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Friday 16th March 2018 ko 19.00

South of Scotland League

MID-ANNANDALE 6 (Gibson 9 D Smith 11 36 Neill 34 53 Thom 47)

LOCHMABEN 3 (Milligan 33 G Smith 38p Howat 89)

Att 235

Entry £5

Programme £2

Over 4 years the Scottish Hop has developed a method all of its own. That’s a coach running from Hillingdon via Birmingham up the M6 via the first game to our base, usually in East Kilbride. I normally run the coach from Hillingdon to Birmingham when Chris Berezai takes over and I take a fast car to the first ground to make up the programme packs using the time taken for the coach driver’s mandatory 45 minute break half way up. However this time round it didn’t quite work out as we’d planned.

The roots of the hop lie in the Lowland League, but with just Cumbernauld Colts left in that league to visit we knew that the bulk of this hop would be in one of its feeder leagues, the East of Scotland League. We all enjoyed the games in the East last year and took a view over those who turned up their noses at the lower level as something that we could do little about, and that ultimately it was their loss. In the longer term we’re still looking to stage a hop for the Juniors, and have irons in a few fires!

Last year the Scottish Hop saw warm sunny weather, this year saw “The Beast From The East.” The car reached the Lake District, the temperature dropped alarmingly and I became relieved the schedule included 3 3G pitches, including one indoors!

This year’s Friday game boiled down to a choice between Mid-Annandale or Cumbernauld Colts. Each had its advantages, Lockerbie-based Mid-Annandale was convenient, being close to the M74 but Cumbernauld’s home at the Broadwood Stadium was by far the more impressive stadium. The trouble with heading to Croy was that SPFL club Clyde play there too, and there would be a sizable cohort of hoppers (me included) who would have ticked off the ground for them. The irony that the Bully Wee’s sole permanent presence at Broadwood is a locker was not lost on Chris and I!

Besides, the chance to take the hop into a completely new league was compelling to us. The South of Scotland is nominally parallel to the East of Scotland League but is seen by many as being slightly weaker; I remember a troubled Dalbeattie Star moving from East to South as a means of reducing costs and finding a playing standard commensurate with where they felt they were. It is a league based around the A75 from Gretna to Stranraer, and although I knew New King Edward Park was a caged 3G affair I felt a frission of excitement as the car parked up near the clubhouse, or was that the weather?

I exited the car and shuddered at the cold, still Mid-Annandale chairman George Trudt’s welcome was as warm as the tea he served up while we put together the programme packs. Those packs were already a programme light, we’d lost the Saturday night game at Lothian Thistle Hutchinson Vale, the local authority deeming the pitch at Saughton Enclosure waterlogged. Mind you, I do wonder what we’d have done with their programmes if the game had gone ahead. Their printer had by mistake printed GroundhopUK’s briefing notes in the programme. They give a host club the benefit of our years of experience in running these events, but they aren’t for publication, but in the end nothing was either gained or lost.

The coach arrived, and we were soon moved to a former shipping container converted for use as changing rooms when the pitch is used for community use. The cold bit through us all as people found any form of shelter prior to kick-off. It seemed a far cry from Mid-Annandale’s past as a Scottish League club. Based a few hundred yards away at Kintail Park (now a parade of houses) in 1923 they accepted an invitation to join the Scottish League’s new third division. The expansion of the league was not a success, and the division was discontinued 3 years later. The club have not seen anything like those lofty heights since, and played on borrowed pitches for many years, before eventually folding.

The current club dates from 1959 and until recently were based at King Edward Park, the grass pitch closest to the clubhouse. The 3G community pitch’s construction saw the club play the 2013-14 season at Annan Athletic’s Galabank before taking advantage of the new floodlit facility.

I rather enjoyed Mids staging even if the catering could be summed up by “We’ve bought in 5 dozen pies, but there’s no end of takeaways in town” and with the absence of any cover pitchside many hoppers took the logical decision to find cover and warmth before the game and found the pubs! Once the pie stall in the corner was functional it did a roaring trade and the ladies running it were a credit to Lockerbie with their humour and friendly nature.

The ground has only two viewing areas, along the sides of the pitch, one side for officials, the other for spectators. There is no cover but there are plans to add a modular stand should, one assumes, if the club were to graduate to Lowland League football.

The club have an interesting recruitment policy. They’ve worked out that there’s little or no money in the Scottish game, so have looked at the two Scottish League clubs on their doorstep, Queen of the South and Annan Athletic and picked up the younger players that either don’t make it, or aren’t earning sufficient money part-time to make playing in a “Whole of Scotland” league worthwhile.

If you could ignore the chill wind roaring through the cage this was a fantastic game to watch. Lochmaben are groundsharing here this season but even though they’re used to the surface they had few answers to Mids’ passing and moving which at times was worthy of a far grander stage. They recorded their 12th win on the bounce and it took absolutely no imagination as to see why.

I’ve commented before that as organiser you look for at least one of three things to happen. They are a great ground, great staging and a great game; well the third one noone could dispute and I rather enjoyed the second! That said, I’ve never known a hop coach fill so quickly after a game!

It took around an hour to reach East Kilbride, and we’d just about warmed up by then. Robyn and I unpacked quickly and joined the others in the bar for a beer. Why is it the cure for a freezing evening is invariably a cold beer?