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Saturday 20th September 2014 ko 13.00

North Berkshire League Division One

DORCHESTER 3 (J Nicholls 6 J Fleet 6 Patterson 16)

ARDINGTON & LOCKINGE 0 Fairclough sent off 73 (dangerous play)

Att 204

Entry & Programme £4

Badge £3

Food: Meat or veggie pasta

Beer: Rebellion Brewery

It was only a 4 mile journey from Crowmarsh Gifford to Dorchester-on-Thames, and for some of the trip I followed the reverse of the signs put up by Crowmarsh to guide people in to their game. I’d relaxed a little, we’d just set the second highest ever attendance for the North Berkshire Hop, and the hop’s history shows an event where few go to one game then disappear elsewhere. We’d also seen the event being backed by local people as we’d planned, and I had confidence that Dorchester had taken steps to ensure that too.

Dorchester-on-Thames is famous for its 12th century abbey, but the actual name of the village is a misnomer, as its isn’t actually on the Thames! The river we crossed as we turned off the A4074, is the River Thame, which reaches its confluence with the Thames a few hundred yards south of the village. The village was an important stopping point for stage coaches with 10 coaching inns once being here. Now there are just the two, but both did rather well out of the visiting hoppers!

Dorchester FC have a long history, right back to 1887, but the current incarnation has only been around since 2011, but were rapidly promoted to the NBFL’s top flight. If you wondered why the club had no old kits to sell, its because they haven’t worn the current lot long enough to discard!

I’d attended the club’s first planning meeting, which set the tone for how secretary Mike Stimpson and his committee would approach their day. They were friendly to a fault but I liked their restrained approach and on a day where showers were possible, the covered veranda at the front of the pavilion was handy if ultimately unnecessary.

The cricket outfield was filled with cars, with minibuses Rod, Jane, and Freddy joined for this year by NBFL press officer Phil Annets’ car christened “Bungle” parked outside on a quiet side-street. The meat or veggie pasta sold well, and as soon as the pub-hoppers arrived so did the beer too.

The theme of former host clubs calling in continued with Jackie Cullen and Mark Ingram of Berinsfield FC crossing the A4074 to support the event. It was lovely see them both, and it would have been highly ironic if their attendance had beaten the NBFL hop attendance record. But as good as 204 is, Berinsfield’s attendance of 251 will be a tough one to beat.

As a local I was intrigued by the home keeper Jon Beames, as he’s played at a way higher level than this, but when the team line-ups were posted an even more experienced keeper was playing for Dorchester, their manager Colin Fleet. Fleet has played at Southern League level at more clubs than I can remember but he’s probably best known for featuring for Oxford City in 1995 FA Vase final at Wembley, City losing 1-0 to Arlesey.

It would be all-too-straightforward to comment that the three early goals ended the tie as a spectacle. Ardington didn’t give up, and Fleet belied his years, and the fact that he hadn’t played for 5 years by pulling off some spectacular saves. Ardington were putting everything into the game and Luke Fairclough’s dismissal for a quite dreadful challenge was a case of the team’s total commitment spilling over.

Perhaps when you’re the organiser the game matters a little less, and the staging a little more, but when it was all over I loitered for a minute or two. Partially it was to thank Mike and his team who’d staged a superb hop game, but perhaps also the feeling that I didn’t want my stay near the abbey to end.