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Saturday 21st September 2013 ko 11am

North Berkshire League Division Three

BENSON LIONS 1 (Keightly 83)

WESTMINSTER 4 (McMahon 17 59 Bourton 30 69)

Att 153

Entry & Programme £4

Badge £3

Bottle of Real Ale £2.50

Full English RAF breakfast including tea £5

The North Berkshire League Groundhop is very much my baby, so much so it’s the only time that at GroundhopUK Chris Berezai and I swap places, with me leading, and him acting as deputy. It makes sense, when I live a mere 10 miles from Steventon, the village that provides the centre-point of the league.

It’s a league that 3 years ago grasped very quickly what the concept of the organised groundhop is, and we’ve adapted it to the realities of a league set up for participants rather than spectators. Much of the credit should go to league press officer Phil Annets, who has to put up with me throwing ideas at him left right and centre. He makes my ideas happen, and the clubs work like dervishes to give everyone a memorable day out. So when it’s all over, and you’ve had a great time, don’t thank me thank Phil, the NBFL, and those magnificent clubs.

Benson Lions prove the point perfectly, as do any of the 9 host clubs so far. With the Lions playing in the middle of an airforce base, RAF Benson, the staging of the game would bring a host of issues neither Phil, Chris or I had encountered before. Entry on the base is on the say-so of the guardroom, and the minimum requirement is photo-ID, passport or driving licence. That brought two issues, getting 150-or-so hoppers through in time, and how those with no photo ID would be able to see the game.

That is where Lions’ chairman Jon Radcliffe was a godsend. He negotiated two concessions from the base. Firstly, that ticket holders would have their entry passes waiting for them as long as their details were passed to the base in advance, and that those who could provide only secondary ID would be allowed in so long as they were on Rod, Jane or Freddy, the hop minibuses. It meant that the vast majority of the crowd had only a cursory ID check, and there were no significant delays. In fact only one hopper missed kick-off and that was due to his car getting a puncture on the way!

Credit, therefore should go to many hoppers. We sold far more presold tickets than usual, as even hoppers who’ve attended our groundhops but never bought a ticket before did so, realising there was a bigger picture. People wanted it to work, and that’s why it did.

Jon’s planning really paid off after you’d cleared security. The air cadets showed you where to park, did they really use air traffic control signals or were my eyes deceiving me? Once at pitch-side the sit-down full cooked breakfasts for a fiver were both delicious and good value, but they also provided hoppers with a good reason to get to the base early. Other than that I’d hoped for a distinct military flavour to the fixture, and the tents, and military-themed bottled real ales certainly gave that! All I had to do was help Chris distribute programme packs, and enjoy my breakfast. In fact so well drilled were the breakfasts that a few days earlier I’d been contacted by a vegetarian hopper asking whether a veggy-breakfast was going to be available. I phoned Jon, and he arranged it for him. Where else would you get that kind of service?

The impression I get is that the NBFL love having an RAF side in their league, as a military side in a civilian league does create problems. As Jon put it in their excellent programme,

“With Lions team selection heavily dictated by whose turn it is to hunt for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, they’ll be (Westminster) wondering just what sort of team they’ll be facing.”

The reality was that Lions Reserves have been disbanded due to cut-backs, and that the first team was down to the bare bones. Jon didn’t want to play, wanting to help cater for a crowd that was 140 people larger than normal, but he ended up having to play the last 15 minutes. With Westminster, the team based at Westminster College in Oxford protecting a 100% record, a home win didn’t look likely, and despite a spirited Lions performance, the visitors won convincingly.

Of course Westminster’s time on the NBFL hop will come, they’d like to replace the England kit they currently use, and I know just the way to raise those funds! Despite the win though, the real stars of the morning were undoubtedly Jon, and his team of Lions that proved beyond a doubt, that with planning, will, and cooperation you can stage an event like this at a military base. They were magnificent, and believe me, you haven’t seen the last of them!

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