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Saturday 11th April 2015 k0 19.00

North Berkshire League Cup Final

FARINGDON TOWN “A” 0

WALLINGFORD TOWN RESERVES 2 (Bone 32 Marks 59)

Att 180 at “The Heights” Potash Lane, Milton Heights (Milton United FC)

Entry and Programme £3

I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised as when an email from NBFL media officer Phil Annets plopped into my in-tray inviting me to present the trophies at this final. I mean, why.. yes I know I’ve been behind 4 successful groundhops in the NBFL, one in rather trying circumstances, but it is only 4 and the previous day I watched Bill Gosling present the trophies on the back of 50 years service!

But if it was the reward for those hops, then credit should go to the other half of GroundhopUK Chris Berezai, and all those committeemen, and the legions of volunteers who’ve made the idea come to life. I found myself thinking of the likes of Josh Nathanielz, Jackie Cullen, Jon Radcliffe, Taff Blackshaw, Ian Stonham and Lindsay Mudie as I parked up.

Then there was the NBFL committee too. I remember standing in front of them in Hanney Royal British Legion in early 2011 in my ex-wife’s pullover to try to get the hop up and running. I knew I had Phil as an ally, and what a great friend he’s turned into over the years, and I remember thinking that all these blokes thought I was insane! But they must have seen something in me, because not only did they let me try but they backed the project by paying for appointed linesmen for each hop game, which they still do to this day.

So when someone tries to criticise the “Fields”or “Park Pitches” of the North Berks expect a reaction from me. There’s something special going on here, this league understands and embraces vital values like community, family, teamwork, and camaraderie and lives those values. And if you think that’s just weasel words, ask yourself why 200 or so people watch each of the hop games each year?

In fact the only thing I’d change about the NBFL is the name of this competition! It’s the cup for reserve sides playing in Divisions 4 and 5 of the NBFL with the proviso that if a side has an “A” team too, the lower ranked side takes part in this cup. I explained this to one friend who rather uncharitably commented, “So it’s the NBFL Thimble then!”

So under NBFL chairman Leroy Paddock’s guidance I was introduced to the two sides, trying not to trip, and soon did what I can do well, find a quiet spot to watch the game. Sadly it failed to spark as a contest, as in a repeat result of last year’s final Division 5 Wallingford beat their Division 4 opponents. It seemed inevitable that Wallingford’s hot-shot Mikey Bone would be amongst the goals, his lob was a moment of real class.

Maybe it was the position I found myself in, but I found it to be a social event to be enjoyed amongst my friends, some with a footballing background, some without. In the end the game meandered to a finish and I managed to present the trophies without dropping anything! A lovely touch was Wallingford captain Daniel Marks opting to lift the cup with Simon Cowlard playing his final ever game. Simon came up to me afterwards for a chat, he’s my liaison for September as Wallingford Town are staging a “Precursor” game for the North Berks Hop on Friday 18th September.

That encapsulates why 5 years ago I had my mind changed. I never thought I’d become a fan of a league, I watch different clubs after all, but the way the North Berkshire League conducts itself is a lesson for all, and not just other people in football.

This honour I will never forget, and my thanks go to all those at the NBFL for thinking of me, but also to all those who helped make the hops the success they are.

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