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Wednesday 25th November 2015 ko 19.30

Western League Premier Division

WILLAND ROVERS 5 (Wilson 36 Shepherd 53 75 Tasker 68 Blake 81)

LONGWELL GREEN SPORTS 1 (A Summers 83)

Att 54

Entry & Programme £6.50

Let’s face it, you really do have to love the road to be a serious groundhopper. The hold-ups, the roadworks and the faceless service stations all add up to a high price for visiting a football ground that the vast majority of your friends won’t have even heard of.

Then there’s the planning, especially for midweek games. Everyone has what I’ll call the “Zone of opportunity,” which translates to how far you can travel. For some it’s how far you can travel starting from what time you leave work, or how late you are prepared to arrive back home. For some it’s how long they’re prepared to be cooped up in a car or on public transport, and for some it’s on economic terms. But as you start clocking up the grounds, you start running out of floodlit grounds, and you start stretching that zone of opportunity. For me travelling from Oxford to Willand was doing precisely that.

Willand sits just off of M5 at that point in Mid-Devon when in footballing terms you wonder whether if they were relegated from the Western Premier they’d opt to drop into the South West Peninsula League. After all, Cullompton Rangers are just a mile or two south of here.

But the wonder of Willand is just how far a small village club has come. This is their tenth season in the Western League, and from the moment you park up near to Silver Street the place welcomes you. I love a ground where the lights beckon you in like a sporting moth.

And once the moth reaches the light, the delights are there for all to see. Whether its the wrought iron gates, the cottage in one corner or the beautifully maintained stand you see at stroke why Willand are where they are, and it’s not a secret formula either.

It’s a potent mixture of volunteers, hard work, charm and sheer bloody-mindedness, but when a complete stranger can walk in, exchange a joke with the gateman, and feel completely at home in a matter of seconds, you know they’ve got it right. Putting it another way, it made the long drive worth it, and in due course when then Western Hop arrives here, I am going to greatly enjoy introducing more people to this gem of a club.

Bristol-based Longwell Green are the club that “Got away” on this year’s hop. They could have featured on any one of the four Saturday slots, and we actually passed the ground between Cadbury Heath and Keynsham! Still, if they want it, their time will come. Here’s they looked out of sorts and slowly disintegrated as Willand applied more and more pressure.

I said my goodbyes and headed back to the M5, trying not to think what time I’d get back to Oxford. But it seemed no time until I was glancing at the Sat Nav and seeing less than 35 miles to go, the time had flown by. And when you push that zone of opportunity and you dig up a diamond, the miles just melt away.