, , , , , ,

Sunday 13th March 2016 ko 12.00

Lowland League

EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY 3 (Evans 7 89 Guthrie 14)

SELKIRK 2 (King 19 O’Connor 86)

Att 294

Entry £5

Programme £2

One thing to appreciate about the hop hotel in East Kilbride is that after 2 years they’d learned to cope with two coachloads of hoppers. At breakfast the plates were piled high, as we ate in anticipation of a long trip south after this game. Soon enough, it was time to head east back to Edinburgh and with all due respect to our hosts, probably the least anticipated venue on the hop. Of course, as ever, I’d got it all completely wrong!

The photos of the East Peffermill Playing Fields showed a modern railed off pitch with an “Arena” stand, the likes of which you can see at hundreds of grounds with the same poor sightlines. The experienced hopper tends to look at them and inwardly his heart sinks a little. Of course what a photo finds difficult to convey is good old-fashioned charm, and that’s why I enjoyed my time here more than perhaps anywhere else on this hop! The backdrop of Arthur’s seat at the back of the seat helped it has to be said!

It really is the little things that endear, the welcome when you arrive at the gate, and seeing, finally, some imagination with the catering. The club have no kitchen here, so providing something as simple as Danish Pastries was an inspired move. I watched hoppers, including those who’d eaten gargantuan breakfasts buy and enjoy them.

It raises an important point too. Let’s imagine if Uni had done precisely what the other clubs on the hop had done (except Preston, they’d done a veggie curry) and had pies. You’d have seen the looks of “Oh not again,” and the sales would have been poor. As it was arguably the smallest club on the hop provided the best hosting, and that was eminently predictable.

The great advantage Chris Berezai and I have is that we organise hops at different levels of the game. From the tiny clubs of Ceredigion, through the miners’ grounds in South Wales, through the Hellenic to the Western and Northern Counties East, we strive to learn what makes them all tick, and so then how to help them stage the best game possible. But wherever we go its always the same, the smaller the club, the more effort that gets put in.

Remember the likes of Cigerran, Bargod, and Berinsfield? Or Athersley Rec’, Chipping Sodbury and Llanboidy? If you’re the kind of hopper who simply won’t drop below a certain level, or thinks lower levels of football are just “fields” but were here at Peffermill you’ll have seen a beautifully staged hop game, so enjoy GroundhopUK’s offerings in the more well-known leagues, but please do come and give the less well-known hops a go. You’ll see hosting as good as this, and tiny grounds really buzzing.  I even heard a hopper claiming Phil Hiscox’s South West Peninsula Hop over Easter would be “All fields,” boy is he going to look daft when he sees the photos….

The game was a real curate’s egg, good in parts. A blistering start, a dull middle part, and a finish where former Scotland international Garry O’Connor thought he’d rescued a point for Selkirk, only Nathan Evans to collect his second to win the game for the hosts 3 minutes later.

Despite the trip home being longer than last year, it didn’t seem to be anywhere as near as onerus as then this time. The journey did give me plenty of time to reflect on this hop and our time in the Lowland League.

Firstly we haven’t completed the league, Preston Athletic will have a game during next year’s East of Scotland League hop, and as I type we’ve given ticket holders the option of a refund, or donating the money to Preston. The consensus seems to be towards helping Preston, which would be a wonderful gesture. Also in the Lowland League are Cumbernauld Colts, who play at the the Broadwood Stadium, best known for having SPFL team Clyde FC as tenants too. However Colts are the anchor tenants, and Clyde will be moving out at some point…

I do think as as an organisation that predominantly deals with English hoppers, the Scottish non-league scene and ourselves still have quite a bit to learn about the other. So this time we lost a game, and the catering wasn’t as good as it could have been. On top of that we had issues with supply of programmes and badges, but where we could, a solution was found before the problem became critical. It’s too easy to forget that the sum total of hop games in Scotland is still only 11! The key is the fact that we will continue to strive to improve, we’re not the types to stagger a few kick-offs and be happy with a crowd of 140!

The organised hop will continue to evolve north of the border. Other than the EoSL hop, we’ve been invited to a meeting at Hampden Park to present the concept to an entirely new league. Obviously there’s no guarantees that will lead anywhere, but the crowds seen in the Lowland League hops have made the non-league game in Scotland sit up and notice. Certainly GroundhopUK specifically, and groundhoppers in general have a lot to thank the Lowland League for.