The Cricket

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Tuesday 24th March 2015 ko 19.30

Combined Counties League Division One

EVERSLEY & CALIFORNIA 0

CHESSINGTON & HOOK UNITED 3 (McLaughlin 11 54 Bowles 68og)

Att 23

Entry & Programme £5

After the exertions of the Lowland League Hop I wanted something reasonably local and after 1700 or so grounds the Hampshire side of the border with Berkshire is just about as good as it gets for a new tick these days!

It’s fair to say Eversley is an extremely affluent area, with the Prep schools dotted around the executive houses and the forests, Will Carling lives in this area, reckoned to be the least deprived area in the UK. Of course as is usually the case none of that helps the local football team. Continue reading

Grand Day Out

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Sunday 22nd March 2015 ko 15.00

Lowland League

THREAVE ROVERS 2 (Struthers 7 Donley 43) Miller sent of 87 (violent conduct)

EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY 3 (Daniels-Yeoman 12 Aitken 61 Ward 81)

Att 462

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

Here’s a first for you, has a groundhop every visited a club named after a tea rooms? The club is named after the café in Castle Douglas where it was formed in 1953. The tea rooms in turn were named after Threave Castle, and Threave is derived from the Welsh term “Tref,” meaning homestead. Perhaps that’s why we used two Welsh coaches for the weekend!

As organisers Chris and I knew Threave would stage the game beautifully. I remember a few years ago New Quay phoning us up to ask, “Do groundhoppers like drinking beer?” and when we replied very much in the affirmative they went out and made a small fortune on the back of the local brewery’s wares! Well Threave took that idea and moved it into a different dimension!

There was an optional tour of the Sulwath Brewery in Castle Douglas before the game, and the club had set up what amounted to a mini beer festival outside the ground behind the main stand. I was disappointed I was on duty! Of course all that beer requires food to damp it down, and the choices were staggering! Hog roast, pies and haggis neeps and tatties were the principle options and in the latter Threave hit on something we’ve seen work well elsewhere.

When the catering has sense of its location it always sells well as football tourists buy on intrigue as well as hunger. We’ve seen it in Wales with Cawl, and Welsh cakes, and this was another fine example, and next time round I hope other clubs will grab the idea and run with it. Catering on a hop should be more of a money-spinner than the gate money.

With the teams being piped onto the pitch too, the general feel of unconscious competence made me completely forget that Threave were bottom of the league, marooned on only 9 points. Maybe the team managed to raise their game for this one as they were unlucky not to have gained at least a point, the late dismissal of Ian Miller for lashing out after a heavy challenge just adding insult to injury.

Hopefully Threave will have given themselves a real financial boost from their afternoon, and that the teams in the Lowland League we haven’t featured this time will learn from these 6 host clubs and we’ll try and make next year’s hop even better than this one.

In the East Kilbride article I described this hop as game changer, the first ever hop in Scotland. It was essential for us to get the kind of attendances that would prove that the venture would be worth repeating, mostly obviously in the Lowland League, but also in other Scottish leagues. We achieved an average attendance of 378, and there’s no secret on how that’s achieved.

Every hopper has different needs, and so to get the big crowds you have to cater for as many of those as possible. The league has to be a good one, and the Lowland was a great one for so many people. Some hoppers require no more than staggered kick-offs to attend, but every time you add another layer of service such as guaranteed programmes, a coach, accommodation and so on, you gain more. Having the full range of options available for the hopper to choose from, right through to an escorted coach tour is how the only way to be successful in the long term, and all successful organisers use roughly the same blueprint. Recently I read a comment by a hopper that a hop was better without all the layers, better for him possibly, but not for clubs who would see lower crowds and therefore lower revenue. You have to look beyond one individual’s needs and look at the bigger picture. Just compare crowds and draw the obvious conclusion.

So where does all this lead? Well next year we’ll look to complete the league, assuming the two groundsharers BSC Glasgow and University of Stirling aren’t able to stage games outwith their shared grounds. That will probably require though a change in format, as we pushed our drivers’ hours massively to take in two games in the far south of the league and drive back to London and Cardiff. Either we look to stage 3 games on the Sunday than stay over, or look to book two drivers for each coach. It’ll need a lot of thought.

