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Saturday 14th September 2019 ko 11.00

Witney & District League- Premier Division

MILTON-UNDER-WYCHWOOD 1 (Dady 3)

SPARTAN RANGERS 2 (Thompson 47 Murphy 85) 

Att 166

Entry & Programme £4

One advantage of the Witney & District Hop taking in one of the league’s outposts was the excuse to take the minibuses from Oxford out west along the A40 then heading north via Burford. You drive through the most wonderfully scenic Cotswolds countryside as you head north to what’s left of the medieval Wychwood forest.

It was always my plan to head here, although I’d first planned on going to nearby Ascott-under-Wychwood but all parties seemed happier to head to Milton instead, and in Jim Littlewood I’d got both an enthusiastic and able contact at the club. We corresponded by email and I got the impression that he was a middle-aged man who’d been running the club for years.

I got a bit of a shock when I met Jim at the clubs’ planning meeting, he’s young enough to be still playing! Nevertheless he asked some really good questions and I was confident enough to let him get on with planning Milton’s hosting. It was an interesting few weeks. I was very aware that of our 4 host clubs only Hook Norton had seen a hop game, but on the other hand I didn’t want to micromanage things to such an extent that all the hostings looked the same.

But sat on social media Milton looked superb, “The Groundhoppers are coming” adverts seemed everywhere, and on a warm Saturday morning it wasn’t difficult to sell the idea of another one-off real ale, a bacon roll and a huge slice of cake to accompany the best of local football on the village green.

Just about everyone understood the days was as much about the club fundraising as the hoppers getting multiple ticks with multiple programmes, and the one that didn’t got stopped at the gate. My thanks should go also to all at Spartan Rangers; I know the league had difficulties finding an opponent that was prepared to play this early, so if you see the hop visiting the friendly club in Witney in the future you know why! Clubs like these are the kind of people who I love to work with.

And for once the adverts were completely accurate. Milton were fantastic hosts, to the extent that I very rapidly stood back and enjoyed myself watching them charm the masses with the league’s committee doing exactly the same as I was, looking proudly on. Meanwhile the cakes and bacon rolls sold briskly and the beer drinkers tucked into that special batch of real ale.

It was also good to see one of groundhopping’s great characters, maybe you know him, he’s the Taunton resident who famously travelled up to Scotland to see a Hibernian home game only to find on arrival at Easter Road that it was the Maltese Hibernians that were at home that day. Thankfully he mentioned beforehand that he wasn’t going to be at this game because he’d already been to Milton United. We set him straight….

Now I do understand those who’d write off football on the village green, but there is something charming about finding a chunk of cake and a tea then picking your spot to watch the game. Clearly the weather helped, you found a place to shelter from the sun rather than the rain, and both sides strained to record their first win of the season.

Now I know from Jim how much Milton wanted to win in front of a crowd, and when a side hosts this well, you want only the best for them. It was not to be, I’ll sit on the fence by saying a draw would have been fair, but Spartan Rangers prevailed. If its any consolation I’m sure most of the crowd will forget the result, but Milton’s hosting will be used as a benchmark. Because if any Witney League club wants advice on how to host, I’ll advise to them to phone Jim Littlewood. He’s younger than you think though!