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Saturday 21st September 2013 ko 17.00

North Berkshire League Division One

LONG WITTENHAM ATHLETIC 4 (Murphy 27 Saunders 35 Bowler 55 Barton 64)

CROWMARSH GIFFORD 0

Att 193

Entry & Programme £4

Badge £3

Didcot Power Station Beer £3 a bottle

I like Bodkins Field, as its looks like the kind of place that ought to host village football. There’s a clubhouse, a pitch and a tarmacked road, and not much else. And you know what, what more do you need? Its beautiful, its historic, and the hoppers loved the place as much as I do. In fact its views of the Wittenham clumps and the peaceful village setting convinced me to ask local author Kate Shrewsday to write a piece for the programme. It was typically thought provoking, and here’s her site.

http://wp.me/sX1we-12972

Obviously it helps that the club were selling three types of locally produced real ale on tap at £2.50 a pint. That was being damped down with cake, pulled pork rolls and a barbeque, and you could see the club’s planning paying off.

That was due to in no small part to club secretary Claire Elkin. She galvanised her volunteers, and took the whole project by the scruff of the neck, and it went flawlessly. Even the previously pot-holed track up to the field had been filled in! So much for our warning on the ticket holder’s brochure! Sometimes its good to be wrong!

I allowed myself a half of bitter and a pork roll, and exchanged a grin with the club officials. No comment was necessary, we all knew it was working well.

That carried on for the club on the pitch too, despite Crowmarsh making the better start and the hosts being without star player Andy Cooper, away at a wedding. But then came two scrappy goals from Joe Murphy (it was a good hop for anyone called Murphy!) and Matt Saunders, and after that Crowmarsh despite their best efforts didn’t look like getting back into the tie; second half goals from Callum Bowler and Tim Barton sealed their fate.

That was a shame in a sense, I’ve always enjoyed Crowmarsh’s company, and the plan is for them to open next year’s hop. 4-0 was harsh on them, and they’ll play worse than this during this season and win. In fact a club official tweeted me to apologise for his team’s performance. That was as touching as it was unnecessary, but it did speak volumes for the kind of club Crowmarsh Gifford are, and I know when their chance comes they’ll grab it with both hands.

But this was Long Wittenham’s day in every sense of the word, even the first prize in the raffle, two tickets for an Oxford United game went to a Dorset-based Oxford United fan! The win also returned Long Wittenham to the top of Division One, and the meeting between them and Berinsfield looks to be unmissable.

After the final whistle,  I held our minibuses Rod, Jane and Freddy for around half-an-hour, so people could take more advantage of the excellent food and drink, before the light failed and we exited, doing our drop-offs back at Didcot station and at our base, The Red Lion, in Drayton. After it all we sat over a pint or two and just grinned at the wonderful day the North Berkshire League had provided us.

Of course none of this happens without a massive amount of planning. GroundhopUK provide a blueprint, and run accommodation and transport. After that its up to the league and the clubs to grasp the concept, and give it a flavour of the club. That, perhaps more than any other league I’ve worked with is the case with the North Berkshire League in general and this year’s clubs in particular. We had the military with Benson Lions, the tight-knit estate with Berinsfield, and the bucolic village with Long Wittenham. What makes this even more remarkable was that we travelled less than 15 miles between the 3 grounds!

As should always be the case I’ll thank the officials of the North Berkshire League, and in particular Phil Annets for all their help and support. I’d also like to thank Chris Berezai my deputy for this hop only. The real heroes of the hop though were the army of volunteers at the clubs, those who prepared, cooked, served, collected and made the day run like clockwork. Finally I’d like to thank those of you who attended the games. We set the record and second highest attendances in NBFL hop history.

In short, this is the league that on each and every occasion it finds itself in the spotlight does it right. I can think of no better complement, see you all next year.

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