Friday 23rd February 2018 ko 19.45
Welsh Premier League
CEFN DRUIDS 0
BANGOR CITY 2 (Hewitt 44 45p)
Programme & Teamsheet £2
There’s no question that it was highly flattering for GroundhopUK to to be approached to run a Welsh Premier League Hop. But when Chris Berezai mentioned it to me I found myself questioning whether the idea could be made to work? I looked back to the set of compromises that is a successful hop and wondered how we could adapt them for the needs of the Wales’ top domestic league?
In simple terms a groundhop has 3 interested parties- the clubs, the supporters and the league. Each has their own needs and those needs often conflict with those of the other parties. In simple terms the supporters want games, the clubs want extra attendees and the league wants good publicity. By and large the further up the pecking order you go, the less impact you have as an organiser to get fixtures rescheduled and further down you go the more difficult it is to convince people the grounds are worth visiting. Arguably the “Sweet Spot” is leagues at Steps 5 and 6 in England or the equivalent elsewhere.
But a 12 team league with one fully professional club (T.N.S.) looked interesting, and there was the thought that we could introduce a whole cohort of newer hoppers to the concept of the organised hop. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but why shirk a challenge? After all if we can make a success of a hop in the Ceredigion League why not the Welsh Premier? The issue was getting a programme of fixtures together; that brought a set of issues we’d not encountered before.
The first was television. The deal the WPL has with S4C is that television can move any fixture for live transmission at very little notice and so any hop would have to work around that fact. The second was that the league splits into top 6 and bottom 6 conferences after 22 games making any fixture afterwards unknown until the end of January. Moreover, the distances between some clubs meant that asking say Cardiff Met to play at Bangor City on Saturday morning would have been fanciful.
In the end we ended up seeing the 4 fixtures we got moved a total of 45 minutes from their scheduled kickoff times. That saw the Connah’s Quay game moved 30 minutes forward and Bala’s pushed 15 minutes back to allow travel between the two. Normally we want at least 3 games on the Saturday, we got 2 so had to get creative with the Saturday morning slot! There wasn’t as much time as we’d have liked to get the word out and over the next few weeks we’ll evaluate what happened and how we take things forward from here. Was that set of compromises pushed too far?
It was both a pleasure and surprise to be back at the Rock. Because if you are going to visit the football grounds of Wales, you really should visit the country’s oldest club. The ground is that great rarity, a ground built by a supermarket that actually manages to be more impressive than the Ancients’ old home at Plas Kynaston Lane. The ground was built in a disused quarry in 2010 and a significant number of dumped cars had to be removed before building could start.
We arrived in plenty of time to warm up in the clubhouse and have a bite to eat. It was clear that while we weren’t going to see the numbers of hoppers we’d normally see on one of our events we were seeing people attracted by the Friday night fixture. A case in point was Jade and her boyfriend Rob.
Jade supports Chester, and Rob is a Wrexham fan, that does have the potential for a disharmonious relationship doesn’t it? But this game was perfect for them, easy to get to, and neutral too! They were an example of what we saw plenty of, and going forward I’d like to think we might be able to convince some of them to try out another GroundhopUK event.
One thing I did tell Jade was the rather awkward moment I’d had in the clubhouse. Any Chester fan will remember Stephen Vaughan’s role in the demise of Chester City and as I consumed my pie and chips there was Bangor City’s “Shirt Sponsor” sitting on the next table. I’m not noted for being lost for words, but in this case I probably did the right thing by saying nothing.
His team won and won well. As if often the case the competition is now about who will finish in the Europa League qualifying slot behind TNS, and Bangor looked assured throughout. The only real surprise that the two goals came in 2 frantic minutes before half-time and that proved to be both the start and end of the scoring.
Despite the intense cold it was a satisfying evening out. Certainly the unusual kick-off time produced a bumper crowd, swelled further no doubt by Wrexham fans whose home game the next day meant they’d never be able to have been here with the normal 2.30pm Saturday kick-off. I fired up the engine, thawed my toes, and made for the hotel.