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Sunday 16th April 2016 ko 11.00

North-West Counties League Premier Division

ASHTON ATHLETIC 2 (Smith 10 Vaughan 63)

SQUIRES GATE 1 (Nobley 2)

Att 298

Entry £6

Programme £1.50

It seemed odd to be starting a new hop when traditionally we’d be recovering from a 3 day, 7 game blast. But let’s face it the Northern League’s whole of Easter event a couple of years ago changed everything. For a start it proved that running games on Easter Sunday was popular amongst fans and it reinforced some work that Chris Berezai and I at GroundhopUK had been doing behind the scenes. 

On the 2013 Northern Counties East Hop we’d lost the Thursday night game at AFC Emley due to snow and we were grateful to Emil, Joe and everyone at Atherton Collieries for taking the game at less than 48 hours notice. They enjoyed the experience but the aftermath saw the league turn down the change to have their own hop, but that changed last year when Gary Langley became League Development Officer. Gary has the infectious enthusiasm you need to make these events work, and a major feather in his cap was convincing 3 home and 3 away clubs to play on Easter Sunday. I’m sure if other leagues’ officials are reading this they’ll be mentally giving Gary at pat on the back, it was no easy task!

So we happily headed down the M62, and my joy would have been complete but for the rain! Still, I remembered Gary telling me that there was plenty of cover at Brocstedes Park, and after that…. well that was a bridge I’d cross later!

There are of course no lack of Ashtons in the England. These first two games were in Ashton-in-Makerfield, home town of Hear’Say singer Kym Marsh, and Arthur Scargill’s predecessor as National Union of Mineworkers President, Joe Gormley. That last famous son points to the area’s background of coal mining, but the town has always been known for lock and hinge-making too. Brocstedes Park is the ground quite a few people must spot to their left whilst travelling north on the M6 just beyond Junction 25 and wonder who played there! Well you know now!

My biggest worry for the NWCL was that they be seeing hoppers who had just spent 3 days in the Northern Counties East- a league well-used to seeing large numbers of hoppers, and so knew how to cope. We can, and do offer advice but there’s no substitute for experience and it would be grossly unfair to compare the two leagues’ offerings. The coach pulled into the car park and I told myself just so long as the club got the basics right and the weather hadn’t put too many off I’d see that as a success.

When I caught up with Gary it was clear he saw things in exactly the same way, and during the drizzle it was lovely to speak with a genuine enthusiast for the game as the club hosted beautifully, were a credit to their league and the crowd held up nicely. We were glad of the cover as the rain was heavy during parts of the game as Athletic turned round an early Squires Gate goal to deservedly win the tie.

As I headed back to the coach I glanced back at Gary. He didn’t see me but the expression on his face spoke all I wanted to know. We were up and running.