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Saturday 25th April 2015 ko 18.15

Notts Senior League- Senior Division

SANDHURST 4 (Shaw 30 Pearson 32 Clarkson 54p Chapman 55)

KIRTON BRICKWORKS 2 (Ricketts 6 Cooper 82)

Att 346

Entry £3

Programme £1

You could sense the worry as the stream of traffic left Burton Joyce. With hop organiser Rob Hornby scheduling four games in a day without floodlights the game that would be tightest for time would be this one, pulled forward to preserve the light. We put the postcode into the satnav, and winced as the ETA showed just 15 minutes before kick-off. With no delays, that would be fine, but the queue to the junction was being exacerbated by the regular trains using the level crossing.

On one hand our car was in front of the coach, and its the organiser’s prerogative to phone ahead to get the kick-off delayed a few minutes, but with only natural light, and a dull day Rob’s hands looked tied. Eventually we escaped Burton Joyce’s environs and finally arrived in Walesby just as the players were forming the pre-match parade.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Walesby? Why are they called Sandhurst?” It turns out they were named after a sponsor, a garden centre in Walesby. The centre has long since closed, but the name has remained. My reaction was to check that Martin Bamforth had made it to the game, and wasn’t in Berkshire. The aimiable but accident-prone groundhopper from Taunton is famous for having turned up at Hibernian when in fact it was the Maltese Hibernians that were at home that day.

The game saw the unfortunate near-neighbours Kirton Brickworks take on the hosts. Brickworks have told Rob they can’t host a groundhop game because their ground is adjacent to the brickworks, making the attendance dangerous due to the lorries using the access road. That’s a pity for Rob as hop organisers tend to “pair” clubs by geography, which may have found a solution to the mad dash we experienced here. Moreover this season has been a disaster for them, they are rock bottom and relegated, but with Sandhurst in relegation trouble themselves, they could act as spoilers in this game.

And for the first half hour that’s exactly what they did. Scott Ricketts’ thunderbolt free kick shocked just about everyone, but once Lee Shaw equalised the game went as expected, with David Cooper’s late goal for Brickworks serving only to make the last few minutes interesting.

So let’s look at the event as a whole. Firstly all the thanks in the world should go to organiser Rob Hornby. Organising these events isn’t easy, in dealing with groundhoppers and football clubs you are usually working with two groups that don’t understand each other. Add to that Rob is in poor health, does it on his own, and does it in a league below Step 6, and the achievements and benefits to clubs of this hop must not be under-estimated.

I’ve read comments on internet forums that this hop would have been better with only three games on the Saturday. Whilst it is certainly the case that there wasn’t anywhere near enough time between the Burton Joyce game and this one, I can’t see how you could have done it substantially differently. Rob asked for 7 minute half-times at the games, but the referee ignored that request at Burton Joyce, and that 8 extra minutes would have been handy at Walesby. The club would have used that time to sell more food (although the baked potato fillings sold out early), team sheets and so on.

Ideally as organiser you like to get everyone to the game 45 minutes to an hour before kick-off, so a 7.00 kick-off would have been ideal. But that not being an option, not holding the game at all would have meant trying to fit them in next year, creating the log-jam then. You could have pulled the first three games forward 10 minutes, we saw a hop game kick-off at 10am, at Crowmarsh Gifford earlier this season on the North Berkshire League Hop, but my overriding feeling is that Rob came up with the best solution in less than ideal circumstances.

After all, if Rob had have gone for 3 games, the pressure from the League and clubs would have been on to make the kick-offs at 11am, 3pm and 6pm, so only two games would have been needed to be moved rather than 4. The drift would then have been horrendous as hoppers would have found a different game to see at 3pm. As it was the attendances dropped by nearly 100 from the Bingham to the Netherfield game, and experience tells me that the 3-game day would have made it far worse.

Sometimes I think people forget just how good at this Rob Hornby is. His affable nature hides a sharp mind, so when he puts together an ambitious day like this, you can be certain it is for the best of reasons. Yes, we were busy, I’m not sure I’ve ever watched quite so much football in so short a space of time, but the needs of me as a groundhopper are only part of the equation. Rob, like every organiser has to think about the needs of the clubs, and the league.

Ultimately our styles and methods may differ slightly, but Rob, together with Chris Berezai, Harvey Harris, Phil Hiscox, Craig Dabbs and yes, even me will always agree that unless you set up a hop to cater for all those interests and more, you’ll never succeed. And the attendances over 20-odd years on this and the other organised hops prove the point.