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Wednesday 16th November 2016 ko 19.45

Hellenic League Division One West

HOOK NORTON 0 Eyre sent off 53 (2nd booking) Watkin sent off 87 (2nd booking)

ABINGDON UNITED 3 (Wharton 18 Edney 64 Gila 68)

Att 35

Entry & Programme £5

On the face of it Hook Norton is rather isolated situated in Oxfordshire but only a mile or two from Warwickshire, at the end of a twisting B-class road from Chipping Norton. The village was originally founded on ironstone deposits in the area but is these days a well-to-do village with the Hook Norton Brewery still using steam traction and horse-drawn drays. But it’s well-to-do nature has made  life rather difficult for its football team.

The club won the Oxfordshire Senior League in 2001, and entered Division 1 West of the Hellenic. Now whilst the league isn’t exactly known for stringent ground grading, the Bourne needed work done sooner or later to remain in the league. Now, despite sharing the ground with cricket, it wasn’t massively difficult to provide a stand and seats, but floodlights proved to be another matter altogether.

The issue is always the same, whenever a small club in well-to-do area asks for permission for lights, the protest industry always swings into action. They evoke the idea of the football attracting huge crowds, and the whole “character” of the area being damaged. It is of course bunkum, just look at the attendance here, but in Hook Norton’s case the story goes that salvation came from an unlikely place.

The Hellenic Hop visited the Bourne for a 3-0 win vs Easington Sports in August 2004, and someone in the 213 present pointed out the floodit tennnis courts at the back of  the facility. As the saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” and the lights arrived via some “adventures” with the electricity company soon after. The pavilion was opened in 2012 to create a facility which allows a reasonable compromise between football and cricket. One floodlight pole has to be removed for cricket, but my camera can vouch for the lights being excellent.

The club is striving for a return to the Hellenic Premier, they shared at Banbury United during their last stint, and that sense of striving is just as strong for Abingdon United. They resigned from the Southern League in 2013 and were relegated again last season. There’s no obvious reason why football in Abingdon has struggled so much recently with Abingdon Town defunct, United at a low ebb, and even Saxton Rovers nowhere near the same force in the North Berks that they used to be.

United turned up  two-thirds of the way down the table with a very young-looking side with a few older hands. In contrast Hook Norton looked a lot more experienced, and were second behind Fairford. Only the hosts’ officials will know whether the tactic was to put physical pressure on their younger guests, but if that was the aim it certainly back-fired.

Young referee Thomas Kelly had a difficult job firstly managing the game, and then simply keeping the peace, with 5 home players seeing yellow and two red, with 3 visiting players seeing yellow also. I watched Kelly during his first season, at a North Berkshire League Division 5 game at Challow when he was very much under the tutelage of league chairman Leroy Paddock.  This game proved the adage that a referee can only do his job well if the players let him. It wasn’t a game for the purist, but it was enthralling and eventually Hook Norton’s lack of discipline cost them the game. Graham Edney’s free kick, and Siyanda Gila’s deft finish being worthy of note.

Perhaps for Hooky this was a bad night at the office. Perhaps also Abingdon United have turned a corner. Either way, it was good to see Hooky with the means to continue their progression, and United building with youth.