Saturday 20th April 2019
11.00 Hellenic League Division 2 East
CHALFONT WASPS 3 (Letterman 29 42 Williams 47)
Entry & Programme £5
15.30 Hellenic League Division 1 East
CHINNOR 1 (Knowles 54)
HOLYPORT 4 (Raply 4 45 56 Driffill 16)
19.00 Hellenic League Division 2 East
LONG CRENDON 0
YATELEY UNITED 0
It was unusual to be in the middle of an organised hop and for me to wake up at home. But with the Hellenic Hop visiting 3 clubs all within 20 miles from home and with an elderly father to keep an eye on, it made sense to have a couple of nights back home, even if Robyn and I did miss the full English breakfasts back at the Almondsbury Interchange! I found myself harking back to the days of the North Berkshire League’s Hops too, and on arrival at Stokenchurch you could see why.
Since the Hellenic League rebranded its reserve section Divisions Two East and West, there’s been a drift of clubs whose facilities aren’t up to Division One standards to move to the Hellenic’s lowest rung in order to play in a pyramid league. With my North Berkshire League hat on we lost Faringdon Town that way, and are in the process of losing Letcombe too.
It meant that there was the probability of visiting clubs with fewer facilities than those found in the main body of the league. GroundhopUK are well used to organising hops involving such clubs, the North Berks had a 7 year run, and the Peterborough & District League clubs are an important part of their shared hop each July with the United Counties League. That’s why our initial thought was to include North Berks outfit Watlington Town on this day, Chinnor having floodlights made the logistics straightforward, but in the end did we really want a 14th game over Easter?
The odd part was that in planning Easter Saturday tended to be referred to a the “Oxfordshire Day” even though only the Chinnor game was actually in the county! Both Long Crendon and Stokenchurch are in Buckinghamshire, although all 3 are right on the border of the two counties.
So I arrived in Stokenchurch by car, and despite the sports field being extremely tucked away at the northern side of the village the narrow streets were quickly choked by parked cars and the coach had to drop off its cohort of hoppers on the main road. That was a factor of where the ground was located but beyond that I had reason to be worried about Stokenchurch’s hosting.
It boiled down to what had happened when I’d seen them at Taplow United a week or so earlier. An official had made it quite clear their intention was to do no more than a programme, and when I suggested that firing up the barbecue might be a good idea, he thanked me as noone else had thought it! Obviously he hadn’t read our briefing notes.
Now GroundhopUK’s briefing notes on how to host a successful and profitable hop game are well-known and a few hours later Long Crendon playing in the same division with similar facilities made far better use of those notes. As one of the organisers of the event, it is remarkable how each club is given exactly the same notes, but the interpretations differ wildly. Perhaps the view to take is that the club were given an opportunity and chose not to take full advantage. Certainly not putting a person on the gate to intercept those without tickets was hard to understand.
The interesting bit about Stokenchurch is that despite the basic nature of their Longburrow home they do have a long history in the Hellenic. They were founder members of the league in 1953 and only dropped back into the Wycombe League in 1971. They joined the Chiltonian League in 1986 but were returned to the Wycombe League in 1995. That rebranding of the reserve section allowed the club to return to the Hellenic in 2014.
I suspect we visited Stokenchurch at the right time of year. A couple of years ago the club were convinced to do a programme for a home game on Christmas Eve and were rewarded with a bumper attendance of 95 and ever since every groundhopper I’ve met has assumed I was there. It’s a fair assumption but I was actually in Somerset seeing family and ended up doing games at Banwell and Yatton. And as pretty as Stokenchurch is, with the 99.4 metre tall BT Tower visible between the trees, you are on top of the Chiltern Hills and I can imagine the place being pretty bleak in winter.
I have to say I do feel a little sorry for Chalfont Wasps. Yes their ground in Chalfont St Giles isn’t lit or fully enclosed but the Nest looks to be one that could if only the local authorities were a little more cooperative, could one day pass muster for Division One. The ground has cost them their place in Division One so wondered if the team had been cut back to match their reduced circumstances. Certainly they were no match for their hosts here, and even if their ground isn’t up to Division One standards, their team is.
GroundhopUK had visited Chinnor back in 2005 when they played Oxford City’s Reserves (artfully badged Oxford Quarry Nomads) in one of the few occasions when Nomads played in the defunct Quarry Nomads black and white stripes rather than City’s blue and white hoops. Back then the club had only just graduated from the Oxon Senior League and the game was played on what became Chinnor’s 2nd XI pitch and eventually sported a rail that, in an act of unwitting irony was sourced from Margaret Road – Quarry Nomads’ old home.
