Saturday 14th October 2017 ko 18.00
Bedfordshire County League Premier Division
CRANFIELD UNITED 1 (Allen 62og)
RENHOLD UNITED 0
I’d greatly enjoyed the Bedfordshire Hop’s first two games, and I suspect everyone else had too. So I was disappointed but not surprised as I left AFC Kempston to see a steady stream of hoppers walking back towards Bedford and the railway station rather than turning right like me and making for Cranfield.
It would have been lovely if they’d had seen the bigger picture, doing the occasional re-visit helps keep these events going by making sure all of a league’s clubs benefit, not just those with interesting and unusual grounds. But I suspect that’s just an organiser of another hop indulging in a little wishful thinking even if Cranfield United was a revisit for me too! So why were so many hoppers turning tail?
The answer was a set of floodlights and Step 6 membership. In 2013 Cranfield United ended a 64-year membership of the Spartan South Midlands League dropping back into the Bedfordshire League in the process. The legacy of that history is a ground that’s far better appointed than many in the league, including floodlights.
The problem that gave hop organiser Craig Dabbs was that the clientele he’d attracted to Wixams and AFC Kempston would, like me have already ticked off Cranfield United, and sadly to expect them to both see and act on the bigger picture would have been fanciful.
So we saw the fewest number of hoppers at any of the three games, thankfully another legacy from the Spartan South Midlands League is that Cranfield do have their own fans, so it was a case of one group rather replacing the other!
We arrived to a hive of activity, with a disco being set up in the bar for a birthday party later on in the evening. The music wasn’t fired up, and I’m not sure what would have happened if 60-or-so groundhoppers had been asked to dance. I’m fairly sure an ambulance would have been involved! If the music had been delayed then so was the food, the only minor gremlin in a hugely successful day for Craig. Still, I was sat eating my chilli well before kick-off so no harm was done.
You cannot avoid aviation here, Cranfield University specialises in science, engineering, technology and management. It has two campuses, the other being at the Defence Academy, in Shrivenham which of course hosted a memorable hop game in 2014. But Cranfield has its own small airport so every so often a small aircraft wobbled over the ground on its way into land nearby.
The game was attritional with two good sides cancelling each other out for the majority of the time. It was settled in bizarre circumstances, Renhold keeper Neville Allen slicing an attempted clearance on to the left-hand post and over the line. He was unlucky in the extreme, but it least it kept the pedants who hate nil-nil draws happy.
Finally Craig could relax, we shared a joke and now as then I’ll congratulate him on what was an exceptional day out. Because organising these events isn’t easy, and it’s often a thankless job to go with it. That goes double for any event below Step 6 as all too often you find yourself teaching both club and hopper about the other’s needs.
But like me with the North Berkshire League and Chris Berezai and I with Carmarthenshire League we’ll all continue to take the brickbats because we’re doing something that’s off piste, off pyramid, or god forbid different. But here’s the thing, you can criticise what you’ve never seen, but I’ll tell you this, when you finally get round to doing these grounds please allow me a little inward smile. Because with Craig’s help you could have enjoyed these clubs so much earlier.