onslaught from The Robins. Two very good teams in my opinion. The game was played at a high pace throughout, some very strong, but in the main, fair challenges and no shortage of skill on display at both ends. A very enjoyable game for a neutral.
Both sides are back in action on Saturday. New leaders Hamworthy welcome fifth placed Millbrook to the Hamworthy Club. Last season a Frank Rosenwald hat-trick helped Rec to a 4-0 win in this fixture.
Downton, meanwhile, are back at The Nest as East Cowes Victoria make the trip across the Solent. The Robins will be looking for a repeat of last season's 4-2 to get themselves back on track after their first setback of the campaign.
Downton: 1.Betts, 2.Clark, 3.Mason, 4.Rafferty, 5.Osman(c), 18. Clarke. 7.Mackie, 8.Jamie Smith, 9.Joe Smith, 10. Krysztofowicz, 11.Davis. Subs: 12.Harris, 14.Hamm, 15.Howe, 16.Moseley, 17.Sweeney
Hamworthy Recreation: 1.Fredericks(c), 2.T.Cooper, 3.Wilson, 4.Cherrett, 5.McMurdo, 6.Doe, 7. Rudd, 8.B.Cooper, 9.Long, 10.Deem, 27.Rosenwald. Subs: Hill, Dacre, Gage, King, Woolley
Ground Number: 376