Budleigh Salterton, Devon, Easter Hop, England, Football, groundhopping, manstone recreation ground, Non League, Phil Hiscox, Sidmouth, Sidmouth Town, South West Peninsula League
Friday 30th March 2018 ko 11.30
South West Peninsula League Division One East
SIDMOUTH TOWN 3 (Davies 32 Knight 74 83)
BUDLEIGH SALTERTON 4 (Taylor 37 Antat 49 A Boere 54 White 78_
Hop Ticket (programmes not included) £25
The alarm sounded at Robyn and I’s bed and breakfast, and I didn’t need to open the curtains to check the weather, I could hear the torrents hammering the cars parked outside. Whilst the Full English breakfast was superlative, we ate in near silence knowing that the weather was at best going make watching 3 matches in a day difficult and at worst curtail the fun early. It was a day to trust Phil Hiscox the event organiser, and take what was coming. Little did we know that their would be a whole series of problems beyond the organiser’s control.
We arrived at the Manstone Recreation Ground at around 10.00, an hour before the scheduled kick-off, but as I parked up nearby Robyn took a call, from another hopper informing that the kick-off had been put off from 11 to 12 as the hop coaches had been delayed.
Now if I’d looked at the news from a purely selfish perspective I’d have taken the view that since the clubhouse at Sidmouth is both huge and extremely well-appointed, we’d at least stay dry for a little longer! It transpired that the delay was due to the League treasurer insisting he book the coaches, then booking them to arrive at the pickup point at Exeter Railway Station at the 11am kickoff time, completely failing to take into account the travel time to Sidmouth.
Now anyone that’s ever organised anything will know that gremlins happen, I’ve had on my watch an unsympathetic referee at Preston Athletic and leisure centre politics at Kinmel Bay. These things happen to the best of us, and I’m bound to comment that those who whine when things go wrong tend to be those with the least invested in the event. As organiser you just work your own way through the problems, and hope you do the right thing at the right place at the right time.
In practical terms that meant getting this game kicked off as soon as was possible. A midday start would have made us very tight for time to get to a 3pm kick-off at Exwick Villa. But Phil’s problems weren’t confined to a late coach, he had a nervous referee to deal with too.
It was obvious that referee Ryan Hedges wasn’t happy with the state of the Sidmouth pitch. You could see his point, on any other day the game would have been postponed, and the rain was going to make the pitch worse. And with Phil not there, he wanted to get the game kicked off as soon as possible, even if that meant the coach party weren’t there. That no hop organiser would be prepared to countenance, your coach users are your best customers, they’ve backed you as organiser by booking the full package, so they are the last people you want to disappoint.
The coaches arrived, and the game kicked off seconds later. Finally we could consider what we were here to do and and enjoy the ground and game. I’d been to The Rec’ 6 years ago and then the place was little more than a roped off pitch in a public park. The transformation since then has been remarkable, with the pitchside rail completed, together with cover and floodlights added. While the public park feel still remains, the ground is now more than fit for the level Sidmouth are at.
Unlike on my first visit, the throng got to see a quite wonderful game that utterly belied the difficult pitch, and the players should be congratulated for keeping a lid on the more physical side of the game. Except Mr Hedges still wasn’t happy. At half time he sought out Phil Hiscox to tell him his intention to abandon the game due to the conditions.
Now the SWPL does have history of wonderful games in appalling conditions, who could forget the games at Godolphin Atlantic and at St Dennis? Fortunately for the crowd present, it was Phil’s view that held sway and a game that swung both side’s way was allowed the reach its conclusion.
The final whistle went and I found Phil to both congratulate and commiserate. It was very much a case of one game down and two to go, and despite worries over the evening game at Axminster, at least the artificial surface at Exwick Villa meant we were good to go for our next game.