chris wilder, FA Vase, Football, groundhopping, GroundhopUK, Kim Hedwall, North Berkshire League, Swedish Groundhop, Welsh Alliance, Welsh Groundhop
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so with 2015 nearly upon us let’s cast a final glance on 2014, after all some exceptional places did get a visit! If you’d like to see more of the places featured, the links with take you to the original articles.
January saw a week’s visit to Malta, and between avoiding nervous British pensioners, and my attempts to source the biggest full English breakfast on the Island, we did manage to watch 9 games. For me there were two highlights, the games on Gozo, where there seemed to be more capacity in the Catholic Churches than residents!
Of course no trip to Malta should be without a trip to Hibernians, and the extra “S” is really important !
February turned into a Scottish Junior love-in, not difficult when the first ground was Tinto Park, the soon to be demolished home of Benburb.
It blew away the multitudes of hoppers who went, but a trip to Ayr to see Whitletts Victoria was also rewarding, a feisty cup game and a friendly club is never a bad thing!
March saw the organised groundhop season as busy as I’ve ever known. I enjoyed the Northern League’s Southern hop, before decamping to West Wales for the 2nd Ceredigion League hop. The weather relented, but Llanybydder folded, leaving Bargod Rangers to fill in on next-to-no notice, and they were reeling from the loss of secretary “Gos.”
I’m still grateful, and I’m still mighty impressed!
Add to that, the catering at Cilgerran and that stand at Ffostrasol and you have some idea of how enjoyable that hop was! In fact I enjoyed it all so much, I drove back the next week to watch Cwmamman play themselves.. sort of!!
The month ended with a trip back to Scotland, to take in the quite wonderful Junior side Neilston, who managed to combine charm, a wonderful ground, and a hugely enjoyable game.
If anything the pace increased in April. A trip to Germany included a trip to Ulm I could not have linked to VfR Mannheim until the bankruptcy of the former led to the Oberliga reprieve to for friendly VfR whose hospitality I will never forget.
Then there was Rob Hornby’s hugely successful groundhop, I still have no idea how he does it on his own, and proved once again that planning and preparation are essential to make these events. Those who think otherwise are just plain wrong as was demonstrated later in the year. This is from Keyworth United.
The last UK groundhop of the season saw Harvey and his team complete a monster hop in the Northern League over Easter. A highlight for me was Spennymoor , but I only attended the last day!
I’d expected a trip to the Belgrade Derby to be eventful, and the game and pyro certainly were that!
But the trip was memorable for far more than that. There was the ground that used to be owned by war criminal “Arkan,” but the people at the railway club of Zeleznikar brought an tear to my eye. They’ve now lost their ground, but the club survives; spirit like there’s can’t be drowned easily.
I promise you I did slow down in May, the friendly folk at Newent helped no end,
before Oxford United helped Northampton with former “U’s” manager Chris Wilder at the helm to retain their league status.
Wembley Stadium got its annual visit, to watch Sholing win the Vase, in their one season down at Step 5 seemingly just to win at the national stadium.
The most intriguing visit of the month was to Camelon Juniors. The ground and game were as good as I’d expected, but I was approached by two Scots hoppers. They let me know that the Lowland League could be interested in hosting a hop. They were right, and after the usual to-ing and fro-ing we’re good to go in March 2015.
During the same trip I watched Hibernian (no “S” this time!) lose their Premier division status in a agonising penalty shoot-out to Hamilton Academical.
For me June adds up to one thing- Sweden! But this year I added on a Norwegian leg best remembered for me negotiating my camera in, at Lillestrøm !
The Swedish hop remains Kim Hedwall’s labour of love and when places like Qviding‘s Valhalla home with the Nya Ullevi behind, on the itinery the event will always be close to my heart!
July saw GroundhopUK set sail, well Ryanair to foreign climes for the first time. A 3 game weekend in the Republic of Ireland was supplemented by trips to the Guinness factory and the Battle of the Boyne site. I still don’t know whether the young lady managed to get into Bray Wanderers though!
August was busy, very busy! There was the inaugural United Counties/ Peterborough & District League hop. We even saw a bouncy castle at Peterborough Northern Star, and the crowds staggered us, especially on the Sunday.
Soon enough it was time to return to beautiful North Wales, but this hop stretched GroundhopUK as we’d never been done so before. The problems were most manifest at Kinmel Bay who as I write have just secured a groundshare at Llandudno, but other issues required our planning, advice, and times patience. It was good to enjoy the quieter moments and just enjoy this wonderful part of the world, this photo is of Blaenau Amateurs.
September sees my baby, the North Berkshire hop, which at one point looked as if it could have been seriously derailed. Another league clearly decided that clashing their event with ours wouldn’t impact on their attendances, and refused to communicate, negotiate or co-operate with us. It backfired spectacularly on them as the North Berks saw bumper attendances as the rival day saw roughly 50 people per game desert them compared to their previous events. 3 months later, if I see mention of Crowmarsh Gifford, Dorchester, Marcham, and Benson Lions I can’t help but smile, they were magnificent. This photo is of Benson Lions’ mess tent at the Defence Academy, Shrivenham.
Away from North Berks there was time to take in 2 icons. The first was the Ironworks Ground, home to Tow Law Town.
and the crumbing masterpiece that is Harwich & Parkeston!
But unquestionably the highlight of my groundhopping year was The Oval, home to Belfast’s own Glentoran. Yes, the ground is magnificent, my favourite of the 1670-odd I’ve visited, but Ricky Rea, and his club’s hospitality actually managed to surpass the ground! I even made the programme for their next game!
I felt the need to get back to grassroots in October, and what better way to do that by watching a game at Beesands Rovers, virtually on the sea’s edge!
Then there was the European trip with games in 3 countries. There was pyro in Saarbrücken,
A prison in Luxembourg,
but there were railway engines in Belgium
November saw 3 games in Wales, 2 with amazing backdrops. Newport Corinthians have the transporter bridge,
Harlech Town have the castle,
But Undy had the curry!!
If you’ve had told me in December I’d re-visit Arsenal I’d have laughed at you, but when an 8 year old asks, you do your best for him!
The theme of doing the unusual (for me anyway) continued with a trip to Aldershot for the poignant Game Of Truce
before returning to more normal service for the club formerly known as Aylesford Paper Mills
So that’s some of the highlights, if I left your club out, I do apologise! If I haven’t visited your club, and you’d like me to come armed with my camera, then please ask, I’d love to visit!
Finally, have a wonderful 2015, and see you somewhere daft!
Nice one mate,find myself enjoying visiting different grounds when I get the chance rather than following my club these days