Sunday 22nd March 2015 ko 12.00

Lowland League

DALBEATTIE STAR 2 (Steele 2 Sloan 77p)


Att 400

Entry £5

Programme £2

I sat at breakfast at the hop HQ watching 100 or so hoppers have their buffet meal. The previous morning, the staff had been rather surprised by two coachloads descending on the restaurant all at once, but today there was an extra staff member and the queue moved efficiently. It proved to be a good analogy for the two clubs we visited.

On another level entirely I had less reason to worry, I’d seen the clubs’ plans for their day, and having visited both Dalbeattie and Threave previously I knew we’d have two great clubs and grounds to visit. Dalbeattie I remember visiting after seeing a photo by my hero Stuart Roy Clarke of the graffiti on the wall at the back of the stand reporting that,

“Jonathan Paynter had Nicola Patterson up against the goal posts.”

The groundhopper in me wonders which set of posts, and the organiser in me wonders whether either of them attended this game!?

We stowed all the luggage for the long trip south after it all, and set sail south, and as we neared the Islecroft Stadium I spotted a slightly nervous club official scouring the main road for two coaches. I introduced myself to Dinger and metaphorically put my arm round his shoulder, and thanked him for his fulsome welcome. The hoppers strode purposely across the park to the ground, and once I’d followed them I had two lovely surprises.

The first was the band, the Galloway Pipes and Drums and I have to say their rendition of “Scotland The Brave” even brought a tear to my cynical eye. It was a wonderful Scots welcome, and was appreciated by all. I made sure I thanked them when they finished.

The second lovely surprise was Harvey Harris turning up. If you didn’t know already Harvey organised the 4 Northern League hops last season, and its fair to say that he, Chris and I talk regularly and get on rather well. I’d also comment that the attendances on his hops were a contributory factor in convincing the Lowland League that a Scotttish Hop could work.

Another interesting visitor was John Holroyd, who was running a football memorabilia stall. He’s involved at Junior outfit Auchinleck Talbot, and was rather impressed at just how many people were there. We’ve exchanged numbers, and whilst that in no way means that a SJFA Hop will happen, its good to see that the success of this event has made a positive impression on places where previously the answer has always been a flat, “No.” We even had messages from 2 Highland League clubs wondering how we were attracting these big attendances!

I loved Dalbeattie’s staging as no only was it charming and efficient, it was clever too. The perfect example of this was in how they dealt with the team line-ups. We ask that they are displayed prominently 30 minutes before kick-off but league rules state the exchange with the referee need only take place at that time. Dalbeattie’s solution was to phone the Edinburgh City secretary as their coach reached Dalbeattie. The visitor’s team was confirmed and team sheets were printed as the coach parked up! That caused a few raised eyebrows but I simply grinned at the clever thinking!

With East Kilbride’s win on Friday having handed the league crown to Edinburgh City, the Star players formed a guard of honour for their opponents, and then produced the performance of the hop in the game of the hop to inflict Edinburgh City’s first league defeat of the season. It was one of those pulsating games you feel privileged to have witnessed and at half time I was able to get the bigger picture from the City committee.

As champions City will play-off over two legs against the Highland League champions, presumably Brora, and the winners of that will play-off again over 2 legs against SPFL League 2’s bottom club, presumably Montrose. for the final place in the SPFL. Its convoluted, and there’s a few “What ifs?” too. The most obvious it that the runes suggest that the Brora aren’t particularly wedded to elevation to the SPFL, but it appears that as part of the agreement to form Scotland’s fifth tier, Brora will be taking part, so the play-off could be interesting! Everyone in authority I spoke to over weekend thought that out of City and Brora, the Highlanders were the stronger side, but that either could beat Montrose. That would see Montrose relegated to the Highland League under the agreement that the border between the two feeder leagues would be the Tay.

For City SPFL membership is a real ambition too. They play at Meadowbank Stadium, the ground that was home to Meadowbank Thistle’s home before the club was uprooted to Livingston in 1995. The injustice of that still wrankles in much the same way it does amongst the supporters of AFC Wimbledon.

From my perspective it was great to meet them, congratulations to them and good luck. If they find themselves in the SPFL next season, that’ll be a good reason to visit one of my favourite cities, and in not I hope they’ll let Chris and I bring around 250 or so hoppers!

Finally a word about the attendance. Other than being delighted at such a large crowd, neither Chris or I particularly wanted such a round figure. We waited a few minutes to see if anyone arrived or left, then looked at each other, checked our clickers and came to the conclusion that after roughly 250 groundhop games organised over 14 leagues it was about time we had a round number like this!