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Saturday 6th October 2018 ko 14.15

Western League Premier Division


BUCKLAND ATHLETIC 3 (Johansen 30 Bush 72 Richards 85)

Att 213

Entry £6

Programme £1

Without wishing to be in any way disparaging to the good folk at Clevedon Town, the Western Hop’s visit to the Hand Stadium was the one I was anticipating the least. That was for two reasons, I’d visited twice before, during their Southern League days, and that the ground is still relatively new, being opened in 1992. Of course, life being as contrary as it is, it turned out to be one I’ll remember the most!

The stadium is named after the Hand family that were heavily involved in the club, even if now the stadium has now been renamed for sponsorship purposes. The issue Chris Berezai and I at GroundhopUK was how to give the club the best possible opportunity. The issue was that the club spent 1992 to 2015 in the Southern League departing due to the supposed inadequacy of their floodlights.

Being at Step 5 and 6 the Western Hop attracts many hoppers to who the level they’re watching is important, and many of those will have attacked the hobby Premier League and EFL first, then the National League then the Southern League. As organiser your job is to maximise attendances for ALL the clubs on your event, and I hope we managed that here. We knew we’d lose a few to other games, but staggering the kick-offs so those who opted out would miss the Hallen game too, helped limit the drift. Certainly getting precisely the same attendance as at Longwell Green would suggest we managed it to some extent.

The shock for me was how much have changed in the 10 years since I last visited. The biggest change is that the club no longer own the ground, and it’s clear that the landlord is trying to “Sweat the asset.” The large clubhouse and bar is now reconfigured as a public gym with the club now making do with a tiny bar to the left of the stand. You can see where maintenance hasn’t taken place with the result being that turnstiles and areas not needed for Western League football are now barriered off and are beyond use. As an Oxford United fan I understand the situation all too well!

But please don’t let yourself think that Clevedon Town aren’t a vibrant, outward-looking club. They were superb hosts, and the cakes delicious. Special thanks should go to those that helped my Bristol City mad fiancee Robyn to meet City legend and Clevedon Town manager Mickey Bell at half time. They didn’t have to do it, and Mickey was very good to acquiesce at a time when he had a team to brief.

It was an afternoon of mixed feelings. It was lovely to meet the committee at Buckland, and they made it clear they’d love to host for us. The problem is that they closed Phil Hiscox’s excellent South West Peninsula Hop in 2009 and since by and large hoppers and revisits don’t mix, we’ve no plans to visit.

On the other they’ll have headed back to Devon much the happier of the two clubs. A defensive howler set them on their way, and there was little or nothing Mickey Bell’s charges could do to force their will on the game. For Robyn’s sake I’d hoped they’d at least take a point.

Even if Clevedon didn’t win on the day one thing was clear, in the charm offensive stakes they won this one at a canter. Over the years a large part of what GroundhopUK does is to turn these games into community-based events. I’ve no doubt that anyone visiting for the first time would have wanted to come back for more, and for those like me visiting again, will have gone away with a massively changed view of the club you can see from the M5.