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Saturday 9th March 2019 ko 11.00

North-West Counties League Premier Division

BOOTLE 4 (Peers 10 19 Cox 72 Jones 90)

ASHTON ATHLETIC 2 (Gilchrist 22 Munro 50)

Att 391

Entry £5

Programme £1

I’m not sure why but on organised hops I like my breakfast quietly. Perhaps it’s because I know that for the rest of the day Chris Berezai and I will be in the centre of the maelstrom of everything that’s going on across the 4 games. That and the knowledge that experience without reflection is worthless. We’d had real problems getting this hop at a point where we felt comfortable organising it, but we’d got the event to a point that the day’s four host clubs had everything they needed to do well. I found myself thinking about the four grounds we were visiting.

Like others I read the comments on social media criticising the league’s choice, the thrust of the comments being that the grounds were poor, and so we should be visiting elsewhere. While everyone is entitled to their opinion their view rather conveniently forgets that the aim of any organised hop is to visit all of a league’s clubs in their own ground, subject to them being able, or wanting to host. So when you’ve got 4 willing clubs this close to each to other why wouldn’t you want to visit? And in the Bootle’s case Vestey Road is a long way from being a poor ground.

Bootle is just to the north of Liverpool, close to be being a suburb these days, and suffered once it’s port became superseded by Liverpool’s. Governments have tried to help the area since, the state-run National Girobank was here, now both building and bank are owned by Santander. From my semi-self-employed days I remember sending my returns to Bootle Maritime tax office!

That loss of status also applies to Bootle’s football team. They’re famous for having just a single season in the Football League- 1892-3 before dropping out due to financial difficulties. They were replaced by, in an act of supreme irony, by Liverpool FC. You could say that they did reasonably well….

I’ll let the pedants discuss whether this incarnation of Bootle is the club that played in the league. Suffice it to say that the club folded twice after 1893 and that one season in the league was played at Hawthorne Road, adjacent to Bootle Cricket Ground, with the current ground, New Bucks Park dating from 2005. It’s worth commenting that the modern Bootle club do claim their former selves’ history, and who am I to contradict them?

It seemed to be blowing a gale when the coach arrived and distributing programme packs was no easy task. It became clear that while we were going to get an extremely healthy crowd, the task of coping with around 300 extra patrons was going to stretch the club’s volunteers perhaps further than could be reasonably expected of them. But cope they did, and with grace and good humour too, as the printer seemed to take an age to warm up enough to blast off enough copies of the team line-ups to keep the groundhoppers happy. The fact of the matter was that they got there in the end, and their efforts were very much appreciated.

But I won’t remember Bootle for any of that. It’s long been a GroundhopUK priority to encourage community involvement in our events, not that Bootle needed any encouragement from us here! Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC are a club that encourage children with a disability to play football in a safe and inclusive environment. Their players were very much in evidence and the day was turned into a fundraiser to help send the team to a tournament in Belfast. Their fundraising page is here and I hope people gave generously to the bucket collection that took place. This stuff is so important and so I hope the team do get to Belfast and that they enjoy the experience.

It was a shame that I didn’t manage to catch up with Lucy, Bootle’s physio. You may remember Lucy from the hop 2 years ago when she managed to be physio for 2 different clubs on that hop,  Ashton Town and Maine Road. On this hop it was to be just Bootle that received the benefit of her skills, but I do wonder who she’ll be representing if and when we return to the North West?

The current Bootle are having an excellent season with the Premier Division title seemingly a straight shoot-out between themselves and City of Liverpool. The irony is that City of Liverpool share here at New Bucks Park. You sense that one-way or another that next season there will be Northern Premier League football played here.

I wonder if I’m the only groundhopper who looks out for Ashton Town’s Brocsteds Park home as I pass heading north on the M6. For me they’ll always be the club brave enough to be the opening club on the opening North West Counties Hop and I’ll always be grateful to them for that, although I’m pleased to report they’d didn’t bring the weather from that day with them!

They played their part in a superb game to start off a busy Saturday, coming from 2 goals down to worry the hosts who managed to find another gear to score twice late home to overtake their tenants and take top spot. In fact the only issue they had is that our next game involved City of Liverpool!

It would remiss of me not to mention that at every single game on the hop after this there was someone from Bootle FC supporting the event. The gesture was very much appreciated. If the measure of club’s hosting is feeling genuine regret as I left, then perhaps you can tell how much I enjoyed Bootle’s company.