In the wider scheme of things we’d love to speak to other Scottish Leagues. There’s irons in fires with clubs in 3 other leagues, nothing concrete as yet, but if there’s one thing our weekend proved, its that the organised groundhop north of the border is hugely popular and I refuse to believe that there’s a non-league club who wouldn’t want another 250-300 on the gate! This weekend was a game changer, now the question is to see just how much.

 

 

 

 

Hitting the straps

Sunday 22nd March 2015 ko 12.00

Lowland League

DALBEATTIE STAR 2 (Steele 2 Sloan 77p)

EDINBURH CITY 1 (Gair 45)

Att 400

Entry £5

Programme £2

I sat at breakfast at the hop HQ watching 100 or so hoppers have their buffet meal. The previous morning, the staff had been rather surprised by two coachloads descending on the restaurant all at once, but today there was an extra staff member and the queue moved efficiently. It proved to be a good analogy for the two clubs we visited.

Continue reading

Brutalist

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Saturday 21st March 2015 ko 19.00

Lowland League

GALA FAIRYDEAN ROVERS 1 (Bonnar 49)

UNIVERSITY OF STIRLING 2 (Bonar 43 Geddes 90)

Att 323

Entry £5

Programme £2

The sun began to set and as the coach reached Galashiels I relaxed for the first time since we’d left Hilingdon 36 hours earlier. I knew everyone wanted to visit the iconic club of Gala, and in Graeme McIver I had a club contact who was competent to the point where Chris and I knew all we needed to do is let him get on with staging the game. That doesn’t happen very often, clubs at the level GroundhopUK organise hops for aren’t used to having 300-plus crowds so guidance is essential, to do otherwise is at best unfair, and at worst folly. Graeme simply needed to know how many tickets we’d sold and a rough idea of the likely attendance, and he was more than capable of doing the rest. Continue reading

Battleground

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Saturday 21st March 2015 ko 15.30

Lowland League

SELKIRK 1 (See 58)

THE SPARTANS 1 (Brown 84)

Att 281

Entry £5

Programme £2

With so much riding on this hop I was nervous as the coach left Innerleithen for our middle game of the day. It’s that word “middle” that’s key, on any organised groundhop you tend to see, “Drift” where hoppers find an alternative games for the middle game on a Saturday when the competition for them is at its greatest. The solution is to schedule 4 games so that the hopper has to miss 2 hop games to go elsewhere but the geography and the lack of floodlights at Selkirk’s Yarrow Park made that impossible. Continue reading

Border Reiver

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Saturday 21st March 2015 ko 12.00

Lowland League

VALE OF LEITHEN 0

PRESTON ATHLETIC 2 (Bruce 41 Roy 57)

Att 312

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

Badge £3

I suspect we all needed a good night’s sleep after Friday’s long journey, certainly the faces at breakfast looked refreshed, maybe the hotel bar hadn’t done as well from GroundhopUK as is usually the case! We left East Kilbride heading south down the M74 before striking out east along the beautiful Tweed valley.

We passed through Peebles, right past Peebles Rovers’ ground (isn’t it handy that the Lowland and East of Scotland Leagues share a fixture secretary?) before reaching the small town of Innerleithen.

Its a town born of the woollen industry, but tourism dominates today and that is an issue for the football club. A club should represent its community and industry, and that relationship should be a two-way street. The trouble is that tourism is there to attract people from afar so advertising at the local football team is of no use to them. Would the mountain bikers visiting here be interested in the football team?

The club is one of the oldest in the Borders founded in 1891 and moved to their current ground, Victoria Park in 1922. When we were negotiating to get this hop off the ground I remember to speaking to someone, who when I mentioned the club said , “You won’t want to visit there, there’s nothing there!”

Now it was a conversation on the phone so I’m assuming when we meet in person, I’ll have to introduce myself to his guide dog too! I introduced myself to the committee at the gate, then glanced to my left and was stopped in my tracks by the view of the rolling hills beyond. Moreover the place has more than just a view, the place has character by the bucketload, and that stand….. actually let’s let the pictures tell the story.

I was put immediately to work sorting out the team lines for the hoppers, I’m not sure why but in the first year of any hop clubs tend to miss out that request, its in the blurb we send out I promise! My reward for helping out was the best cup of tea I had the entire weekend. So if Innerleithen want an alternative means of advertising for tourists, they could try this epithet, ” Innerleithen, the best tea in Scotland!”

