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Friday 31st July 2015 ko 19.45

United Counties League Premier Division

HARBOROUGH TOWN 1 (Wright 2)

YAXLEY 3 (Cotton 9 Gearing 48 82)

Att 313

Entry £6

Programme £1

Badge £3

The more organised hops I help organise the more I feel I can see how the future of the organised hop will pan out. On one hand it would be easy for Chris Berezai and I to simply organise events in leagues we’re interested in. With around 3,000 grounds visited between us that would see lower level leagues featuring, along the lines of the Ceredigion or North Berkshire Leagues, but we both feel that we owe it to those with far lower ground counts to organise events at Step 5 and 6.

In the end I think you’ll see two distinct types of hop, the Step 5 and 6 hop, and yes I do include the South-West Peninsula League in that group. The other will be the lower level league, with the possibility of more foreign excursions, would anyone fancy the Mayo League for example?

With the footballing diary already congested, the competition for groundhopper’s time and money will mean that only quality events will survive. You have to earn loyalty, and the only way to do that is to put on a good event for the patrons. That adds up in the first instance to layers of service.

The first is staggering kick-offs, but after that you have to understand hoppers and their needs, so adding on guaranteed programmes, badges, a coach, accommodation and so on produces more attendees with every layer. Not everyone will need or want all the layers, but its obvious that the better the service you offer, the better the event you will put on, and the more people you will attract.

The last 3 GroundhopUK events have now produced average attendances above 300 proving that the system works, and it will continue to be repeated across everything we do.

The United Counties and Peterborough & District Leagues hop is unusual in that it fits both the Step 5/6 type and the lower-level type hop. I spent the weekend watching high-numbers hoppers revisiting grounds, and newer travellers discovering the joys (and pitfalls) of life below Step 6.

For the organisers the first day tends to be the most fraught. The first move was a 2 hour drive to league HQ in Peterborough to make up 120 or so programme packs, together with packs of metal badges of the 8 host clubs. From there we loaded the 4 boxes of packs and transported the whole lot to our accommodation in Moulton College near Northampton.

Chris discovered the college a few weeks ago, and it proved to be a godsend. Individual, ensuite rooms, with free parking and a hot buffet breakfast are gold dust to the hop organiser, and it provided both a good place to distribute some of the programme packs and a convenient central point for the coach to pick us up from. I have little doubt we’ve found somewhere we can call home for as long as this hop keeps going.

My regular reader will know that the first game of any hop is when I’m most nervous. Ticket sales were 20% up on last year but you never know what you’re dealing with until just before kick-off, and there was just enough about Harborough Town to make me slightly uneasy. That’s nothing against the club, they were a joy to deal with, but Bowden’s Park is a new build in the edge of town, and they don’t tend to be popular with hoppers. Also on the first UCL/PDFL hop last year we’d got one side of the hop completely wrong.

We’d expected the UCL clubs to see the bigger attendances but the opposite proved to be the case. Normally you try and put a attractive tie on the Friday, but with few (if any) PDFL clubs having floodlights Friday had to be a UCL club, and both Chris and I wondered if Harborough would be exposed.

It didn’t happen, the attendance was almost precisely the average for the whole hop, and the club charmed the bumper crowd by simply being just unconsciously competent. The club had plenty to sell of anything that could make them money, and kept the queues moving. The mercy from my perspective was that my responsibility was limited to distributing those packs and counting the crowd- no easy task in a 3 sided ground.

It helped that the game was virtually the first competitive pyramid game this season. It was the first UCL game ever in July, and means that the UCL has now seen games in every month of the year, the terrible winter of 1947 saw games in June. Lack of competition always helps!

I have to say as is often the case on first days of hops I’m involved with the game rather passed me by. I greatly enjoyed Yaxley’s company on last year’s hop, so was pleased for them that they made it 2 wins out of two hop games. That said, when a host club loses a hop game the reaction of their officials speaks volumes. As we left the smiles on their faces made it clear that they’d made the very most of their opportunity.

And that of course brings us back to my comment on which hops will survive in the future.