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Saturday 11th May 2013 ko 15.00

North Berkshire League Division 5

CHALLOW FC 1 (McGowan 74)

BENSON LIONS RESERVES 2 (Swales 21 46)

Att 8

With an invite received from Long Wittenham FC to attend their end-of-season barbecue and watch the FA Cup final I needed to be somewhere nearby. I then realised there’s a club in the NBFL I’ve mentioned a few times, but knew nothing about, and that’s Challow.

There are only 3 first XI’s in the NBFL’s bottom division, so when on the last NBFL groundhop we featured Uffington United, I had a choice of either Challow or Appleton as the opposition. I plumped for Appleton, as I know them well, and have a soft spot for the gallant battlers that lose almost every week. The trouble is they were losing really heavily at the time, and there was concerns that the team wouldn’t be up for a beating in front of a large crowd. So Challow were on standby just in case, but as it transpired Appleton were happy to play, and made a lot of friends despite losing 12-0 on the night, as they didn’t ever give up. They will feature on a future hop, as will Challow, if for no other reason than just look at these pictures!

East Challow is a small village a mile or so west of Wantage. It’s cricket ground dominates, to the extent that its used for some Oxfordshire Minor Counties fixtures. There’s also the parish church of St. Nicolas to visit. It  was a Norman building of the 12th century, but the font and some masonry of the nave are now the only features surviving from this time. In the 13th century the chancel was rebuilt and the bell-cot and three-bay north aisle added. The Decorated Gothic south chapel was added early in the 14th century.

East Challow Rec’ is tucked away down a track off Hedge Hill Road, behind the local school. I parked up, started to walk down and stopped. I simply had to fire up the camera and record the simply stunning view. I reflected that I’d been a bit worried about the fixture actually taking place; Benson Lions are the team from the RAF base so if too many players are called away, the first team takes precedence so reserve games do have a tendency to get called off. You can’t really argue with a postponement due to the team being in Afghanistan!

I did have a bit of a steer on this one! With Benson Lions hosting the first game on this years NBFL hop I’d had a chat with club chairman Jon Radcliffe the previous evening. We talked about the arrangements for getting 150-200 hoppers through security at the base, it will definitely pay to have pre-booked ticket and be on the coach for this one, and he also confirmed that there would be enough players available for the reserves to fulfil their last game of the season.

That fact pleased Challow no end, as the two sides they’ve enjoyed the company of most this season has been Berinsfield Reserves, and the Lions. They’d decided to lay on some hospitality for the Lions at the manager’s pub, as “For all those lads do for our country its the least we can do…” A classy touch by a classy club.

Challow FC or Challow United, go back a long way, over a hundred years in fact. They folded a couple of years ago, over unpaid league fines and general apathy, but returned this season with a new team. There isn’t much to the ground, just a small changing room block and a fallen tree shaped so as to provide a seat. But what a view there is, with the Vale of the White Horse stretching out towards Faringdon and beyond. The club have tried to improve their lot. Some houses are being built on the edge of the village so the club lobbied for a new clubhouse as part of the planning gain. That gambit failed but there will be a new kit for the team for next season!

Challow started the season brightly and were top in September. Since then, results have rather tailed off, and going into this one they were seventh from twelve. And in all honesty they never looked like winning this one. The Lions were just that little bit stronger and smarter from the moment they scored their first, direct from a free kick from an acute angle. In fact it soon transpired that Challow’s best chance lay with the visitors lack of numbers, they had just the one substitute, he was used at half time, and throughout the second half players went down and were forced to carry on but as passengers.

It was fortunate that the Lions scored the second half early on in the second half, a penalty following one of those challenges that gives managers sleepless nights. It proved to be sufficient for the win, despite Challow’s Eammon McGowan wriggling through to reduce the deficit.

The standard wasn’t high, but what do you expect at this level? NBFL chairman Leroy Paddock popped over to see young referee Thomas Kelly who he mentors. Young Thomas had a fine game, Leroy’s obviously taught him well, and it was good to catch up with Leroy, who’s a thoroughly decent chap.

It summed a convivial afternoon’s entertainment, and it wasn’t long before I was at Bodkins field, for Long Wittenham’s barbecue. What better to watch the FA Cup final than at a grass roots clubhouse with a grilled burger, a £2 pint of real ale, and the North Berks Cup. Well done lads, and to everyone else, you’ll love the place come September!