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Saturday 16th September 2017 k0 10.45

North Berkshire League Division 3

DRAYTON 7 (Dennis 8 29 55p 68 S Bolton 15 C Bolton 51 Hughes 57)

UFFINGTON UNITED 1 (Harfield 66)

Att 112 at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Pitch, Chilton, near Harwell.

Entry by programme £4

In so many ways the North Berkshire Hop is the Hummingbird of the organised hops. We’re off pyramid, we’ve only ever been a one-day event, and we’ve even had another league schedule a rival “Hop” against us. But despite some folks turning up their noses up at us, and a few even telling us it wouldn’t work, just like the hummingbird, that the laws of physics say shouldn’t fly, we’re still here, and still doing things our way. 

This was the 7th North Berks Hop, making it the longest ever running hop based around a single league. The great advantage of running this as a GroundhopUK event it’s allowed us the chance to try things out, if you’ve ever bought a ticket for specific games on a hop you can thank the North Berkshire League for that, it was introduced in the very first hop here, a hop that featured, yes, Drayton FC  at their traditional home- Lockway.

Another thing we’ve featured here is unusual venues. Who could forget the trips to RAF Benson and the Defence Academy, Shrivenham? Those games got me thinking and when hopper Tim Burgin spotted an unusual friendly I’d been to, and at last year’s hop game at Blewbury manager Pete Ivey asked if Drayton could host again I had an idea.

The ground that Tim had seen was at the Diamond Light Source, at Chilton, near Harwell, part of the Rutherford Appleton Science Park, and the ground in question is part of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory set up. So you might think that simply getting Drayton to play there would be straightforward wouldn’t you?

Of course the groundhop doesn’t work that way, and the series of compromises that have to be considered were pulled in one direction then another. For a start if Drayton were to play there, the pitch would need to be hired at an additional cost to playing back at Lockway, and that would have to be recouped from gate money.

No side currently plays here. Rutherford Appleton used to play Upper Thames Valley (Sunday) League fixtures here, and Hagbourne United spent part of a season here while their new clubhouse was being built.

That meant the RAL ground needed inspecting by the league, and there were some concerns as to the quality of the facilities. It is to the league’s great credit that they managed to get the inspection done quickly, the facilities being confirmed as being more than sufficient for the NBFL and so Pete could plan with confidence.

But even that left me with a worry. Let’s go back to that set of compromises. Hiring the RAL pitch made sense if you’re a hopper, but was there enough in it for the club? Moving the game away from Drayton would mean we’d be unlikely to get many locals, and the community side of the event is something Chris Berezai and I are extremely keen to foster. Now Pete made it clear that these days Drayton don’t get fans making that side of the equation irrelevant. But attracting the locals is how we got unusually big crowds at the likes of Berinsfield and Compton so I regretted their loss even it ticket sales were similar to previous years.

Then there was the issue of a congested diary. With August Bank Holiday being as late as it can be this year the Welsh Hop was only 3 weeks before the North Berks, with the Western League Hop 3 weeks after. To make things worse Coventry United scheduled a 12.30 kickoff at their new ground making it easy to visit two grounds. There was nothing I could, or wanted to do about it, unlike on previous occasions there was nothing malicious about any of it after all. It was a question of being completely realistic about what we were dealing with.

In the end I took the view that as long as I could give Pete and our other clubs a reasonable steer on numbers and we got our planning right then all the other pieces of the jigsaw would fall into place.  In the end Pete managed to pull off what should be viewed as a personal triumph for him and his club.

And yet what was our first impression? Onesies!! A weekly challenge is often a traditional means of fund-raising for small clubs, usually involving bringing or wearing something to the game with a fine for failure.  I’ve known it to be wigs, and one club had some explaining when some park benches arrived at a ground after disappearing from a local park! On that basis onesies were safer and gave everyone a laugh on our arrival!

There was even space for a little irony. On two occasions the Eastern Counties League decided to schedule their “Groundhopper Days” against us, claiming bizarrely that they weren’t aimed at groundhoppers. They used a photoshopped London Underground roundel with “Groundhopper” where the station name normally goes to advertise their days, so I was surprised to see Pete use it in his programme!  I suppose since they don’t need it anymore it was good to see it used!

Pete and his volunteers put on an exceptional show for the hoppers. The breakfast baps were fantastic and the beer tombola proved popular. Pete had planned to do hot drinks too, but the RAL refused to allow him to run a power cable across the access road. The only issue we had was that both teams turned up with similar kit! NBFL rules state that in the event of a clash the home team changes but with both sides (in effect) away and with no time, Drayton simply played with their shirts inside out.

A while the day proved to be a triumph for Drayton, it was a disaster for every hopper’s friend – Uffington United. They’ve hosted for us twice and been wonderful twice and player-manager Jamie Glock does have the distinction of being the only goalscorer in a hop game to have also cooked the catering, back in on the second hop in 2012. His side were second best in every department, and it’s measure of the man that Jamie managed a rueful smile when I came over for a chat and to thank them for their help late on. It summed up why I’m involved at this level of the game, Jamie like Pete and many others understand that there’s more to life than just the game.

We reversed out, League Press Officer Richard Underwood did too, into a post, and one or two hoppers walked, it really wasn’t far to our next game..