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Saturday 15th April 2017 ko 15.00

Northern Counties East League Premier Division


HEMSWORTH MINERS WELFARE 6 (Connolly 4 Law 31 Collier 34 63 82 90)

Att 231

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

I’d started worrying the week before, and those worries were accentuated when counting the crowd at Rossington Main. We’d set this hop up on a “3 games in a day” basis, as we’d thought that 13 games in 4 and a bit days was enough football even for me! That format does come with a risk though and we’d just encountered the perfect storm as an organiser.

The risk if the 3-game-day is that if you schedule anything anywhere near 3pm on a Saturday, you run the risk of watching a fair percentage of your audience go and watch another game at that time. The obvious counter to it is to schedule 4 games, the schedule with that means those heading off piste have to miss 2 games to get 1 game, but the format isn’t popular, and the comments I hear such as “It’s too busy” aren’t those I’d necessarily disagree with.

Perhaps we were always going to lose a few to drift for this one, and it would have been something I’d have written off as an inevitable weakness of the format. Armthorpe had been protected by the sales of advance tickets giving us and them a steer on likely numbers, but then Billingham Synthonia announced they were leaving Central Park.

It couldn’t have been much worse a club for us. For one their move to the former Norton & Stockton Ancients’ ground left them with only one game left at Central Park, this one. Secondly the stand at Synners is known to be a classic of non-league, and thirdly it was possible to leave Rossington, get to Billingham, and then back to Selby in time for our last game of the day.

We at GroundhopUK had absolutely no issue with anyone who missed this game to head north. It made sense, do an iconic ground that’s going, and postpone a visit to the one that isn’t, to such an extent that Chris Berezai offered me the chance to go too. I declined, my responsibility is to the hop, but if I’d have been a normal attendee and not Chris’ deputy I have no doubt that I’d have gone to Billingham too.

There were exceptional circumstances but it left us with the awkward conversation with Armthorpe as to why they had the lowest attendance of the hop. It did though bring up a more general point.

The organised groundhop is a compromise between the needs of the league, the clubs, and the groundhoppers. The league puts their fixtures in the hands of a third party, and the clubs agree to play at odd times, and put on services beyond their normal offering. For the hopper the compromise is understanding and acting on the needs of the clubs.

That means buying an advance ticket, to allow clubs an idea of numbers. It means accepting sometimes they may be asked to revisit a ground, there will be no concessions for OAP’s, and clubs may struggle with the size of the crowds they’re being asked to host. In an ideal world none of this would be necessary, but any observation of the success (or lack of it) when hops fail to do even the most basic planning shows how essential something like the humble advance ticket is. Yes a hopper is perfectly within his or her rights to go wherever they please, but please consider the bigger picture first.

From an organiser’s point of view we can defend the middle game. If this tendency to drift continues we could revert to the 4 game format or schedule 3 games but in such a way that leaving would still mean missing two games. There are pros and cons with all permutations, and this was a lesson learned believe me.

The shame of it all was that the Welfare Ground is one of the best grounds we visited in the hop, full of the quirks that hoppers love. To cap it all Armthorpe needed a boost too, destined as they were to relegation after a dreadful season. Still I mustn’t grumble too much about the attendance, it was 231, and any other Saturday it would have been deemed a bumper attendance.

Sadly Armthorpe showed why they’ll be playing Division One football next season, as Hemsworth ran riot, with Richard Collier’s 4 goal blast being in my eyes at least, the performance of the hop. We left, Selby-bound, with Armthorpe’s final gesture, a club cake with the club badge on it being much appreciated by all. I glanced over to the site of the long since closed Markham Vale colliery and wished circumstances had allowed us to attract the same crowd as elsewhere.