Thursday 24th March 2016 ko 19.45
South West Peninsula League Premier Division
AFC ST AUSTELL 4 (Grant 4 60 Eddy 32 Watts 90)
ST BLAZEY 0
I’ve probably said this before but I love attending groundhops I’m not organising. Other than the pleasure of not being on duty it’s wonderful opportunity to watch and learn. That tends to add up to two thoughts, either finding a great idea to introduce to a GroundhopUK event, or seeing something that serves to reinforce our current practice. And with the SWPL Hop being organised by Phil Hiscox, that feeling of watching and learning was heightened.
Phil’s been doing this for a long time, across the Devon County and South Western Leagues, then when those two merged, the South West Peninsula League. Phil does things slightly differently to others, for example his advance ticket doesn’t include the event’s programmes, but I suspect far too much is made of the differences, and not enough of the similarities. Phil like every successful event organiser understands the needs of clubs, the league and groundhoppers, and attempts to square the circle. But on this occasion there was the opportunity to look at what was on offer, and place yourself in the organiser’s position.
In fact the only thought I had was that the groundhop has developed since the last SWPL hop in 2011, and when a few people commented that they wouldn’t be attending as “All the grounds would be fields,” I was pleased that the tickets I’d bought had suitably large numbers on them. I also imagined the winces on the faces when those who think anything below Step 6 is a field see the photos on social media. On top of that GroundhopUK’s worst critic, the one that nevertheless seems to turn up on just about every event we organise didn’t turn up for this one, so I can only assume the bile he spouts is a bizarre form of love for us!
I remember the phone call I had with Phil back in 2011 where we agreed to share the Easter hop over the next 4 years. Phil commented he’d have one year in Cornwall, and one in Devon. So for this hop that meant visits to the 6 clubs that had never seen a hop game, plus St Austell for a precursor game. So that meant Illogan, Wendron, Helston, Sticker, St Dennis, and Bude to visit, but the art of the organiser is to decide in which order.
So how would you do it? You’d want to maximise attendances at all games, and that’s where Phil has a massive advantage, lack of competition locally. In just about every other groundhop you know that if you schedule at 3pm on a Saturday you’ll see a fair percentage of your target audience disappear to an alternative game higher in the pecking order. In Cornwall that adds up to one club, Truro City, and sadly for Phil that proved to be the case this time. Normally the SWPL’s geographical isolation works in its favour…
With 3 clubs based in and around St Austell it made sense to base things there, and with Helston having floodlights, that made the final game on Good Friday obvious, with Wendron paired beforehand, and Illogan before that.
With almost all of the hoppers travelling home north on the A30 afterwards, the final club had to be Bude. The 4.45pm ko would allow hoppers to get home at a far more sensible time than having any other club in the final game slot. That fact we learned the hard way in Scotland; whilst some may be prepared to forego an extra night’s hotel to take risks driving through the night, most do not and booking figures prove the point. You simply cannot schedule late games on the last night on the last day of the groundhop if people have long journeys to get home afterwards.
That didn’t stop one hopper asking Phil whether that game could kick off at 7.45 so he could go to Truro. That type of comment shows an utter lack of comprehension of the needs of the League and host clubs. Sad, but a fact of life, and the fact that Bude do not have floodlights made his comment even more fatuous.
So the whole thing kicked off at wet a Poltair Park. It was an evening when Phil had got absolutely everything in place for a huge attendance, a local derby, at a hard-to-reach place, on the evening before a Bank Holiday.
The weather might have been lousy, but the ground coped well with the large crowd and the bar was positively packed with hoppers catching up with each other, and buying all the usual programmes, badges and beers you could see the planning and preparation paying off.
Paying off for everyone except for poor St Blazey who seem a long way from the team that won the old South-Western League 5 times in succession ending in 2005. They were no match for St Austell who passed, moved and scored with the confidence of a team who made the FA Vase semi-final last season.
And that last fact hints at the truth of the Peninsula League. It may be nominally at Steps 6 and 7 of the non-league pyramid, but is of a far, far better standard than that. This, and the following six games completely proved the point.