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Saturday 10th May 2008 ko 15.00

Highland League

WICK ACADEMY 3 (Weir 9 Shearer 27 Macadie 73)

FRASERBURGH 2 (Johnston 22 Hale 78)

Att 263

Entry Comp’

Programme £1

Pain is part and parcel of being a groundhopper, it’s the yang to the ying of a wonderful ground and an exciting game. For some the pain is self-inflicted, the hopper who doesn’t count nil-nil draws travelling from Blackpool to Fakenham 3 times for example, but my ground of pain for years was Harmsworth Park. Of course if the place had have been just a few miles from where I was living at the time, Banbury in Oxfordshire, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but Wick Academy are the most northerly senior club in the UK, and a trip here took more than a little planning.

To give you an idea of just how far north Wick is, the Caithness town is a 2 hour drive along the A9 and A99 from Inverness. In medieval times it was ruled by the Norwegians, the Old Castle of Wick, whose ruins still stand today is a relic of their rule. On a more curious note Wick is home to the world’s shortest street; Ebenezer Place is precisely 2.06 metres long and consists of one door!

I’d attempted to see a game at Wick whilst on a holiday in Inverness. It was set up nicely, I’d just moved jobs, and with my company car on order I’d been given a brand new set of wheels to drive until it was ready, so you can imagine my feelings when the engine seized just outside Tain. I missed the game, and travelled back to Inverness in the back of a car transporter. At least the seals basking on the rocks by the Cromarty Firth didn’t laugh as we trundled miserably past.

My annoyance was mitigated slightly in the knowledge that I’d be back in the Highlands over Christmas. At the time I had use of a cottage in Insh, near Aviemore, so I travelled up, reached Insh, checked the game was on, and drove for another 3 hours. This time I did reach Wick, but passing me the other way as I neared the ground was the Fraserburgh team coach, the pitch was waterlogged and I travelled back fuming.

But I was determined not to be beaten, and when the Fraserburgh game was rescheduled to the final game of the season I decided to get Harmsworth visited once and for all. I booked myself into a cheap hotel near Perth, and on Saturday morning left at 8.45, enjoying the most beautiful scenery on the A9 northbound. I reached Harmsworth early, at about 1pm and was rather perturbed to see no signs of life, but soon enough the club’s officials arrived, and the conversation went something like this..

“So where are you from?”

“Banbury.”

“What? Banchory?”

“No, Banbury, in Oxfordshire”

(insert expletive), well I think we’ve just found ourselves our guest of honour for this afternoon.”

And from that moment on, I had the most wonderful time. I was given a pennant which still is on my wall, together with a bag of old programmes, and was given hospitality in the boardroom. I made sure I bought a suitable number of raffle tickets and so-on. Kind clubs are wonderful, and Wick are up there with the best of them, but I will never take hospitality for granted.

The game was well worth the efforts I’d made to get there. It was once of those pulsating ties, that utterly belied the fact that it was the last game of the season with nothing other than pride to play for. I said my goodbyes, thanking the officials once more, and made my way back to Perth via a meal in Inverness.

I remember reaching my room, kicking off my shoes, and collapsing on the bed with a silly grin on my face. Did the wonderful time I’d had make up for the troubles I’d had in getting there? Absolutely it did, and that dear reader, is the ying and the yang of groundhopping.