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Thursday 28th March 2013 ko 19.45

North West Counties League Division One



Att 133

Entry £5

Programme £1

The burgundy jacket hung inertly from its hook at the back of the car, so yes it was groundhop time again. I don’t think I’ve ever explained exactly what Chris Berezai and I actually do with regard to organising football tours, or groundhops as they get called.

We liaise with a particular league to get kickoffs staggered over one or more days. That attracts the groundhoppers, so from there we organise advance tickets, to allow clubs some idea of numbers attending, programme production, merchandise, catering, transport and accommodation. We’ve been doing a long time, and its a fairly well oiled machine, but just occasionally you do get a glitch!

This Easter’s hop was on behalf of the Northern Counties East League, and with an excellent base at the Cedar Court Hotel, just off the M1 near Wakefield, and Stringers Coaches providing the transport we were good to go, but then the weather intervened! The area saw significant snow during the week, and by Tuesday it looked increasingly unlikely our scheduled game at AFC Emley could go ahead. I called Atherton Collieries’ secretary Emil Anderson that night, and I will always be grateful to him and his club for more than tripling his club’s programme production on Wednesday night when the Emley game was finally postponed. We agreed that the prepaid hop ticket would be acceptable, and we’d pay them the fees that would have gone to Emley, with those who didn’t want to go either receiving a refund or a credit to a future GroundhopUK event. It took a bit of organising from all sides, but goodwill always helps. We took a bit of a hit with the extra mileage, but all concerned were happy enough as the coach picked its way along rush hour on the M62 to Greater Manchester.

Atherton has been associated with coal mining and nail manufacture since the 14th century, encouraged by its outcrops of coal. At the beginning of the 20th century the town was described as “the centre of a district of collieries, cotton mills and iron-works, which cover the surface of the country with their inartistic buildings and surroundings, and are linked together by the equally unlovely dwellings of the people” The mills and mines have long since gone, and its now just the occasional building and the football club that hints at the area’s past.

Alder House is a gem of non-league, a ground I’d heard described as “being built wholly without use of spirit level.” It’s a ground grader’s nightmare with a real hotchpotch of stands and bits of terrace. Nothing quite adds up, but that’s what gives it its charm. There’s the telescopic tunnel, rescued from Leigh Centurions former home Hylton Park which looks incongruous when attached to the much older changing rooms. Hylton Park also supplied the seats bolted on to the terrace, replacing the old stand which got just a little too rickety.

The hoppers loved it, and the club’s hospitality, and ignored the fact that the hop started with a nil-nil draw. Yes, both clubs took just that one pass too many to make their possession count for something tangible, but no one worried or complained. The hoppers were glad of a game to watch, and Colls were pleased at a financial windfall, and Chris and I were pleased we’d pulled an iron out of the fire.

We said our goodbyes, and thanked Emil and his club, and headed off into the chill night. It was only later, over a quiet beer back at the hotel that I finally realised the significance of the evening. The hopping community will look at the Colls as the side that went the extra mile at 24 hours notice to rescue the first day of a hop. For that I hope they’ll be remembered with much fondness.