Saturday 16th April 2016 ko 11.00
Carmarthenshire League Division One
ABERGWILI 4 (Callegai 50 Binding 57 78 79)
LLANSTEFFAN 1 (Soames 90p)
When the previous Welsh Spring Hop finished its run in Ceredigion we thought it would be relatively simple to find a replacement league. After all there hadn’t been a Ceredigion League club that hadn’t enjoyed hosting, so you would have thought that word of mouth would have ensured a speedy set of negotiations wouldn’t you?
Well, the Pembrokeshire League turned down the idea, precipitating a mini revolt from some of their clubs, then the Carmarthenshire League seemed unsure about the whole proposal. Thankfully they eventually agreed, we publicised the event, and watched bemused as a few hoppers completely missed the point.
Far too much is made of GroundhopUK being a commercial enterprise; if money were the only object we’d never have run hops in leagues like this. The most popular hops tend to be based in Step 5/6/7 leagues that are geographically isolated, but does that mean there isn’t room for others?
The answer is of course there is, so my answer to those who derided this as “Fields” and “Park Football” is to admit they’re technically correct, but with all due respect they’re missing the point entirely. Yes, hops such as these see few or no seated stands and the like, and if that’s a prerequisite to you then I’ll be the first to agree that this isn’t for you. However there are enough people like me that love football right at grassroots to make a hop like these a worthwhile exercise.
It’s a case of horses for courses, the lower level hops tend to attract the more experienced hoppers, with the converse being equally true. Obviously there are fewer “Big Numbers” hoppers so we were never likely to see the kind of crowds seen at, say the Northern Counties East, but as long as putting on a hop like this is a worthwhile exercise for all concerned we’ll continue to do so.
What sticks in the craw is the criticism of those who do enjoy this type of hop. I was forwarded an email by a desperately immature young man deriding this hop. He claimed the event might not happen as apparently we’d only sold 14 advance tickets- there were 70, so he was wrong on every count.
There are of course no lack of other hops we organise that will fit his requirements, the United Counties, Western and Northern Counties should suit, but as our coach pulled up by the flood gates at Abergwili, just to the east of Carmarthen I regretted his closed mind, because this tiny club gave a masterclass in how to host a hop game.
As organiser you tend to look for the broad brushstrokes, the game on, the gate manned, and catering provided. We got there early, always a good thing, so I was able to grab a tea and some Welsh Cakes and just enjoy the company of Abergwili. The secretary waiting at the gate to thank everyone for visiting his club aftwards was a wonderful touching gesture.
It’s not easy being a club in the second tier of the county league, take it as read that the overwhelming number of the crowd were hoppers, and whilst this is one of the smaller crowds we’ve seen on GroundhopUK events, it was also a ground record. It just shows that sometimes there’s a gap between the perception of the visitors, the clubs, and yes even the organiser!
The game eventually went the way of the hosts, Llansteffan are rock-bottom of the league without a win, but they played with gusto and heart, and their goalkeeper Jason Davies provided a lovely postscript to our day.
In the evening several of the hoppers went for a beer in Carmarthen and happened across Jason and several of his teammates. He commented,
“We were a bit uncertain about this hop thing, but we LOVED playing in front of you lot, and we’d be BANG UP for hosting you lot next time!”
Well Llansteffan, that’s our card marked!