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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 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 and organisation; 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.

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