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Thursday 13th April 2017 ko 19.45

Northern Counties East League Division One

CAMPION 4 (Davis 47p Cunningham 70 Kendall 77 Hey 87)

DRONFIELD TOWN 1 (Wood 46)

Att 268

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

With last year’s Easter Hop being based in Cornwall and organised by Phil Hiscox, it had seemed ages since we’d enjoyed the company of the Northern Counties East. A lot had changed, not least that we at GroundhopUK had been approached by the North West Counties League to run a hop there. We’d immediately thought that would end up replacing the NCEL as this hop saw us reach a point where there are insufficient clubs to run a full hop here. However next season the Easter Hop reverts to the South West Peninsula League for it’s final event, so we looked at ways of squaring the circle. 

We were very taken with the Northern League’s Easter Hop a couple of years ago in that they had games on both Easter Sunday and Monday. We’d pondered doing that for the very first NCEL hop in 2012 and received enough hoppers’ advice to stick with the tried and tested Thursday, Friday and Saturday format, but the success the Northern League found with a “Whole of Easter” format gave us an idea.

We suggested bolting the two league’s events together, creating a two league, 5 day, 13 game hop. It would mean traversing the M62 for the NWCL days, but when the whole idea saw favour with both leagues we started planning the whole event. We knew that the Northern League had had issues getting clubs, especially away clubs, to play on Easter Sunday  so when we had both home and away clubs keen to take part the “Monster Hop” looked on. That remained the case even when we lost St Helens Town early on in the planning due to their new ground not being ready in time. We haven’t forgotten them- their time will come.

On a personal level I had just one worry. We knew that the Northern Counties East clubs would do well, there is no lack of experience or advice to call upon, but the exact opposite was the case the other side of the Pennines. That feeling was heightened when Chris Berezai set up a host clubs’ meeting in Leeds and only the NCEL clubs attended. Not necessarily a problem, we’ve held hugely successful hops without club meetings, but I really didn’t want the NWCL clubs to be unfavourably compared to their neighbours.

My Maundy Thursday started with a detour to pick up the NWCL’s 6 sets of programmes from Wigan before battling Bank Holiday traffic to head to our base in Wakefield. Then came one of the tougher parts of the weekend, making up over 120 programme packs. It’s worth commenting that since GroundhopUK are the only hop organisers that allow customers to buy individual games that meant 13 times 13 different potential programme packs to construct. Yes, you can take it as read that there were some hoppers who were ill-equipped to wait until we’d finished them all, just before Godfrey and our coach arrived at 5!

We started the hop at Bradford-based Campion, formed from a youth club named after the Catholic martyr St Edmund Campion. The club’s base at Manningham has a little footnote in football history, it’s where the reformed Bradford Park Avenue played their first season in the West Riding County Amateur League back in 1984.

I’m sure just about everyone there had visited a more impressive ground, although there are plans to extend the stand and provide hard standing on all 4 sides. I’m equally sure though that you’d be hard pushed to find a friendlier club or a better staged game. Put simply I loved every moment I was there, and that chicken curry was wonderful. More than anything else Campion proved what a thoroughly decent club they are, and as the game reached it’s climax it was a pleasure to sit with secretary Dave  “Keggsy” Keegan and chew the fat for a few minutes.

Their opponents Dronfield Town have, I think, a unique footnote in organised groundhops. I think they are the only club to have featured in hops in both different leagues, and with different organisers as they were on the final Central Midlands League organised by Rob Hornby.

They’d taken the lead through Wood’s excellent lob after a turgid first half, but after that Campion roared back and were deserved winners in the final analysis. But with the marathon facing us what I really wanted from our first game was a friendly club and a well-staged game. Thanks to Keggsy and his team we got all of that and so much more.

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