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Thursday 18th April 2019 ko 19.30

Hellenic League Division One West

ALMONDSBURY 3 (Sheppard 45 Lane 85 Bisp 87)

MALMESBURY VICTORIA 2 (Jones 6 Tranter 77)

Att 195

Entry £5

Programme £1

As I mentioned in the Barnton article the original plan for Easter was for GroundhopUK to be based in the North West Counties League. Conventional wisdom would be that they made a mistake in turning down Easter for their hop, but they got excellent crowds for their event in March, so perhaps they bucked that trend. If turning down Easter could be said to be their loss (and I’m not totally convinced), then the Hellenic certainly gained. By swapping the two events around the Hellenic got a prime groundhopping slot, and he chance for 13 clubs to host rather than the 7 we’d originally planned. Brian King at the Hellenic jumped at the chance of an expanded hop but we did create an oddity though, and that was Almondsbury hosting.

On one hand being based at the Almondsbury Interchange Hotel was a godsend, you can see Almondsbury FC’s ground from the car park, it really can’t be more than 200 yards away, making hiring a coach for Maundy Thursday completely pointless! Just about the only motorised vehicle that got send by GroundhopUK was Chris Berezai’s car, loaded to the gunnels with programme packs-ticket sales had been very healthy!

The oddity was that we’d never actually considered using Almondsbury FC for the Hellenic Hop. Over the years of organising the Western Hop every time we’d seen the ground from the Interchanges’ car park we’d assume we’d visit on that event. So who was there to say hello when we got to the ground? Yes that’s right Jules French from the Western League no doubt saying hello to one of his former clubs!

Add to that the back of the stand having Western League branding, together with the corner flags too, and you got the distinct impression of a club moved to the Hellenic, but wishing they were back in the Western. Now hindsight will point to the news that today they got their wish, next season Almondsbury will be back in the Western, and that will slash their travelling costs at a stroke.

But in Easter 2019 they did a fine job in opening up the Hellenic Hop, the barbecue did a roaring trade, and the club cleverly parked cars on the cricket square, space at the ground itself was at a premium. I found myself remembering my first visit here around 10 years’ previously.

I’d driven up the lane behind the Sports & Social Club and paid to get in at a pay booth. It was a typical end-of-season game with nothing much riding on it, so when I asked for a programme the response I got wasn’t surprising. “We couldn’t be @rsed!” was the response, and the blunt honesty I found rather endearing!

Since then the ground has been extensively improved with floodlights and a stand added. The unusual bit is that the pitch has been extensively landscaped and is now a good 10 foot higher than before, and to give you an idea of the change look at the how many steps you now climb to get from the car park to the pitch. I did wind-up a few hoppers that since the pitch had moved I ought to count it as a new ground… some folks eh?

The game has something on it too, with Malmesbury needing a win to maintain hope of second place, and in turn hope of promotion. Vics scored first and dominated the first half, but gradually Almondsbury gradually found their way back into the game, equalising on the stroke of half time. Vics took the lead again on 77 minutes, and at that point I honesty thought they close out for the win. But strangely, a little miraculously Almondsbury scored twice in two minutes to record what at times looked an unlikely victory.

Robyn and I strolled back to the hotel, bypassing the hoards of hoppers who’d discovered the Sports & Social Club were serving real ale. We had a quiet pint with a couple of hoppers back at the hotel before having an early night. Just the 12 games to go….