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Friday 30th March 2018 ko 19.00

South West Peninsula League Division One East

AXMINSTER TOWN 2 (Hurford 13 Dibling 21)

CREDITON TOWN 1 (Morish 32)

Att 306

Hop ticket £25 (programmes not included)

Entry £4

Programme £1.50

We left Exwick Villa, and Exeter’s suburbs and headed east. It was good that hop organiser Phil Hiscox had confirmed that the day’s final game was definitely on. The weather was dreadful, we passed Honiton and when we climbed into the southern foothills of the Blackdown Hills the torrential rain turned into sleet. Surely the game couldn’t still be on, could it?

To make things worse I had in my mind my visit to Tiger Way 5 years ago when the place was still being built. That day hadn’t been wet but I’d ruined a perfectly good pair of shoes in the mud while exploring, and on a day where it hadn’t stopped raining I took the view that since Robyn and I had paid for the game, we may as well go there just in case! In any case a visit to Axminster’s new ground was a way of ending a saga.

I remember visiting Axminster’s old ground Sector Lane back in the day, and even then it was clear the site was destined for housing, with the planning gain used to build a new ground nearby. The club moved out in 2013 and played just over a season 6 miles away on a pitch at Colyton Grammar School while the new ground, adjacent to Perry Street and District League outfit Millwey Rise FC at Cloakham Lawns was being built.

The SWPL should take great credit in temporarily relaxing their ground grading rules to allow the club time to regroup and rebuild. I visited a game at Colyton, and found a club at the crossroads of its existence, but preparing to move forward. The club moved to their new home, named Tiger Way in 2015.

Let’s forget the weather for a moment, because even if this game hadn’t happened it was worth the journey just to see what a move forward it’s been. Just look at what they were making do with at Colyton School and what they have here! Thankfully the rain/sleet stopped and that gave Axminster the chance they needed to impress everyone there.

On arrival all eyes were in the pitch and the heroes of the day Axminster’s ground staff were still forking away the water, prior to a final inspection by the referee. The Paddling of Ducks on the pitch may have found a home here, but they did make for a highly ironic joke! And yes, once again the only reason this game took place was the fact that it was a hop game and yes the far corner was waterlogged to the point that you really wouldn’t have wanted to have passed a ball on it!

But the relaxed view of the pitch’s condition gave the Tigers an opportunity and that they grabbed with both hands. In fact the only issue they had been they simply couldn’t cope with demand for food, I suppose bad weather makes you hungry! They did so on the pitch too, winning a hard-fought contest.

It was a highly satisfying end to the day. My principle interest in the hop was to visit this ground, and finish the saga of Axminster’s ground. It’s clear that the Tigers now have both the means and the infrastructure to progress, the ground is capable of staging at Western Premier level, two promotions from their current level. I found myself thinking of a nearby club who’d love a ground like this. The slope at Chard Town’s Zembard Lane means that sooner or later they’ll lose their Western League status. They must look at this ground and think “Why not us too?”

But the final word on the day must go to Phil Hiscox. I’ve attended hops organised by many people and been involved in organising plenty myself and I cannot remember a day so difficult for the organiser. A couple of hoppers came up to me and said “If this had happened to you and Chris Berezai there are people here who would have slaughtered you online.” They may well have been correct but with all due respect to them they missed the point completely.

Any hop organiser knows the job is a thankless one, but you work your way through the problems as best you can. People will moan and complain but as long as that doesn’t cross the line into slander and libel that’s part and parcel of the job. It wasn’t a day I suspect Phil will remember with any great fondness but it is a day where 3 scheduled matches took place. For that everyone should be grateful to Phil Hiscox and those teams of club volunteers- they did a remarkable job.