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Saturday 26th January 2019 ko 13.30

Norfolk Senior Cup Quarter Final

U.E.A. 0

SWAFFHAM TOWN 3 (Pearson 5 Castellan 65 75)

Att c60 at University of East Anglia Playing Fields, Colney Lane, Norwich

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It’s probably common knowledge that GroundhopUK and the Anglian Combination have agreed to work together to stage an Anglian Hop in 2020. If you’d have told me even at the start of this season I’d get to write that, I’d have laughed at you. We’d tried, and tried again but each time received a firm, but polite “No” from the league. I’d mentally filed the idea along with the Highland League Hop in that folder marked “Nice idea but it’ll never happen” but then Twitter intervened!

As always you can blame Chris Berezai, it was he that pointed out that we’d be soon needing two more leagues to hop as we’ve only got one more Western Hop and our Easter with the Hellenic is a one-off. So for a little fun I put together a little Twitter poll, and put in the three most likely candidates I could think of. Then in one of my impish moments I added the Anglian Combination. I hit the “Tweet” button and genuinely didn’t know what would happen next.

Perhaps the way to make things happen is to push the boat out a little. Whatever the truth of that, the poll went mad as the clubs, officials and even a referee from the Anglian Combination grabbed at the poll, and with the groundhoppers making it crystal clear that the two of sides of the three-way compromise wanted it to happen, so it was up to me to see if I could convince the league’s committee.

I’ve long since learned the key person in a league’s committee for getting a hop organised is the fixture secretary. That person ends up scheduling the fixtures that make the weekend what it is.  So I decided to do something I do a lot in my professional life, but hadn’t happened at all here- I picked up the phone to the Anglian Combination’s Chris McCullough. What I’d envisaged a 5 minute call ended up taking over half an hour.

We talked through the whole concept and the league’s objections, and I did my best to answer how we’d overcome them when we’d worked with other leagues in the past. Chris Berezai emailed over a new prospectus for Chris to put to the league committee and to be honest even after all our efforts, I thought that would be the end of it.

But something else came out of that phone call. I like football people and sat in my little home office what came across loud and clear was what a gentleman Chris McCullough is, and what a credit to his league and Norfolk sport he is. It was and still is important to me that irrespective of what he and his committee decided we could still enjoy a cup of tea together and watch a game.

Over the next few weeks the complications of the North West Counties League and Scottish Hop rather took over Chris Berezai and I’s time. But then a week before Chris asked whether I’d heard from the Anglian Combination? I hadn’t, so sent a short email asking whether any decision had been made. To both my surprise and delight Chris McCullough replied that they’d decided to give the idea a try, with a few conditions that we’d need to meet. None of those conditions were or are particularly onerus- we need to avoid Easter (I’m speaking to another League on that one), and avoid clashes with county cups.

It was a breakthough I could have only dreamed of a week before, but I wanted to meet Chris at a Anglian Combination game before we went public. I wanted to show GroundhopUK’s commitment by travelling to see him, and also be there to answer any questions face-to-face. I’ve trained people on telephone technique but sometimes there’s no substitute for meeting someone!

In fact there ended up being two issues, neither of which has anything to do with the Anglian Hop. The first was that my SatNav didn’t understand that Colney Lane in Norwich is split in two by a set of posts, and typically I ended up one side, with the ground the other. The other was that the car park at the University of East Anglia’s Playing Fields isn’t very big, I took the last spot, and the pay and display machine didn’t work.

But those were minor gremlins, and although the ground, new to the Premier Division of the league, is fairly basic the pitch is superb, no bad thing with the weather as it had been.

Part of the attraction of the game was that it was an inter-league match up. Swaffham Town are pushing hard for promotion in the Northern Division One of the Eastern Counties League. Speaking to Chris it was clear that UWE had a tough job in front of them but they rather fancied their chances.

Under those circumstances the last thing UWE needed was to concede early, and to a bicycle kick no less! Oddly it ended up summing up their afternoon, they really didn’t deserve to lose 3-0 but Swaffham were just that little bit sharper when it mattered. Certainly UWE will look on both their cup run and their performance with no little pride.

There was of course far more than just the game involved for me. It was lovely to meet Chris, it turns out we both went to the same university, and I’m sure he, his committee and GroundhopUK will work well together to stage a series of events that everyone will both enjoy and benefit greatly from, and will do justice to the clubs of East Anglia.

It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the likes of Shaun Cole and Matthew Hudson, and so many clubs whose enthusiasm and efforts helped make the idea of an Anglian Hop happen. Thanks to them for their sterling efforts, they are much appreciated.