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Monday 21st April 2014 ko 18.00

Northern League Division One

NEWTON AYCLIFFE 1 (Hedley 4)

SHILDON 1 (Wood 68p)

Att 446

Entry £6

Programme £1

Badge £3

Its felt like the end of an era as the cavalcade reached the Newton Aycliffe Sports Ground. There were a few tired legs and still more tired faces, including organiser Harvey Harris. I managed to spend a few minutes with him and thanked him for his efforts, organising one hop a year isn’t easy, 4 including this hop, a monster 4 day 11 game epic is tough, very tough. He seemed pleased to be hanging up his boots, and I don’t blame him for that, the League will organise a staggered kick-off day, not a hop, next season so that people can keep up with new teams and grounds to the league. That day will be in co-operation with the hopping diary, so I’ll look forward to seeing, once again my friends in the North.

The Sports Club is one of those grounds in whose fabric you can you can trace the club’s development. Whether its the enclosure, the club so obviously used to share with the cricket, and used to change in the pavilion 100-or-so yards away. Many hoppers don’t like Meccano-type stands but judging by the fact that it was full you could at least see the game reasonably well from it! But what I liked most about Newton Aycliffe is it actually felt like a hop game!

A hop game is a one-off chance for a club to fund-raise and raise their profile. On these hops I’ve watched the likes of Heaton Stannington, and Stokesley do it really well and the likes of Penrith entirely fail to grasp the concept. There are some red lines to follow, that’s where the organiser comes in, but you can’t teach charm, and the ability to put a smile on people’s faces irrespective of the quality of the game. On one of my hops we saw that at tiny Cilgerran Rovers who put on the most amazing hospitality, and so few now speak of the game that was pretty dreadful! Newton Aycliffe ticked all the basics, made I trust a pile of money and put a smile on people’s faces at the same time.

The game? I’ve got a lot of time for Shildon, I greatly enjoyed both their company and the wonderful Dean Street when I visited back in 2012 report and pictures here, and the league table suggested an away win with the visitors with a mathematical chance of the title. The early Aycliffe goal seemed to put paid to that notion, and the game became a gritty, yet gripping an encounter with Shildon taking a deserved point with a second half penalty.

Regular readers of these articles will know I like to go on other organisers hops. Whether good, bad or indifferent I always learn something. It may be something I can introduce on GroundhopUK events or a reason to continue what we are doing. For a variety of reasons this series of Northern League hops has taught me a lot. Here are a few thoughts, and please feel free to comment below.

It is always good if a club can get the locals involved, we saw it illustrated at the aforementioned Cilgerran. That boosts the attendances more than any form of advertising to hoppers. Also catering should be varied. I heard one female fan groan, “If I see another tray of pie and peas I’m going to cry.” We deliberately get clubs to liase with each other on catering, and we find it actually makes more money for the clubs on their big day.

Programmes are the most essential element of the organised hop. It’s now got to the point that hoppers with pre-booked tickets expect their programme pack at the first game, and whilst the antics of some hoppers disappointed me at Whitehaven it reinforced the zero-tolerance view we, and the likes of Rob Hornby take to getting the pre-paid programmes to the organiser before the start of the event.

The format of the Easter hop fascinated me. When GroundhopUK took on the Northern Counties East hop I was asked to design the line-up. I went for a 4-day extravaganza, we floated the idea, and got so many emails and phone calls telling us not to that we quickly revised back to the normal Friday and Saturday hop. However a look at the attendances for this hop would suggest that may have been a mistake. The two Easter Sunday games produced bumper crowds and I was especially taken with the Ryton & Crawcrook attendance at a club not known for its support. Would a 4-day hop next Easter in the NCEL be popular? Could 4, or 6 clubs (home and away!) be convinced to play on a Sunday? I know the Northern League had real issues getting one club to play. We’d love to know your thoughts.

At the end of these Northern Hops it would be remiss of me to fail to thank Harvey Harris and Mike Amos for organising these 4 events this season in the birthplace of the organised groundhop. We’ve extended an invite to them to attend one of ours next season, and watch Chris and I run around like headless chickens for a change! I’d like to thank also the clubs with their bands of volunteers too. Some have found the task tough, others did it beautifully, and all have left those who supported the events with some wonderful memories. After all, isn’t that what the hobby is all about?