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Sunday 28th July 2019 ko 13.45

United Counties League Division One

IRCHESTER UNITED 3 (Clark 7 Ball 70 79)

WELLINGBOROUGH WHITWORTH 3 (Brittain 8 Crawley 45 Hazell 90)

Att 328

Entry £5

Programme £1

It wasn’t far from Cogenhoe to Irchester- just enough time to get comfortable it seemed! When we first established the United Counties League Hop I’d imagined that we’d visit Irchester either before or after both Wellingborough Town and Wellingborough Whitworth, as Irchester is very close to the town. Now there were compelling reasons to visit Stilton when we did last year, but it did leave Irchester a little high and dry. In the end I was pleased we were able to fit them in quickly.

The “Chester” in the village’s name refers to the farm of that name nearby. That farm is on the site of a Roman town, Yranceaster or Iron Fortress, a reference to the ironstone deposits like at Rothwell that are prevalent here. The remains of the settlement gives the club its ” Romans” nickname and badge, but as the coach picked it’s way through narrow streets I had reason to be worried.

In the days before the hop Irchester chairman Geoff Cotter died, and it left a close-knit club shell-shocked. At that point I don’t think anyone would have had an issue with the club if they’d postponed the game, such were the circumstances. Irchester did confirm they wanted the game to go ahead as tribute to their late chairman but did ask Chris Berezai to give them Thursday to collect their thoughts which was completely understandable. It did mean though we had to adapt our plans slightly.

In these days of online programmes we now offer clubs the option of getting their hop programmes printed along with the other paperwork GroundhopUK distributes, such as the brochure and advanced tickets. Irchester’s programme is now online only and since we have a very good deal with our printer over and above the obvious economies of scale it made sense to print their copy for them. Normally we collect the programmes we need on the Thursday before the hop to make up programme, brochure and ticket packs for advance ticket holders.  In this instance the situation was similar to Bishops Cleeve on the last Hellenic Hop – a case of handing handing over what had been printed over and above those booked in advance. With Irchester taking time to grieve we agreed to hand over the spares on the day as soon as we arrived.

That meant as we arrived there were the close to inevitable gaggle of hoppers who for reasons of OCD were absolutely desperate for a programme and who for reasons unfathomable hadn’t bought an advanced ticket (guaranteeing a programme)  for the game! Those spares disappeared extremely quickly, and I’ve grown rather cynical as to whether some folks will ever learn.

It was clear than the club had pulled together in adversity and created something remarkable. The problem the club will always have with their Alfred Street ground is its tiny footprint, we couldn’t get the coach within 400 yards of the place. So opening up the local recreation ground as a temporary car park was an inspired move, and I had one of those wonderful afternoons where I wondered if the club had done something important, looked round and found yes it had! The space may have been limited, but the efforts were superb.

The minute’s silence was beautifully observed, as the bumper crowd found new and interesting ways to find shelter from the rain. Here the football shares with cricket in a situation slightly reminiscent of the lay-out at Thrapston so the viewing area was restricted to two-and-a-half sides of the ground. Counting the crowd was certainly an adventure!

This was the best the game of the hop by some distance, and a fitting tribute to Geoff Cotter. Both sides could have won it, Irchester will argue they should have, and any one of the many neutrals there would have liked to have seen Irchester prevail after what they’d been through. But in stoppage Jonny Hazell successfully tracked a looping clearance before executing a perfect volley from just over 18 yards out.  It was a stunning goal but I think even the good people of Whitworths will understand my mixed feelings when the net bulged.

All the very best and thanks should go to Irchester United. They did an amazing job in dreadful circumstances, and if the measure of a club on a hop is whether they changed peoples’ perceptions of them for the better, then there’s no doubt that they managed that in spades.