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Friday 6th October 2017 ko 19.45

Western League Division One

ASHTON & BACKWELL UNITED 2 (Skidmore 40 57) Thomas sent off 83 (2nd Booking)

BISHOP SUTTON 1 (Rendell 73)

Att 225

Entry £6

Programmes £1

It seemed that Street FC’s Tannery Ground was a million miles away. We’d finished the 2016 Western Hop there, and as the game finished I’d wished the league’s General Secretary Mark Edmonds all the best for the rest of the season. His untimely death due to cancer in December hit us all hard, and this hop took place with the feeling that there was something missing. That’s no reflection on anyone or anything; Mark’s absence was keenly felt, and that will continue to be the case. Rest in peace my friend. 

Chris Berezai and I as GroundhopUK may organise this hop but the reason this event happens is due to Mark’s efforts, so perhaps even more than normal we wanted this weekend to showcase the league in the best possible light.

I was pleased that we were able to be based back at the Royal Grosvenor Hotel in Weston-super-Mare, its refurbishment meant that we had to seek alternative accommodation last year. It was a happy band of hoppers that set off for our first game, and alongside the usual faces it was good to see plenty of new and younger faces too.

The hobby’s future is based on new people and so I will always be interested in running hops at levels that will attract them. For me one of the most corrosive comments I hear is “Why bother, everyone has done them all,” as it almost inevitably adds up to “I’ve done them all, so I’m not interested” I cannot afford to be that morally selfish and while I love organising hops “Off Piste” I fully understand the imperative to organise at the level the organised hop started at- Steps 5 and 6.

On that basis I was happy to be driving one of our minibuses around 7 grounds, 6 of which Chris and I had been to before. First on that list was arguably the most interesting of my revisits.

It had been many years since I’d visited the sprawling Backwell Playing Fields, the “Lancer Scott” Stadium takes up a corner of it, the result of a crazy drive after a late postponement at Wootton Bassett. Then I’d visited Backwell United, and I’d remembered a friendly but down-at-heel club, struggling both in the league and with a strict curfew on their floodlights. It all eventually ended up in the club’s relegation back to the Somerset County League. Salvation was to come but in an unusual form.

Ashton Boys were and are one of the largest youth clubs in Bristol, playing on pitches adjacent to Ashton Gate. As the boys got too old for age-based football they needed a suitable place to play adult games so started to groundshare at Backwell in 2009, and affected a reverse-takeover a year later.

It’s certainly worked well, a third place in 2013 saw the club return to the Western League, and on arrival my jaw positively dropped. There is now a well-appointed ground, and a vibrancy about the place that was missing back on my previous visit.

That said, the friendliness is still there, and eveyone there cannot have helped but enjoyed the club’s hosting, especially the ladies in the tea bar serving that amazing chilli! It was a fiesty game to open up our weekend, a typical blood and thunder local derby. The hosts did enough to shade it, but 7 bookings made Sam Thomas’ late dismissal a question of card roulette.

It didn’t detract from what was an excellent evening, and as I was about to leave I stole a glance over to the league’s Jules French. He grinned, and that was good enough for me. Once again we were up and running.