Sunday 21st April 2019
11.00 Hellenic League Division Two West
BOURTON ROVERS 3 (Nurse 19 Tyack 76 Way 90)
HEADINGTON AMATEURS 1 (Curtis 83)
14.15 Hellenic League Division Two West
MORETON RANGERS 0
ADDERBURY PARK 1 (Northam 62)
18.00 Hellenic League Premier
BRIMSCOMBE & THRUPP 4 (Blackie 5 Pitts 55 Campbell 70 J Pitt 90)
ABINGDON UNITED 0 Butler sent off 55 (2nd Booking)
Easter Sunday dawned, and the compromise that is an organised hop was brought into sharp focus. On one hand we were always likely to see the most hoppers today when compared to the rest of the weekend, but then we were asking more of the clubs in asking them to play on Easter Sunday. You could argue that extra crowds mean extra revenue for our host clubs but that doesn’t help the visiting clubs taking part. I know there was some discomfiture amongst those involved at Headington Amateurs, Adderbury Park and Abingdon United in playing on this day so our sincere thanks to them for helping us, the league and the host clubs. Thanks also to Brian King and all at the league too, plenty of leagues wouldn’t have even countenanced trying!
The difficulty of any game at Bourton-on-the-Water is that the pretty Cotswold town is a tourist magnet, and having visited Rissington Road 6 years ago I wondered where on earth we’d park cars for 200-plus people. My fears were assuaged when I’d met Diddle Keen at a meeting with the Witney & District League at West Witney Sports Ground as Bourton’s reserves play in that league. I was in the process of pitching the idea of a hop to that league and he made it clear that Bourton would love to host, and it was up to me to let him know that it would be as part of a Hellenic Hop featuring their first XI. There was only one small problem, the Hellenic Hop hadn’t received final approval. I had to be a little diplomatic!
The parking situation proved to be easily solved, and the adjacent cricket club did very well out of the bumper crowd, and the tourists too on a hot day. From then on Diddle and his club showed everyone just what a good club the Hellenic have gained and how in time the club will play at Step 6.
The improvements to Rissington Road are manifest but also ongoing. The ground is now railed, and enclosed with the next piece of the jigsaw being the erection of the floodlights salvaged from Walterbush Road, former home of Chipping Norton Town. Of course ground gradings and some failed promises has seen Headington Amateurs demoted to Division Two but at least they’re back at Barton Village Road. Whilst they’ll find it almost impossible to get the reconfigured ground up to Step 6 standards, the relief at being home is clear, and at least a permanent home does allow them to plan.
Here Bourton were as good on the pitch as they were off it. They won this one in straightforward fashion and it was a mark of how well organised a morning we’d had that no one dashed away at the end. There was enough trust to know we’d get on our way without hindrance. And as I made my way to Moreton I reflected on that once we’ve got the Witney League Hop up and running all any club wanting advice needs to do is speak to Diddle Keen and all at Bourton. They hosted beautifully for us.
For those not in the know the London Road Ground in Moreton-in-Marsh is a surprise in that it’s staging football way below what you’d think is its capabilities. The club in its former guise of Moreton Town are no strangers to the Hellenic League having played in the Premier Division from 1971 to 1995 when the club was bankrupted following allegations of wild overspending during player-manager Mark Lawrenson’s tenure.
In 1989-90 the ground found a niche in Welsh football when phoenix club Newport AFC (now Newport County AFC) played their first season here, winning the Hellenic at their first attempt. The reason why they played 80 miles from home was odd to put it mildly. On one hand the Welsh FA (FAW) wouldn’t let them play in Wales as they were in the English pyramid, and as a new club wanted them to enter the Welsh pyramid, presumably via the Gwent County League. On the other Newport Council wouldn’t let them play at their home, Somerton Park as they saw the new club as a continuation of the old, bankupt club and therefore liable for their debts. As the new club put it at the time, neither FAW not council could both be right!
Newport’s stay was only one season, they returned to Somerton then faced another period of exile, this time at Gloucester City before the European Court ruled that the FAW’s policy was illegal- being restraint of trade and the club have played in Newport ever since.
Moreton Rangers date from 1997 as an under 8’s team and have built the club up to adult football and progressed through the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire Northern Senior Leagues before making the sideways step from the Gloucestershire League. That came despite a devastating fire at the ground in 2009 that saw the changing rooms gutted, and only a massive fundraising effort saw the club able to build a new block in a few weeks and progress to the GNSL.
We arrived at an opportune time. With the division and Gloucestershire County cup won, the club were able to use their hop game as a celebration of the season’s achievements and attracted a huge crowd in doing so. And even if the the league formations for next season are to be believed and Moreton aren’t in Division One West then surely its a question of when, not if.
Here off the pitch the club managed to cope well with a crowd that was the second- largest of the hop even if it did get a little bit cosy in the cluhhouse at times! You could argue that Adderbury Park’s win was a case of the hosts suffering from a post-championship hangover although I’m tempted to say they rather wilted in the sun.
I must admit I’m something of a fan of Adderbury’s home of the Lucy Plackett Playing Fields. Yes, its very basic but the backdrop of the local church is rather good! They did a good job hosting for us back in the day, and since a new ground looks in the pipeline I’ll look forward to bringing the hordes back to the home of John Craven and various members of Fairport Convention in due course. In the meantime do visit them at Lucy Plackett; it is a lovely place.
When Chris and I had a conversation about re-establishing the Hellenic Hop he asked me where we ought to visit first. My answer needed only 3 words, BRIMSCOMBE AND THRUPP as for my money their Meadow home is the one bucket list ground in the Hellenic. So much so that even though the stand from my 2013 visit has been replaced by some of those horrible “Arena” modular stands so derided by football enthusiasts the ground is still an icon of non-league.
To be honest I was surprised that a few hoppers head for home after the Moreton game as they’d already ticked here. Each to their own of course, but if you’re going to revisit anywhere then surely a warm spring evening at the Meadow is the time and the place to do it isn’t it?
There was an unusual return home too. You may remember Thomas Kelly’s refereeing career being regularly signposted here at the likes of Challow, and Hook Norton but I saw him last at altogether more distant Lakenheath due to him relocating. Presumably he was back home to Easter and so took a game in his old league. He had a good game too.
10 games into the hop it was lovely to sat at the top of the back behind the goal with Robyn and watch a club host a massive crowd with that sense of unconscious competence you only get with supreme organisation. We enjoyed the chicken curry, and then watched Brimscombe predictably dismantle a demoralised Abingdon United.
It was a case of a side with a mathematical chance of the league title taking on a side doomed to relegation. It wasn’t likely to be close and as hard as United worked, they had no answers to the hosts who ended up finishing runners-up to Wantage Town. I’m sure they’ll be the side to beat in next season’s Hellenic Premier. For the future GroundhopUK have yet to visit Abingdon United so they are very much in our plans.
In the meantime those who were at the Meadow on Easter Sunday will remember Brimscombe and Thrupp with much fondness.