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Sunday 3rd August 2014 ko 14.00

Peterborough & District League Premier Division

COATES ATHLETIC 2 (Drane 16 Pell 53) Drane missed penalty 89

OAKHAM UNITED 5 (Forbes 15 18 Nelson 45 82 Caldicot 47)

Att 401 

Entry £4

Programme £1

Badge £3

Let me tell you a secret; on every groundhop that’s ever been organised, whether by GroundhopUK or our friends, there has always been a “Problem child,” club. They’re the club who don’t take advice, don’t communicate with the organisers, or in the case of one, fold altogether 2 weeks before the event! Its the task of whoever’s organising the hop to work with that club to get that club, at worst, up to an acceptable level.

So as the coach left Peterborough Northern Star for the trip to Manor Field, Whittlesey I considered the hop thus far. 6 games out of 7 completed, and no issues at all, in fact all I’d had to do was count the crowd 6 times, and distribute programmes!

I had absolutely no reason to doubt Coates’ ability to host the game, after all League official Daniel Leggett is involved here, and their plans looked rock-solid. However there had been a little doubt over who were watching, where, and what they were called.

The original idea was a 3-game Sunday. Whittlesey Blue Star, on a ground just the other side of the swimming pool from Manor Field, then on to Whittlesey United here, then on to Coates Athletic as a finale. Blue Star turned us down, Coates ground wasn’t ready in time, then Coates decided to merge with Whittlesey United.

It was easy to rejig the schedules, and it does leave the new Coates ground for us visit in the future, but there was the vexed question of the name of the club we’d be watching! Initially I had the name written down as Whittlesey/Coates, then I spotted the club’s Twitter feed as @WhittleseyAthFC, but Daniel was adamant the name was Coates Athletic. He was, as usual, correct, mainly due to an agreement with a sponsor, but the name will change to Whittlesey Athletic when the club move to their new ground. If nothing else it’ll give us a new pin badge to buy when we visit!

Rick parked the coach up, and we entered the ground through one corner then through a small coppice. I looked across to the pitch, and stopped for a second to take it all in. We were around 45 minutes before kick-off as the place was already busy, and the crowd was already over 200! Clearly this new hop was going to break the mould, no problem club here!

I later found out that the local council had only allowed the event to take place if the attendance was demonstrably under 500. The two entrances were in radio contact, and were under orders to close the gates if the capacity were reached.

If, on Friday you’d have told me that we’d got 400 for a PDFL game, I have laughed. With similar facilities we’d seen 251 at Berinsfield and 284 at St Dogmaels, but this was on another level altogether, a game changer in fact. It helped that we got hoppers we’d not seen elsewhere on the hop, but also the two halves of the merger brought all their families too. Add to that the harnessing of the community’s spirit and you have a recipe which will get rolled out to the likes of the North Berkshire, and the Ceredigion League hops.

Once again the event ran smoothly, the pulled pork baps sold like wildfire, mainly because the quality was superb, but I decided to treat myself to an ice cream, it seemed more in keeping with the day!

I was keen to watch the visitors in this game. I’d watched Oakham play on an alternate ground during the winter floods, report here and its fair to say they and manager Wayne Oldaker are really looking forward to our planned visit on our “Rutland weekend groundhopping” hop next year. In fact their #GroundhopUK t-shirts were new one on us, to the extent we’ve ordered one each!

I’m no expert on the PDFL, but the whispers were that the merger of two strong teams meant that Coates were red-hot favourites to win this one, and potentially the league too. What the throng got was a high-quality game that utterly belied the game’s nominal step 7 status.

Knowing Wayne as I do, I didn’t expect him and his team to have worried about either the pundits’ predictions or the large crowd, In fact Wayne has set Oakham the task of beating the Groundhop attendance record next year. That’s not going to be easy, there were 1569 at Bridlington Town but it always pays to aim high!

Aiming high is clearly what Oakham are doing, and they overturned the form book completely with this comprehensive win. Clearly they’re one of the teams to watch this season. The question is this, which league will be we watching them in next season?

Ultimately, the game summed up the weekend. There was something for everyone. Coates got a bumper crowd and payday, and Oakham the points and a fantastic steer on how to host for the future. The hoppers got a great game at the last of 7 well-presented events.

There are of course many people to thank. The clubs, players, supporters, and groundhoppers firstly. On a more personal level John and Wendy from the league for firstly trusting us, then grasping the concept and acting on it. You will never get crowds or revenue like this by cutting corners.

Often at the centre of things was League official Daniel Leggett. He was behind much of the league’s efforts to get a hop started, and his work behind the scenes was much appreciated by Chris and I. Daniel, you have a fine future in the game, and you deserve that holiday.

A new hop meant a new coach company and new driver. Rick, thanks for understanding our needs, and working to them. Our drivers work hard, the day is long, but we do look after them, so Rick please make sure you’re available for next year!

So what’s next for GroundhopUK? Next up is the Welsh hop, 10 games in beautiful Snowdonia over the Bank holiday 22nd -25th August. There’s just under a week left for booking discounted tickets, accommodation, and coach travel.

Then it’ll be the North Berkshire hop on 20th September. That’ll be 4 games, plus a bonus game on the Friday a fundraiser for Abingdon Town. There’ll be a last chance to see Marcham FC before they move, and probably the only chance you’ll get to see a game at the Defence Academy, Shrivenham! That game will feature the playing of the inaugural James Rennie Trophy.

At Deeping Rangers we were able to announce we have reached an agreement with the Scottish Lowland League for a groundhop provisionally scheduled for 21 and 22nd March next year. That will be the organised groundhop’s first foray north of the border, and the planning has already started planning, including getting some cup competitions rescheduled!

For further information on what we’re organising why not join our mailing list? Just ping over an email to Chris at groundhopuk@yahoo.com and we’ll keep you up-to date! See you on the road somewhere!