The first XI pitch was eventually moved around 100 yards and at right-angles to allow for firstly the erection of floodlights and the delivery of a stand, and latterly the rebuilding of the clubhouse. I visited in 2012 for their first game under lights and the old clubhouse was certainly in an awkward position! The difficulty with the pitch where it is, and the necessity of removing part of the rail for cricket, is where exactly do you put the stand? The answer unfortunately is behind the dugouts producing some appalling sightlines. Chinnor’s answer to it all was novel, they removed the back panels of the dugouts, so you can at least look through them!
I arrived to a hive of activity, in almost complete contrast to earlier. On a hot afternoon it was lovely to be completely redundant save for the usual headcount. I stood, watched and smiled as food and drink was sold, the bar dispensed beers at a rate you’d expect to see at a real ale festival and there was a lovely buzz about the place. In fact so good was Chinnor’s hosting, it was easy to forget what a dreadful season they’d had.
They were destined to finish rock bottom of Division One East with only 7 points, and ended up being reprieved from relegation, presumably due to vacancies in the division. Certainly Holyport had no great difficulty in winning here, but as we made for Long Crendon my overarching feeling was the the the contrast between the excellence off the pitch and the struggles on it.
Long Crendon was in the league’s terms a real rabbit from the hat. Gone are the days when the club lurched between struggles in the Aylesbury & District League and the Oxon Senior League. Back in 2012 I’d watched Crendon twice, once at Cutteslowe and one at home at Long Crendon Rec’. They managed to ship 21 goals in those two games so a change of regime was clearly needed! The club entered the Hellenic League Division Two for 2018/19 finished third, and quickly realised that as now well resourced as they are the problem wasn’t the team any more, rather the ground.
As lovely as Long Crendon Rec’ is, it is in no way suitable for pyramid football, and the parish council will never allow the likes of a stand or floodlights to be erected, and quite frankly I’m not sure they should! So this season the club have decamped to Oxford City to allow a tilt at Division One East should promotion be achieved. The club agreed to switch this game back here so they could host a hop game.
It did create one issue, and that was the entry fee! I assume the club charge the £6 at Oxford City and since GroundhopUK don’t set entry prices, save for the “No concessions for over 60s” it did seem rather out of kilter with other Division 2 clubs on the hop and Chinnor beforehand who charged £1 less.
On one hand, the market will decide whether the policy worked for them, and since they also let OAP’s in free we ended up refunding our customers over the age of 60 for this game. As a general point though pricing and concessions are something we’re looking at. We certainly aren’t in the business of telling football clubs how to run themselves, and the no concessions rule was born out of some groundhoppers abusing the concessionary rate. As ever with an organised event such as this the needs of all parties will be considered and a compromise found.
That shouldn’t detract from Long Crendon’s hosting which was excellent, possibly even the best on the hop. The cake stall was as busy as they always are, to the extent that I think every single host club should have one. After all with the popularity of baking-based TV shows if shouldn’t be difficult to find a players or committee members who can donate a cake or two! Above that though the club seemed at ease with itself, and their enthusiasm was infectious.
I hesitate to use the phrase “There was a lovely buzz about the place” as there is a colony of burrrowing bees who live under the pitch and since the weather was warm they decided to come out to feed! They didn’t seem to be of the stinging kind and they didn’t seem to put off the two sides who put on an entertaining game for us. There was though someone else present who did need to be noticed.
Bob Hume, or Tram to use his nickname amongst the groundhoppers is something of a legend. He got the nickname as he completed the necessary years on the railways to qualify for a free railpass for life by driving a Blackpool tram. Now there are hoppers with higher numbers of grounds ticked, and some with more exotic places visited, but Tram’s quirk makes him famous, because Tram hates nil-nil draws.
And when I say hate I mean hate. In fact he hates nil nil draws more than anyone else I’ve ever met. So much so that when he attends one he refuses to count the ground as being ticked and has to return for the club’s next available home first XI game. It’s led to multiple and marathon treks from his home in Garstang to the likes of Inverurie and Fakenham but the famous story involves him and an one-off Llanelli game at Stradey Park.
He’ll never be able to count Stradey and I’m not sure he’ll be able to revisit here. Long Crendon won Division 2 East and so will be based at Oxford City for all of next season at least. The club are hoping to build a stadium of their own adjacent to the industrial estate on the road out of the village towards Thame, so it is possible that this game was the last time there’ll be a competitive first XI game played here.
All of the above was all too evident to Tram whose hackles were rising all through the second half and when the final whistle sounded he stomped across the pitch in a state of high dudgeon. It was of course the kind of groundhopper OCD that out of context can give the hobby a bad name.
You need a dose of OCD to be a hopper; its not normal sensible behaviour to seek out a game in the Shiga Syakaijin League but at least admitting your foibles is a start! Poor Tram, in his red mist had completely forgotton what a lovely club Long Crendon are and how well they’d done to host us and with the minimum of facilties. I’ll watch them again, even if perhaps Bob won’t!