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Saturday 22nd September 2012 ko 16.30

North Berkshire League Division 3

STANFORD-IN-THE-VALE 1 (Gregory 85) Mayall sent off 81 (foul and abusive language)

BLEWBURY 1 (Mitchell 23)

Att 178

Entry & Programme £4

Badge £3

Food: Cream Teas/ barbeque

Beer: White Horse Brewery

So let’s go back to the drawing board. Start at Coleshill, and finish at Uffington, so Stanford really was an obvious choice based on the geography if nothing else! The trouble was I knew absolutely nothing about the place other than that the poet Pam Ayres (“I wish I’d looked after me teeth”) hails from here. So in April I decided to go and have a look, and I liked what I saw.

https://laurencereade.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/a-preview/

Generally when I meet a club and explain how a groundhop works and what’s involved I get one of two reactions. Either I get a look that says, “You are completely mad,” which isn’t necessarily incorrect, or the club representative’s eyes get progressively bigger as the blind panic sets in! When I met Stanford’s Simon “Taff” Blackshaw I definitely got the latter! Whatever he thought at the time he did two things that made my life easy, he asked loads of questions, and came up with good ideas too.

The club used a farmer’s field opposite Cottage Road for parking, and produced the greatest whiteboard for the line-ups that I’ve seen on a hop, it was huge! The cream teas went down well, but I do wonder what the players ate after the game as the barbeque earmarked for them looked to be doing a good trade amongst the travellers! There was also a fascinating display of some wonderful old club memorabilia, as well as the beer from the White Horse Brewery, based in the village. The club had done their advertising too, a hopper reported that the village had a poster up everywhere you looked!

So good were the club’s efforts I completely forgot this was a first, Chris and I had never attempted to organise a hop game at a club this far down football’s pecking order. That said, I’d been made aware that Blewbury had had difficulties in the previous few days, so I was more than pleased to see them arrive! I was pleased to see them for another reason, they are the first ground in the NBFL I’d visited around 10 years ago.

There was some confusion as to which team was which. Stanford decided to christen their natty new yellow and blue nets, but NBFL rules state that if there’s kit clash the HOME team changes, so it was Blewbury to got to wear the yellow and blue kit.

Stanford’s main man is forward Tyrun Mayall, and it was his turn and shot that provided the first chance after 8 minutes.  Stanford had the majority of the play early on, so it was a surprise when Blewbury took the lead, Liam Saunders cross being rifled into the net by Joe Lee Mitchell. And despite more or less continuous pressure Stanford couldn’t find a way through. The frustration told most obviously on Mayall himself as he swore at linesman Harry Moore, himself taking a break from Hellenic duties, and followed it up with a rigid digit in Moore’s direction leaving referee Charlie Bullock with no option but to dismiss him.

From there I thought that would be the end of Stanford’s challenge, but as usual I got that one completely wrong. The equaliser, when it came was beautiful in its simplicity, Sam Weeks played a slide-rule pass through the righ hand channel for Jamie Gregory to glide the ball home. Deserved, and Stanford could easily have won the game if Weeks’ finish after a mazey run had have shown a little more finesse.

The game finished soon afterwards, but by that stage the talk was already about the final game. That game of course, had its own benefits and pitfalls.