Sunday 28th July 2019 ko 17.15
United Counties League Division One
WHITTLESEY ATHLETIC 1 (Ilsley 70)
HUNTINGDON TOWN 2 (Roberts 68 Jones 84)
The final club on the UCL Hop was a team with that one way or another have stamped themselves on the event’s history. When we visited Coates Athletic for the finale of the 2014 hop we knew they were going to soon change both name and ground, and that new ground would allow a tilt at the United Counties League. What no one realised back then was just how convoluted that tilt would end up being!
We found ourselves around 5 miles east of Peterborough and back into the flatlands of the Fens. The town has a real quirk in it’s tradition of the Straw Bear. The event, which seems to be only found in parts of Germany and this small part of the Fens takes place on Plough Tuesday, the day after the first Monday after Twelfth Night, and a young man would be covered from head to foot in straw and led from house to house where he would dance in exchange for gifts of money, food or beer. The practice died out in the early 20th century but was revived in recent years.
GroundhopUK’s trip to Feldale Park could, and probably should have taken place earlier. The club had a 5 game stint in the United Counties League in 2016 but realising they’d never get the ground floodlit by the end of September, withdrew and took their reserves’ place back in the Peterborough & District League. It is to the club’s great credit that they fought their way back and after both winning the league and securing both permission and funding for ground improvements, accepted their place back back in the UCL.
The ground did cause some discussion, and it is important to point out that these days who gets promoted and those who doesn’t is now decided centrally by the FA and not by any individual league. The ground as it stands was fairly basic, there are no seats, only the footings for the floodlights were in place, but Feldale Field is a work in a progress and if I want GroundhopUK to be about anything over above organising these events then it’s helping clubs like Whittlesey Athletic. Of course writing this with the benefit of hindsight means I know the improvements are ongoing and those troublesome floodlights are up.
You could therefore argue we should have waited until the ground was fully compliant. The answer to that lies in the attendance, the biggest of the hop. The fact is that a club’s first game at Step 6 will always attract the groundhoppers, as so many attack the hobby from Steps 1 to 6 only. So just like when we did Oakham United’s first game in the UCL it meant we saw people here that weren’t here for any of the other games over the weekend, and one of those was Tram..
Now while Whittlesey were excellent hosts, and the Hunters Chicken was an inspired choice of catering; the game for long periods wasn’t remotely entertaining. But when Tram is in situ a dull game is enlivened by his yips as the likelihood of a rapid revisit by the Garstang-based hopper increases!
Perhaps it was no bad thing that we got goals, eventually. And just like buses once Huntingdon Town broke the deadlock more goals soon came, and if you’d have turned up after 65 minutes you’d have thought you’d missed a fair chunk of a classic!
Whittlesey were a fine coda to another excellent UCL/PDFL hop as I’ve come close to expecting such is the quality these leagues seem to serve up each year. This hop was different, it took place without John Weeks and hope I he’d have approved at what happened over the weekend. We completed the usual drop-offs and headed for home, but with the expectation that we see fair chunk of the hoppers again in less than a week.