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Saturday 10th October 2015

Bedfordshire County League Hop

10.30 Bedfordshire County League Premier Division

SHARNBROOK 4 (King 17 Mulvihill 48 52 Strange 69)

PAVENHAM 4 (Payne 6 11 Harding 47 Netherway 59)

Att 125

13.45 Bedfordshire County League Premier Division

RENHOLD UNITED 2 (Reed 3 Allison 6)


Att 119

16.30 Bedfordshire County League Premier Division

FLITWICK TOWN 3 (Banfield 5 Doriatito 17 Lewis 82)


Att 151

Free entry to all games

Programmes £2 each

Badges £3 each

When I see the Bedfordshire officials to some extent I see my own reflection. I’ve got so engrained in the world of the North Berkshire League it’s got to the point where I can look at a side in the Bedfordshire League and understand them, the two leagues are that similar in how they operate. 

They are fortunate in that hop organiser Craig Dabbs moved from Telford to Biddenham in perfect time to get involved and I recognise the difficulties he has in organising a hop below Step 6.

From some groundhoppers’ perspective football at this level doesn’t matter, “It’s not on my radar,” is their favourite phrase, and my normal retort of “Try recalibrating it,” doesn’t tend to endear me to them, and nor is it meant to!

From the league’s perspective, as organiser you end up teaching the officials what a groundhopper wants, and convincing them that, yes sufficient people will be interested in watching to make it a worthwhile exercise. Take the Beds’ League’s insistence that no club can charge for admission. I had a similar conversation with the North Berks, and the Ceredigion, and its born of local authorities not allowing entry fees. In North Berks the “Entry by programme” has slowly metamorphosed into “Entry including programme,” and I suspect most saw the £2 programme as including entry. Different strokes for different folks…

For clubs at this level you have to teach them how to cope with a crowd, any crowd. When a club is used to seeing around ten people at a normal game, you cannot expect a club to cope with 150 without guidance and plenty of notice. To think and do otherwise is simply unfair.

In the end the hop organiser conducts a balancing act of the needs of league, hopper and club, and I’d observe that groundhoppers are nowhere near as price sensitive as some would claim. I remain bewildered at some who will happily put £50 of petrol in their cars, then quibble over whether its £2 or £4 to get in!

And so on Saturday there was Craig in the middle of the maelstrom of conflicting interests, and he’s clearly growing into the role, for he should regard the day as a personal triumph, as when you look at those three sides of the equation he succeeded in spades.

For the league, the aim is to show themselves in the best possible light, and three well-presented games will certainly have done that. A lovely moment was Sharnbrook captain Chris Prior winning a bottle of whisky in the raffle and presenting it to Pavenham’s Tim Bowers awaiting the ambulance with a broken leg. That game in any case should be remembered as one of the most exciting hop games ever staged.

For the hopper, its easy to summ up our needs as programmes, badges, and the line-ups posted somewhere prominent. You can’t influence the quality of the game or the weather, but it was things that he got the clubs to do that made the hoppers’ day and helped the clubs no end. And it’s the added value that makes your day, the cakes at Flitwick for example or the Chilli at Renhold, not the basics, that should be a given, and for that Craig got the clubs superbly marshalled.

For the club the aim is to enjoy their 3 hours, and make a windfall doing it. So to see little or no queues for the excellent food and drink and the clubs not to run out of anything that would make them money, means that they’ve been allowed to maximise their opportunity.

Yes every organiser, club, and league would like a few extra through the gate, but just as important is once you’ve got your crowd, is how you charm them into spending even more money! At every single groundhop planning meeting I’ve ever attended the clubs see the potential extra numbers through the gate and I watch them multiply it by the entrance fee. They look shocked when I tell them that’s the least money spinning bit!

So, dear reader if you’re a hopper next time you’re at an organised hop and you leave the last game with a full belly and a bagful of merchandise then reflect on why that is and thank the league, the clubs and the organiser.

On Saturday that is precisely what I did, and all the credit should go to the Bedfordshire League, Sharnbrook, Renhold United, and Flitwick Town, but above all else to Craig Dabbs.

From Sharnbrook

From Renhold

From Flitwick