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Saturday 9th May 2015 ko 19.00

North Berkshire Cup Final

BERINSFIELD 5 (Saunders 21 D Murphy 26 37 90 Holdsworth 60)

SAXTON ROVERS 0

Att c450 at Northcourt Road, Abingdon (Abingdon United FC)

Entry & Programme £3

If there’s one game at the end of each season I hate to miss its this one, and please don’t confuse it with the North Berkshire League Cup Final, this one is open to all first XI’s in the league, and you get a far better class of guest of honour, the trophy was presented by Angela Lawrence, Mayor of Abingdon. She was rewarded for her efforts with a champagne soaking! It’s the traditional closing of the NBFL season, a celebration, but this year there was more than usual to consider.

On the playing side, in the first semi-final, league champions Berinsfield beat the only other team to run them close this season – Kintbury, but the other semi-final proved to be rather controversial. Saxton Rovers lost to near-neighbours Abingdon Town, but did so knowing that Town were playing an ineligible player, so knew whatever happened they’d go through.

Town took the expulsion phlegmatically, played once more, losing the Faringdon Memorial Thursday Cup Final 5-2 to Wroughton on 7th May, before the committee all quit, and the news that the club had resigned from the North Berks League, common knowledge for about a month suddenly took on a tragic slant. It was expected that Town would return to the Hellenic League, but no application had been made, the club finally succumbing to the slow strangulation of rent charged by a landlord interested only in the development value of their Culham Road home. It looks like one of the oldest clubs in the league, formed in 1870 has finally, tragically, pointlessly folded, and for what?

What the machinations did produce is a tie with real spice, and it was interesting to see how the make-up of the North Berkshire League has changed over the last few years. 5 years ago the maxim of the league was that if you finished above Saxton, you won the competition. They routinely had teams that were stronger than many in the Hellenic League, but have seen their dominance fade, and this season finished what they would regard as a lowly ninth from twelve.

In contrast Berinsfield used to be seen as the enfants terrible of the league, but since re-entering the league under the guidance of Brian Honer, Jackie Cullen and manager Stephen Masterson have not only picked up just about every piece of silverware available to them, but have managed to shake off the bad reputation too. Two years ago Jackie won the NBFL’s secretary of the year, the first woman ever to win the award. I was at the AGM when it was presented, and I will always regard that moment as when the league gave its tacit nod of approval that the bad days were behind the club.

The two clubs are rivals of long-standing so the league knew they were going to see a huge crowd. Extra stewards were drafted in and two PCSO’s looked frankly amazed that so many people would be interested in an off-pyramid game. In fact they looked nervous until they worked out that this was going to be a loud, bawdy, and sometimes alcohol-fuelled occasion, but never a violent one.

It wasn’t tense either, even Jackie was able to watch! For once Luke Saunders opened the scoring, it was a case of how many Berinsfield could score. For hot-shot David Murphy there was the incentive of trying to notch his 50th goal of the season; he needed a hat-trick to complete the feat, but looked to have stalled at half-time on two.

Saxton did get the ball over the Berinsfield line, a mass of tangled legs at a corner saw the ball squirt home. The goal was quickly disallowed for a foul on keeper Simon Matthews and Mark Ingram collected a booking for his part in the melee afterwards!

Mark Ingram’s free kick found Luke Holdsworth’s shoulder which rebounded off Tom Mullord for the fourth. Or, if you’re Luke Holdsworth the goal was a sublime Drogba-esque flicked header, you decide! My take on it is that Mark Ingram’s free-kick was worthy of an even larger audience!

Was David Murphy’s troublesome ankle slowing him down? The best chances were falling to substitute Daniel Osbourne, but Ben Maidens in the Saxton goal was in inspired form. But with seconds left he raced through in the right channel he still had plenty to do, but executed a neat drag-back before planting an exact shot into the bottom left corner with little or no margin for error.

It was a goal worthy of being goal number 50, worthy also of winning the cup, and worthy also winning the double for Berinsfield. The celebrations were long, heartfelt, and knowing the club as well as I do there will have been plenty of sore heads on Sunday morning!

I don’t know how many noticed but there was a lovely unheralded touch from the league. Running the line on the dugouts side was Gary Winsor. Gary’s recovered from serious ill-health so it was lovely to see him afforded the honour of participating in the league’s blue riband final.

So that’s the league finished for another season. Despite Abingdon Town’s sad demise there are plenty of new applicants to the league, including one that I’ve not seen play! As ever at this level of the game, the AGM will be interesting, and once that’s happened we can start planning the next North Berkshire Hop, scheduled for 19th September with another precursor game the night before, this time at Wallingford Town. The next day we’ll be visiting Ardington & Lockinge, Grove Rangers, and East Hendred, with the final game being Hagbourne United playing a floodlit game on Didcot Town’s training pitch.

The event will showcase the league’s values of friendship, camaraderie, and community, but let’s face it- if you’ve ever watched a game in this league you’ll have experienced that already.

UPDATE 16th May 2015

In the days after this game things moved quickly for Abingdon Town. It transpired that the ground had been sold by the landlords to the local council. Their long term aim is to build, but since the ground is on floodplain, and the housing market isn’t exactly buoyant the club were offered and have accepted a new one-year lease, with an option for another 5 years. Thankfully the club will continue next season in the North Berkshire League, First Division.

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