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Friday 4th October 2019 ko 19.45

Western League Division One

LEBEQ UNITED 3 (Brown 7p 59 Sarr 13)

DaCosta sent off 55 (violent conduct)

RADSTOCK TOWN 1 (Rustell 14p)

Att 192 at Oaklands Park, Almondsbury (Gloucs FA Ground)

Entry £5

Programme £1

In a few ways the organised groundhop should have visited Oaklands Park far far earlier than this. Think back 15 or so years ago to the days of the Welsh Hellenic Hop, when GroundhopUk would spend August Bank Holiday Saturday in the South Wales Amateur League then spend Sunday and Monday in the Hellenic. Each and every year we traveled east across the Severn, and each time we failed to visit, but why?

The issue was that Almondsbury Town who rented the ground from the Gloucestershire FA had a rather fractured relationship with the Hellenic’s management, and so every time we asked the league we were quickly rebuffed, and let’s face a ground this close to the M4 and M5 would have perfect. But even so, it didn’t happen.

Then, in 2011 with Almondsbury Town newly promoted into the Southern League came the shock news that Town were leaving Oaklands Park. The reasons seem complex, but the club left the Southern League after just one season, dropped all the way down to the Bristol & Suburban League, and folded after one season playing on Patchway Town’s second pitch.

The Gloucs FA converted Oaklands Park to 3G and soon installed Winterbourne United and Roman Glass St George as tenants as neither club had a suitable ground for Step 6. The issue was that both sides by this stage were playing Western League football, and we had no agreement… yet!

Winterbourne lasted only 4 years at Oaklands before folding which must have irked whoever was in charge of road signs, it still says Winterbourne United outside! So imagine yourself as Western Hop organiser, and you’ve set up base at the Almondsbury Interchange Hotel. You can see two football grounds from the car park; to your left Almondsbury FC and to the right, Oaklands Park. You’d have thought it would be straightforward to watch a game at one, then stroll over to the other wouldn’t you? Well no….

For a start Roman Glass turned us down early on the piece, and that was despite the persuasive skills for the late Mark Edmonds. They’ve not featured in any Western Hop game. Then the was the vexed question of Almondsbury FC, who we visited on last season’s Easter Hop in the Hellenic League when they made it pretty clear that they’d far rather be back in the Western League. They got their wish for this season, and on reflection doing both Almondsbury grounds as Friday night games was no bad thing- it saved everyone a fortune in transport costs!

But with Roman Glass still unwilling to host it was fortunate Oaklands had a new tenant. If you were to ask a Bristolian about Lebeq you’d be told Lebeq Tavern is in Easton and comes with a fearsome reputation. If you were to ask a groundhopper they’d tell you Lebeq Tavern have won just about everything there is to win in Sunday football, apart from the FA Sunday Cup, and they lost in the final of that at Anfield in 2007!

In 2009 they decided to try their hand at Saturday football, and entered a side in the Bristol & Suburban League. To say they’ve rocketed up through Bristolian, then Gloucestershire football is an understatement, they reached the Gloucestershire County League in 2016, and won it last season. The trouble is, in common with all the clubs that have rented Oaklands Park, is that they’ve got the team, but not the infrastructure.

But with this being the final Western League Hop, that was handy for us. Lebeq were happy enough to host, and win neither they nor Roman Glass having any more claim on the ground than the other the often heard groundhopper’s worry about who had first call on the place simply didn’t hold water.

So we strolled across the road to a ground that was staging Western League football having been a Hellenic League ground, which is opposite another ground that we’d seen staging Hellenic League football having been a Western League ground!

It all worked out rather well. Lebeq got a financial boost and we got a staging with a decidedly Caribbean feel to it, and we all loved the pub sandwich board used for the team line-ups. More than that though it was a treat to catch up with so many people that had become friends over the Western League Hop’s run. That would include Jules French, and Simon “Wurz” Wilkinson from Radstock. It all ran the risk of feeling valedictory even though we still had 6 games left!

I’m sure Wurz felt his side would win this one, and it was to just about everyone’s surprise that they didn’t. Lebeq have some wonderful players and when they play as a team they’re irresistible. That doesn’t happen all of the time, and DaCosta running half the length of the field to get involved to get involved in a scuffle that had nothing to do with him. His was the most straightforward dismissal I’ll see all season.

But I was pleased to be there. It wasn’t a new tick, I’d seen Almondsbury Town as soon as I’d realised we’d never see them on a Hellenic Hop but it was good to be back in Western League territory, and among friends.