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Sunday 18th October 2015 KO 14.30

Western League Premier Division

MELKSHAM TOWN 2 (Higdon 15 82)

GILLINGHAM TOWN 1 (Smith 88)

Att 357

Entry £5

Programme £1

So all too soon it was over, our 7 game Western League jaunt that months earlier Chris Berezai and I wouldn’t have thought possible, and certainly not taking in the Melksham’s iconic Conigre Ground, staging football for a final unexpected year, due to would you believe a colony of newts. While Chris and I knew that the hoppers would love the ground, we were far less certain about how the club would enjoy their day.

The impression we’d got was that the club seemed ill-at-ease over the whole event. They hadn’t attended the planning meeting, and there was a fair amount of discussion on getting the advance programmes and badges to Keynsham for the ticket holder’s packs. But they did have our briefing notes, and we’ve run 4 hops in Ceredigion without ever holding a clubs’ meeting, so it was more of a case of worrying about whether they’d actioned the contents. So the coach arrived at the Conigre, found somewhere to park, and we walked over the gate wearing our bravest faces. And from that moment on we couldn’t have wished for more.

I remember seeing league general secretary Mark Edmonds displaying the historic Western league trophy, and the grin he gave us said far more to me then any words could. The line-ups were being posted with the help of a spirit level no less, and the queue for Chilli con Carne told you all you needed to know about how the club had planned their day. And that wasn’t the best side of it either.

As I walked round the ground doing the head count there were people, hoppers in fact that we hadn’t seen anywhere else over the weekend. It seemed to me that people had decided to come as a way of saying goodbye to a cherished ground, and this was a fine way of doing it. It produced by far the biggest attendance of the weekend, which the club seemed rather proud of!

I do have a certain amount of history with Gillingham, which if you didn’t know by now is pronounced with a hard “G.” Chris and I were chatting to their officials about a FA Vase game we’d seen them in, and they laughed and said,

” I bet you’re going to ask after Benjani Ben Salem?”

And they were correct, the forward rather losing the plot here against Cowes Sports! They were good company and with the club also looking to move, they are one we’ll look to visit sooner rather than later. Ben Salem by the way now plays for Wincanton Town.

Despite Gillingham’s rally in the second half Melksham won, and just about deservedly so. I spend the second half in the main stand exchanging a joke or two with some GroundhopUK’s regulars before finding Mark Edmonds and thanking him for his herculean effects in getting this event up and running.

With the benefit of just over week’s hindsight, the Western Hop managed to surprise even me. The matches saw an average attendance of 248, which for an autumn weekend with no Bank Holidays was very pleasing, and proof positive that planning preparation and cooperation is the only way to run these events. But as good as that was, the bit that I’ll take the most pride over is how the clubs took those bumper crowds and turned them into real money-spinners. After all, if all you do is attract people through the gate, then have nothing to sell them the organiser has only done half a job.

So where does that put us at GroundhopUK? As far as I’m concerned this hop saw 7 clubs score 7 bullseyes with their hosting. The league are happy, and we’re already planning for next year, with the possibility of a surprise or two. This hop’s success has seen another league approach us, that is good news, but a long way from an event actually happening. It is clear though that we’ll be busy at GroundhopUK for years to come.

That’s it for us for 2015, so our next event is the Scottish Hop from 11th to 13th March. That’s been expanded to 8 games, so it’ll be even better value than last year! More details on the Grand Days Out website, and see you there!

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