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Saturday 22nd September 2012 ko 7.30pm

North Berkshire League Division 5

UFFINGTON UNITED 12 (Watson 2 20 33 43 59 70 82 87 Cousins 11 14 56 Glock 62)

APPLETON STARS 0

Att 188

Entry & Programme £4

Badge £3

Food: Meat and Veggie Chilli

Beer: White Horse Brewery

The final game of this year’s hop saw a trip to the pretty village of Uffington, best known for the 374 feet prehistoric “White Horse” carved into the chalk of the Berkshire Downs behind the village. It’s just about visible from the ground, but there’s more to the village than just that. Poet John Betjeman lived here during the 1930’s and Thomas Hughes, author of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays,” was born in the village.

Now if you thought a NBFL Division 3 game was trying something new, I’m not sure what the great hopping populace thought I was thinking planning this! I do what the Uffington committee thought, as they admitted to me at half-time; they thought I was absolutely stark raving mad when I presented my proposals at a club meeting at Tucker Park 2 years earlier!

The logic is simple, the ground at Fawler Road, has floodlights, and Uffington don’t seem to have played under them in living memory, With floodlit grounds at a premium in the NBFL this was an obvious closing game for the hop. That immediately raised another issue, that division 5 is primarily for reserve and “A” sides. Since hoppers by and large will not watch games involving reserve teams, my choice of opposition for Uffington was restricted to two, Challow and Appleton. Challow are new to the league this season, and so I knew nothing about them, but the Stars I know well.

The Stars re-entered the NBFL 3 seasons ago, and were placed in Division 4. They had a terrible season, and were relegated without registering a point. The next season they still finished bottom but at least registered 3 wins, but last season suffered from the league creating Divisions 4 East and West, and once again failed to register a point. With Uffington having finished next-to-bottom last season, I plumped to the Stars on the basis it might be competitive, and give the crowd some goals to view. I was correct on one count!

What surprised the visiting hoppers was just how well-appointed Fawler Road is. Apart from the fully railed off pitch, with dugouts and floodlights, there’s a second pitch (now there’s an idea!) and a clubhouse with ballroom. The latter proved to be handy as goalscorer Jamie Glock’s chilli sold like hot, well chilli. Common consensus was that it was delicious! NBFL media man Phil Annets went back for seconds, and he was not the only one!

I was worried about Appleton, and so were the NBFL committee. They’ve taken some real hidings over the last 3 seasons, and after a 15-0 drubbing at the hands of Benson Lions Reserves last Saturday we did have Challow on stand-by in case manageress Briony MacKellar decided this was a bridge too far for her team. I was wrong, and I should have known better, as I’ve seen Appleton a few times and they are a team in the purest sense of the word. They pull together, and even though they’ve taken some real beatings, including a 24-0 reverse, they play for each other and for fun. I had a brief chat with one of the players before the game, he admitted to me that the team was nervous so I found some hoppers and made sure they gave them a cheer.

I needn’t have bothered, as although Appleton shipped their first goal with less than 2 minutes on the watch, the crowd took to them as they gave the game a real go as they always do. And that’s where for me they avoided utter humiliation. Yes, Uffington are clearly a massive improvement on last season, but Appleton were not without attacking effort, forcing 3 corners and hitting the bar once. But you cannot be humiliated if you give it your best, and pull together. And that is what make me have a gigantic soft spot for the Stars.

Watching from the bench was Paul Nuckley. A veteran of Appleton’s previous stint in the NBFL, he was goalkeeper for most of the last 3 years, before opting to play for Stanford-in-the-Vale as he prefers to play left-wing. Nevertheless he decided to come along and support his former team-mates.

The difficulty he had as did everyone else there, was the floodlights were somewhat murky, perhaps I should have known as secretary Helen Wilkins did put in the excellent programme that the lights are, “Unique!” It ended up being a case of watch Uffington roll in yet another goal, and ask the bench who got it. The answer was ” Kieran, ” (Watson) a quite unbelievable 8 times! It made Ben Cousins’ hat-trick look positively tame! It broke all kinds of groundhop records, and after completing the crowd count, and saying thanks to the Uffington committee, I allowed myself the luxury of spending the second half on the Appleton bench, partly to check they were all right, and partly to indulge the part of me that is a fan.

And that concluded this year’s event. We produced an average attendance slightly up on last year, and tightened up on the little things that make a hop special. Two areas really pleased me; the clubs did excellent, varied catering, and I thought the 4 programmes were exceptional.

To finish I’d like to thank the NBFL committee, and especially Media Guru Phil Annets. Phil grasped the concept straightaway and his help makes my job so much easier. I’d also like to wish NBFL Chairman Leroy Paddock all the best as I know he’s going into hospital this coming week. I’d like to thank the clubs for their hard work, and at times indulging that bloke who kept sending them emails! The away clubs too, your time will come, as long as you want us there. Thanks also to everyone who attended any of the games, but especially to “Fast” Eddie McGeown who drove the other minibus. Lastly to Chris Berezai, normally I’m his deputy but for this one we swap places. We both know what sometimes you need a shoulder….

See you all next year, Benson Lions, Berinsfield, Long Wittenham and Didcot Casuals, you have a lot to live up to!

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