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Saturday 19th September 2015 ko 13.30

North Berkshire League Division 3

GROVE RANGERS 4 (Pickering 2 Vaux 18 Cramp 21 22)

BENSON LIONS 1 (Radcliffe 88)

Att 154

Entry & Programme £4

Badge £3

The first clubs on my wish list for this hop were Grove and the Lions. They’d kept us royally entertained at the Defence Academy last time round, so it seemed entirely logical that we’d simply reverse the fixture this time. What I entirely forgot about was the full sized model of the De Havilland Venom nearby, marking the site of RAF Grove which closed in 1974, but also I felt also marking the visitors’ links to the RAF.

That said, I didn’t expect the club to be playing with it in close sight, Grove normally play further along the Denchworth Road, just behind Grove RUFC’s clubhouse. The rugby control the site, and with the first XV playing after us, decided to shunt the football to the other side of the complex to Wasbrough Field, where ironically the club’d original ground.

That move gave Stuart Bristow some problems, and some advantages. On one hand it did mean the football was kept completely separate from the rugby, so all hoppers would buy only from the club! However Wasbrough Field is a good 200 yards from the clubhouse, and isolated from the village itself. The club put up signage to direct the football traffic in the right direction, but some did end up parking at the rugby club and having to walk across. Add to that the complete absence of power or running water, and it shows what little Stuart and his team had to work with. As if to make matters worse the club had asked their reserve team players to help Stuart and his team; not one turned up leaving the committee having to multi-task. In the end there were far too many jobs for far too few volunteers.

Another disappointment was the lack of local support, we lost a few hoppers after the Hanney match, but the drop of roughly 20 in attendance was mostly down to the people of Grove not supporting their team. I know Stuart advertised the fixture locally, and gained raffle prizes from both Williams F1 and a local garage so why the village didn’t show up will remain a mystery. He had every right to feel disappointed in the locals, he did his part, why didn’t they?

There was someone helping out that reflected beautifully on the whole event. We had to pull the Hagbourne game on the previous Wednesday due to Didcot Town’s training pitch lights being faulty, so to see John Symonds from Hagbourne there helping out Stuart and his team, and selling Hagbourne merchandise reflects well on both clubs. Thanks Stuart and John, your sense of fair play and cooperation is why I got involved the league in the first place.

Another piece of North Berkshire helping their own was the linesman on the far side. How many chairmen of leagues are prepared to run a line due to a shortage of officials? Step forward Leroy Paddock and take a bow, and my thanks.

It has to be said that September isn’t the best month if you are involved at Benson Lions. With players on active service September tends to be Manoevres month, so chairman/ manager Jon Radcliffe turned up with little more than a scratch squad, and for 20 minutes Grove ran riot, and as a I conducted the head count I wondered whether we’d see the record score set at Uffington beaten. However Grove more or less declared, and the Lions reorganised at half time and looked all the better for it.

With 20 minutes left Jon Radcliffe allowed himself a cameo. I’m used to the skull cap and the fact that first time I met him his leg was in plaster. It is clear to me that while he loves snowboarding, I’m not sure snowboarding loves him! It mattered not as with a couple of minutes left he found enough space to pick his spot from 18 yards to score Lions’ consolation. The goal was good, but his high-five run along the crowd was for my the moment of the hop! And I’d like to think the crowds’ reaction was our way of thanking him for two amazing hop games on 2 military bases.  It set us up nicely for the final game of the day too.