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Saturday 17th October 2015 ko 11.00

Western League Premier Division

BITTON AFC 3 (Bryan 15 47 Tong 71)

STREET 3 (Murray 10 21 Hunt 22)

Att 217

Entry £5

Programme £1

Even with the amount of events GroundhopUK now runs, the chance to run a hop in a completely new league is still relatively unusual. So the chance to approach the project with a blank sheet of paper was no bad thing. We have a tried and tested way of doing things for Step 5 and 6 leagues but there is always both room for improvement, and a sense of new light through old windows was a thought worth pursuing.

I in particular had wanted to see a southern-based hop for a while. Contrary to the opinions of some, not all hoppers live in London so something for the northerners was something worth doing. But how best to square the circle creating happy hoppers, clubs, and the league took a little more thought.

We’d heard from some that a Western Hop was pointless as “Everyone’s done all the grounds,” and from at least one that “Staggered kick offs … a good way forward so you can cherry pick what you want to do and only commit a Saturday to it rather than a whole weekend.” The first comment seemed only to be uttered by those with larger grounds-visited counts, and we were more than aware that this hop was going to be aimed at a completely different clientele than, say the Ceredigion Hop. The other idea was worth a little more thought though.

Some hoppers only need staggered kick-offs, and it doesn’t matter how overwhelming you make the case for buying an advance ticket they will only ever pay on the day. You can’t plan for them, just be aware that they may turn up. But if you assume that everyone thinks like that, you put yourself the organiser in an invidious position. Because when you stand in front of those host clubs and give guidance on what’s going to happen sooner or later someone is going to ask how many people are going to turn up. And if you don’t have advance tickets, you cannot honestly give them any more than a guess.

The knock-on effect from that is massive. Clubs tend to scale back on anything that costs them money, programmes, badges, food and so-on, or putting it another way, things that with a little guidance would make them money. People then turn up, find the club not selling what they’d regard as a staple, then fail to return to subsequent events. In the end a vicious circle is created, that only stops when clubs and league decide that the money being made isn’t worth the inconvenience.

And leaving the behind the mechanics of it, all having 7 participant clubs in such a tiny geographical footprint was I think the perfect reason to maximise everyone’s opportunity over a weekend, even if for both Chris Berezai and I it did mean 6 revisits!

Bitton’s Recreation Ground was one of those, although since my visit they’ve built a completely new clubhouse! We got there early even by our standards, over 90 minutes before kick-off in an attempt to second guess Bristol traffic. We decanted from the coach and I immediately felt nervous. A new league with a new customer base, so was I wrong, was this all pointless because everyone had ticked these grounds? Those advance tickets told me otherwise, but it wasn’t until the bar cleared just before kick-off that we could see just how healthy the attendance was.

I wish we’d known that the Avon Valley Railway was running. One or two made use of our early arrival to go for a ride, and we’d have loved to factor in a train journey along the lines of what we did after a game at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Any other Western League clubs have a steam train nearby? Please let us know!

As a club Bitton did exactly what I like to see on the first game of a day, they imagined breakfast, and sold to it. Whilst that coach party had eaten back at the hotel, many others hadn’t, and you can still cook bacon and tempt the others! I think one or two who did go on the train smelt the bacon and regretted leaving even temporarily!

But the game was well worth the effort, trains or no trains! It was truly a case of a game of two halves as Street raced into a 3-1 lead, but the roles were reversed in the second half and in the end Bitton will feel slightly disappointed that they didn’t pinch it at the death.

I strolled back to the coach a lot happier than when I’d left it, thinking that if we could average 200 over the day I’d be happy.

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