Saturday 7th October 2017 ko 19.30
Western League Premier Division
HENGROVE ATHLETIC 3 (White 54 Hickery 69 Fillingham 90p)
HALLEN 3 (Mills 20 Mills 27 Cousins 71)
We approached Norton Lane with a large dollop of anticipation. For my girlfriend Robyn this was the nearest ground to her family in Bristol and her nephews Jack, Kai and Che were at the ground waiting for us. For many heading there it was the chance to catch up with the tour-de-force that is Martin McConachie now at Hengrove, but who had masterminded Oldland Abbotonians’ superbly hosted hop game two years ago. I had another reason for wanting to re-visit though, much as though I was looking forward to seeing Martin, Jack, Kai and Che.
I’ve said it before, but the roots of the Western Hop lie with the late Mark Edmonds. The former General Secretary of the league made this hop happen and Chris Berezai and I would certainly not be involved if it wasn’t for his drive and influence. So how did it all happen? The answer is that we spoke on the phone and ended up sorting out the broader points of the event at a game…. at Hengrove Athletic. Chris ended up meeting Mark later to work out the finer details a month later but it’s fair to say the geographical centre of the Western Hop is here at Norton Lane.
But when we turned into Norton Lane we rapidly reached a huge queue! Now on one hand a queue equals people equals a successful event so I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. But then we got to the head to the queue and realised the root cause was the gateman insisting he perform his duties as normal, with the crowd roughly six times normal. It was too much for him, even though he made it abundantly clear he didn’t think so and it was all Martin could do to get him to at least delegate programme sales! We got there in the end!
Elsewhere the ground was a hive of activity and you could see how much Martin’s experiences with Oldland were benefiting his new club. The bar did well, and the barbecue in the corner did a roaring trade as the temperature dropped. Martin emailed us after the event and I know Hengrove did extremely well from their hop game. That is down to him, and he should take great pride in his part in their success.
Robyn, Chris and I stood more or less where Mark and I had stood two-and-a-half years earlier, and I could still feel the man’s influence. I know he would have enjoyed seeing the ground with 200 more people there than when we met. I have also no doubt he would have greatly enjoyed the match too.
It was one of those rip-roaring affairs that you tend to associate with cup games, with both sides leading, just about everyone thinking Hallen had won the tie with Scott Cousins 71st minute strike. But in the 92nd minute Hallen gave away a needless handball in the box, and Jack Fillingham was the coolest person in the ground, stroking away the penalty for a breathless point.
I was pleased on so many levels. Mainly for Martin, I know how much he put into his club’s day, but also to all those present too; with the possible exception of the gateman, they couldn’t have helped but have enjoyed what was a fine coda to the day. Mind you, we departed Norton Lane a lot quicker than how we arrived!