I rather took to the club, they have that lovely mix of decency and friendliness I look for. I suspect they had no idea why 250-or-so Englishmen would be interested in a small team in Scotland, but decided to enjoy the fact they were and enjoyed the experience on that basis.

I managed to spend a little time with SFA Council member Scott Struthers, he supplied the hop with a list of all the referees and assistants for the hop, and he let me know we were making a little more groundhop history, linesman Frank Campbell is an ordained minster! Campbell roared with laughter when during the second half I called out, “Are you sure that was offside Reverend?”

What I couldn’t wish for Vale of Leithen was a win. Losing to second-from-bottom Preston (Prestonpans) Athletic was an unwelcome surprise for them but on the day midfielder Alistair Roy was irresistible, setting up the first goal, a sumptuous cushioned lob.,then scoring the winner himself.

Perhaps this was a day when the match was of secondary importance to the occasion. The thanks from the committee was heartfelt, and as I strolled back to my coach I felt a pang of regret that we couldn’t have lingered a little longer. I must make sure they’re an away club on a subsequent hop, it would be good to catch up with them.

 

 

 

The Game Changer

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Friday 20th March 2015 ko 19.45

Lowland League

EAST KILBRIDE 1 (McLeish 64)

WHITEHILL WELFARE 0

Att 491

Entry £5

Programme £2

Badge £3

In 1992 the Northern League’s Mike Amos invented the organised groundhop, a series of staggered kick-offs with transport between the fixtures. Phil Hiscox took the concept to the South-West and GroundhopUK’s Chris Berezai to Wales, but Scotland had never seen a groundhop. That wasn’t through lack of trying, we at GroundhopUK tried for the Highland League who told us variously that they didn’t need any extra crowds, and that we’ve never bring them, “More than 30 hoppers.” A region of the Juniors even told us we could hold a hop in their leagues but all the games would have to kick-off at 2.30 on a Saturday….

To be honest, we’d given up and when hoppers mentioned the idea we’d trot out one of the stories and shrug our shoulders. A shame, but that was life.

Continue reading

The Army Game

Wednesday 18th March 2015 ko 19.00

Inter Services Tournament/Carrington Cup

ARMY 4 (Sig Paddock 40 Pte Glass 63 LCpl Wilkinson 66 Spr Currie 82)

ROYAL AIR FORCE 0

Att 148 at Aldershot Military Stadium, Queens Avenue

Entry FREE

Programme and teamsheet FREE

I’m really not sure why I revisited this one, after all I watched a regimental cup game here 3 years ago. It certainly wasn’t because there was a programme issued, that’s a bonus nothing more. Certainly the standard of forces football is very good, the Army FA is treated as a County FA by the Football Association, and the stadium has presence, dominated by the 1,128 capacity stand, which could easily have double the seats it features now. I suspect what drew me back there is that the place does have a different feel than my normal destinations situated as it is in Aldershot’s Military Town. Continue reading

The Execution of William Palmer

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Wednesday 11th March 2015 ko 19.30

Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division

BRERETON SOCIAL 2 (Fulton 36 Cowlishaw 85) Turner missed penalty 16

NORTON UNITED RESERVES 2 (Elliot 54 Davies 64) Mahmood sent off 16 (DOGSO)

Att 22

Entry FREE

No Programme

It’s the lot of the groundhopper that you miss out on some grounds, you spend a lot of time trying to visit grounds with the bulldozer looming, a process nicknamed the “Vulture Job,” but some you are destined never to visit, the hobby is one of very few where you spend your life wishing you were older! The Red Lion Ground was one of those, and when the previous incarnation folded in 2010 I thought I’d lost out. I even managed to avoid Burntwood Town’s one season stint here a couple of years ago! Continue reading

Finally

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Tuesday 10th March 2015 ko 19.45

Wessex League Division One

HYTHE & DIBDEN 3 (De’Ath 7 Stacey 27 Burch 79 (!))

ROMSEY TOWN 2 (Parker 2 Prince 90) Andrews sent off (DOGSO) 26

Att 45

Entry £4

Programme £1

When you encounter the hoppers with huge (thousands) of grounds visited they always have exactly the same problem, finding a new ground to visit midweek when the game has to be floodlit. With, in simple terms, only the top 6 levels of non-league football being lit any time you see a club in those levels move grounds, you tend to see a lot of the senior hoppers congregate!

Continue reading

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