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Thursday 29th March 2018 k0 19.30

South West Peninsula League Division One East

NEWTON ABBOT SPURS 2 (O Aplin 13 Metters 51)

TEIGNMOUTH 1 (Ayre 18) 

Breslan sent off 83 (2nd booking 83)

Eves sent off 90 (2nd booking 90)

Att 318

All games Hop ticket £25 (entry only)

Entry £4

Programme £1

I was around half-way down the M5 heading for the South West Peninsula Hop and was debating whether to stop for a coffee. Robyn was, as normal, fast asleep in the passenger seat, so I delayed my stop for another service station; there are no lack of them in this part of the world. I spent the extra few minutes imagining what hop organiser and League General Secretary Phil Hiscox was doing at that moment. I knew what I’d been feeling on eve of the Easter Hop I’d helped organise the previous year but as the Thursday and Friday games in Devon proved, I didn’t succeed in coming remotely close.

The issue was simple, it seemed that it hadn’t stopped raining for weeks and the south-west had taken the brunt of it all. With crowds of 400 plus expected, that added up to a massive problem for a man who I have a lot of time for. We arrived at The Rec’ 90 minutes before kick-off with parking at a premium- always a good sign for the organiser.

There are no end of organised hops throughout the year, each has their own audience, but the two Blue Riband events are always the August Bank Holiday Welsh Hop and the Easter Hop, and on a personal level that goes double when it’s the Peninsula Hop. It means I get multiple new grounds to visit and Robyn and I get a weekend away in a lovely part of the world without the pressure of organising the event!

The choice of Newton Abbot as a town in which to start the weekend was an inspired one. Other than the imposing rail station that once housed one end of Brunel’s atmospheric railway caper, there were no end of pubs for those so inclined to break up the half a mile walk to the ground. I suspect that the Ye Old Cider Bar, one of only two remaining Cider (only) Houses remaining in the UK, saw an unexpected spike in their profits!

On reaching the Recreation Ground he immediate disappointment was that the Honiton game scheduled as the middle game the next day had been postponed, with the tie being moved to Exwick Villa’s 3G surface. It was, I suspect the most anticipated venue on the hop, so I felt Phil’s discomfiture over its transfer. Nevertheless I appreciated both the need to do so, the ground was waterlogged, and so the switch was a good move on just about every level. It was also good to receive as much notice as was possible given the circumstances.

Despite the steady rain and Buckland Athletic’s on-loan water soppers working overtime, the social side of the hop was in full swing. People caught up for a chat, and the bar, and tea hut did a roaring trade. In terms of the staging, it was one of those delightfully unshowy events where you spend your time with a club assuming (correctly) that when something ought to happen it does. The club had worked extremely hard to get the pitch fit for play, and I trust reaped the rewards from doing so.

We were blessed with a good game to watch too. The best complement I can pay both sides is that I assumed it was a Premier Division game until we checked in at our Bed & Breakfast and I got round to reading the programme! Despite the pitch being waterlogged, on a non-hop day it would almost certainly have been postponed, both sides managed an attractive passing game. But for one factor, I suspect the game would probably have ended up as a draw.

That factor was Teignmouth’s players losing their heads. It was a typical blood and thunder local derby, but as the challenges got more and more illegal so the cards got brandished with increasing frequency, and sadly they weren’t heeded either. Geoff Breslan lost his personal battle with football’s own Yellow Card Russian Roulette, but he at least had the fig-leaf of having started the game. Matt Eves had entered the fray in the 84th minute, and collected his second yellow in the 6th minute of stoppage time! By anyone’s standards a 12 minute cameo is some going.

Now I’m sure Teignmouth, with their congested run-in will mourn both the loss and the two players’ subsequent suspensions. From the crowd’s and I’m sure Phil’s perspective it all gave the throng a series of talking points to take to the pub. I made for our accommodation in Paignton, turned the windscreen wipers up to double speed and hoped for the best for the next day. I knew I wasn’t the only one.