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Sunday 18th October 2015 ko 11.00

Western League First Division

CHIPPING SODBURY 8 (Bishop 1 Barrett 17p Downes 24og Beecham 30 Mackie 39 Taylor 46 Simms 58 60)

BISHOP SUTTON 1 (Keet 68og)

Att 261

Entry £5

Programme £1

For Chris Berezai and I one game loomed large on the Western Hop, our visit to Chipping Sodbury. Part of it was that it would be the only new ground for Chris and I, and that because this is the club’s first season back in the Western League since 1952. That last fact, and the unusual kick-off time would mean that they would see hoppers that perhaps the other host clubs wouldn’t. They attended the host clubs’ meeting, asked all the right questions, and I drove home content that we’d given them the best chance to making the best of their day. But a few days before the day I received an email.

As organiser you rapidly learn that a lot of opinions you read are at best baseless and at worst complete rubbish, but this email came from someone whose opinion I trust (and still do).  He attended Chipping Sodbury’s game the previous Tuesday and doubted the club’s ability to host a huge crowd. I understood his point, for now The Ridings is two-sided, there is little cover, and the clubhouse isn’t massive. Ultimately there wasn’t anything that either Chris, League Secretary Mark Edmonds could or wanted to do about it, there wasn’t enough time. I retreated back to the impression I’d gained at the meeting, and hoped…

The hop coach arrived, there was a volunteer to shepherd us in, and waiting for us was club president Jeff Harper to shake the hand of every hopper, talk about making the right impression. It took all of 2 minutes for me to realise that the email had misjudged Chipping Sodbury completely. It wasn’t that they hosted well, it was that they managed to do it with charm, style and just a hint of a swagger!

With some hoppers only attending the Sunday fixtures we had a few programme packs to distribute and it was good to catch up with those whose Western Hop started at this point. But when everyone had finished their chat I was able to take in my surroundings. In one sense, the emailer was correct, the ground is two-sided, there is little cover, and the club will have to carry out further improvements to stay in the Western League. I’d like to think they’ve made a windfall to help with that, they certainly did everything they could, and they certainly had no issues on the pitch.

We all felt sorry for Bishop Sutton, and that includes the host committee once the game was beyond doubt. They are a long way from the team that won the 2012-13 Western League Championship, and the difference between the players in the pen pictures in the programme and the names on the team sheet spoke volumes. It is to their great credit that they didn’t just agree to play, they wanted to play to support the hop. You can take is as read that for future events they are very much in our thoughts, and we hope they can work their way through their current difficulties.

But it was unquestionably Chipping Sodbury’s day. As organiser you put that day together and give clubs the opportunity to make the most of it. This club did that, and so much more. I left headed for our final game feeling happily, gloriously wrong.