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Monday 14th April 2017 ko 11.00

North West Counties League Premier Division

ATHERTON COLLERIES 5 (Kenny 4og Cover 20 66 73p Bailey 49)

AFC DARWEN 1 (Hepple 80)

Att 478

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

It’s a well-told story, how Atherton Collieries in 2013 helped us at GroundhopUK out by taking on an Easter Hop game on 48 hours’ notice after our planned game at AFC Emley got snowed off.

They moved heaven and earth to accommodate us, secretary Emil Anderson even dragged himself from his sick bed to be there. It took a knock-back or two to get a NWCL hop, but Joe Gibbons, Emil and all the Colls were there pushing to make it happen, so when the idea finally was agreed it was obvious that we’d want them on our first hop. That though would create an issue ….

The issue was that game in 2012. On one hand the attendance was only 133, low by GroundhopUK standards, but 50 or so of those came from our coach, and with many groundhoppers’ dislike of revisiting grounds, simply scheduling them at 3pm would have led to some heading elsewhere, and last up some simply heading for home. So, the morning slot it had to be, and Chris Berezai and I were pleased to see that ticket sales for the game held up well.

I ended up collecting the programmes for the advance tickets from Alder House on Thursday afternoon, and ended up back at our base in Wakefield checking my photos from back then as the place seemed so much more spick and span since our first visit.

And if I had to pick one memory from my revisit to the Colls it was just how far the club has come since 2013. The ground used to be a charming fleapit, now it’s a ground ft for the Northern Premier League. The quirks are still there, the sloping pitch, the players’ tunnel from Hilton Park, former home to Leigh Centurions RLFC and the tiny sponsors’ box accessed from the clubhouse.

The club used to be a middling Division One outfit, this game saw them cement their place at the top of the table by demolishing a capable Darwen side. The result wasn’t that surprising, I’ve been following the Colls progress, but if Chris and I had been worried about the attendance, those fears were assuaged the second Godfrey parked the coach. We’d set up by the turnstiles to give out the last of the programme packs and we could hear the metronomic clicks as patron after patron came into the ground. It wasn’t like this  4 years ago!

Of course, this was another step towards Colls championship and with that elevation to the Northern Premier League. It’s an opportunity I’m sure they’ll grasp with both hands, and as before I’ll follow their progress with interest. But at least now, as one half of GroundhopUK, I’ll feel as if we’ve returned the favour.