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Sunday 30th July 2017 ko 17.00

United Counties League Premier Division

WISBECH TOWN 2 (Beck 2 Ford 45) Fairweather sent off 90 (2nd booking)

WELLINGBOROUGH TOWN 1 (Dowling 50)

Att 433

Entry £6

Programme £2

On the face of it Wisbech Town ought to be in the Eastern Counties League. The Fenland Stadium famously sits the width of a dyke on the Norfolk side of the border with Cambridgeshire. It was to be GroundhopUK’s first and probably only foray into Norfolk at Step 5 or 6 and that dyke was making it’s presence felt.

With the deluge at Bourne Town the dyke had burst its banks and one corner of the ground was flooded. Wisbech were good as gold, we knew about the issue when we arrived at Long Sutton, and knew that a mini drainage ditch had been dug to clear the water by the time we kicked off at Leverington, so any notion of a postponement had been avoided.

It goes without saying that the news came with a sense of relief, but I had several reasons to revisit Wisbech Town, over and above wanting the hop to do well. The first was Colin Gant. I met Colin at Wembley at an FA Vase final around 5 years ago, just after we’d got the agreement in place to organise this hop. His enthusiasm for the whole idea was both endearing and infectious to the extent that Chris Berezai and I immediately bumped Wisbech up our list of priorities.

The second reason was Spenny. I met Spencer “Spenny” Larham during my first visit to the Fenland Stadium in 2014 during Wisbech’s first season in the UCL after leaving the ECL. Every club needs a Spenny, a super-fan that eats, lives and sleeps Wisbech Town, so the extent that he actually lives in the ground! I met Spenny on that cold 2014 evening where a largely forgettable game against a side soon to fold was enlivened by a UFO.

Having Spenny in contact was handy; with so many clubs doing burgers and chips I was able to suggest they do something different, and the two curries they did sold out! Spenny’s main impact though was through the programme, the retro-style issue was easily the best of the weekend. In it was a fascinating article about Wisbech hosting the very first game of professional football in the UK held on a Sunday. It came complete with a representative of the Lord’s Day Observance Society promising hell-fire and damnation to anyone daring to attend the game! I wonder how many fans changed their minds?

This game had all the feel of a Step 4 game even if I do know a couple of hoppers did mistakenly record the game as being in the Eastern Counties League! We did hear that the Wellingborough manager had complained to the local press at the odd kick-off time. I can’t think that he and his team were massively inconvenienced, it is only just over an hour’s drive from one town to the other. I’m also bound to comment that in a decade’s organising I’ve never heard any complaint from a home manager! But since we’re due to visit the Dog & Duck next season we can make other plans if he so wishes! The whole groundhop concept works on hoppers, leagues and clubs co-operating, and when that isn’t there the event fails as clubs see no point in putting themselves out.

Maybe he was getting his excuses in early; his team made a dreadful start, conceding in two minutes, and taking most of the first half to get going. Wellingborough finally found some fluency in the second half and Justin Dowling’s goal made for a competitive game to the extent that I still wonder whether if Jon Fairweather’s red card had happened earlier we’d have seen a different result!

But this was a lovely way to end what was a hugely varied, but enjoyable hop. Spenny, Colin and at Wisbech Town have every right to feel extremely proud of their efforts, and the feedback I’ve received has been universally positive. For me I hope Wisbech enjoyed themselves and boosted club funds in the process.

The United Counties and Peterborough & District Leagues have for the last 4 years produced a vibrant curtain raiser to the season. Whilst I’d had like to have seen more varied catering my only real regret was that I’d have liked to have more of the UCL’s and PDFL’s respective fans see more of each other’s games. Each has a lot to offer, and in combination make for a colourful weekend. Thanks to all of you who played, attended and volunteered.

The crowds were proof positive that with the right planning, preparation, and team work a groundhop in East Anglia can be successful, to the extent that I fully expect to see another groundhop in the area announced in the near future. It won’t be one we organise, but we have coordinated on dates with the organisers, and wish it the best of luck. It does mean I get to do something I get a lot out of, and that’s attending a hop I’m not involved in. You learn far more from watching other organisers’ events.

As for Chris and I, our next event is August’s Welsh Hop, now in it’s 14th year. As ever, there’s a coach, accommodation, buffet breakfast and advance tickets, just click the link ! Then on September 16th it’s my baby, the North Berkshire League Hop, which this year features something special, just click here to see why you really can’t miss out on the Diamond Light Source Ground! Just keep an eye on the Grand Days Out website for more details, and see you there!

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