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Monday 31st August 2015 ko 18.15

Welsh Alliance Divsion Two

PENMAENMAWR PHOENIX 3 (S Williams 21 Z Davies 44 Paddock 90)

GREENFIELD 4 (Pritchard 38 Beck 56 Henley 58 80)

Att 431 (Welsh Hop record)

Entry £3

Programme £1

Badge £3

Recently I attended a funeral of a mutual friend of my ex-wife and I. Since we split up 5 years ago we’ve only spoken a handful of times and never met. We both knew the other would be present, so the nervous tension built up in the days before. Fortunately we found time for a brief chat before the service, and whilst we’ll never be friends I stood at the back of the chapel and felt the tension slowly dissipate, rather like the valve on a pressure cooker. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt like that in the last few weeks.

After the machinations of the Llanllyfni game, we’d heard good things about what Penmaenmawr were planning, the only issue was that with the swapping around of kick-off times earlier, and Trearddur Bay’s late arrival at Llanllyfni we were rather tight for time. We attempted to by-pass Caenarfon traffic via a mountain short-cut, but apart from discovering Mountain Rangers former ground, it cost rather than gained us time.

Still a phone call to the club got kick-off delayed 15 minutes, and in the end we arrived at Cae Sling around 5.55. On the way though I’d received a message from The Itinerant Football Watcher Peter Miles, saying “There’s loads of locals here.” I allowed myself a smile, as those few words told me everything I needed to know.

Without exception the clubs that do the best from groundhop games are the ones who grasp the concept of making it a community event. Take this hop and look at the attendances. I reckon we took roughly the same number of hoppers to every game, so the clubs with the biggest crowds were the ones who got the community involved. That’s how they broke the Welsh Hop attendance record, and by some distance too. It was good old fashioned hard work, getting the word out there, and no little charm.

Penmaenmawr did that more than any other club on the hop. Whether it was the choir singing “Land Of Our Fathers” before kick-off, or the dancers, the club had found a way to involve just about everyone. But I suspect what Penmaenmawr will be remembered for was the amazing catering. I don’t remember any hop club doing cauliflower cheese or corned beef hash before, but it wasn’t just that it was delicious and competitively priced, it was also served and sold quickly to everyone who wanted to could partake.

There was a lovely buzz about the ground as I finally took a step back from it all and considered what was in front of us all. My regular reader may remember my theory that for a hop game you need at least one of the following to succeed. You need a great ground, a great game or great staging. Since you have little control over the first two you have to work hard on the third. We did, and Penmaenmawr did in spades, so we ended up with all three, and more independent minds have described their efforts as the best staged hop game ever. I can’t and won’t comment on that, but it was exceptional.

Obviously the game helped, one of those end-to-end encounters that makes you happy you eschewed the sanitised, televised game and opted to take your chances on the road. But more than anything else it was a pleasure to stand in the foothills of Snowdonia in the setting late-summer sun and just enjoy the moment.

That sense wasn’t just felt by me either. During half-time one of our drivers Jase, won the raffle. The prize wasn’t to be trifled with, two hospitality tickets to a Manchester City game, but he opted to put the prize in for the club to auction which they did raising another £250! It was wonderful gesture, and one I’ll never forget.

It summed up the weekend for me, Communication, Preparation and Cooperation. And when that doesn’t happen, then the whole edifice falls down, so you have to work at it. That GroundhopUK statistic of one postponement in 13 years has not come about by accident.

So that’s it for us for the Welsh Alliance, with all but one club having been visited (Prestatyn Sports) after 3 years. Its been a mixed bag for us, this was a high, Kinmel Bay was a low, and its fair to say Chris and I have had to work hard to make these 3 hops run. As for next year who knows, other leagues in the area would interest us, but then the South Wales Amateur and Senior Leagues have now merged so a return to the south is possible. All will be worked out in the next few months.

In the shorter term the North Berkshire League Hop takes place over 18th and 19th September. That’s games at Wallingford Town, Hanney United, Grove Rangers, East Hendred, and Hagbourne United playing a one-off game at Didcot Town’s training ground. As ever the clubs are prepared to deal with crowds ten-times normal, and as ever it’ll be a celebration of non-league football. I’ve mentioned the phrase, “Communication, Preparation and Cooperation,” before, but who on earth would have it any other way? See you all there.