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Saturday 7th March 2020 ko 13.30

North West Counties League Division One South

WYTHENSHAWE TOWN 3 (Bryan 14 Byrne 49 Crellin-Myers 56)

ABBEY HEY 2 (Lazenbury 7 Spencer 23p)

Att 434

Entry £5 (concessions £3)

Programme £2

These days its not exactly surprising to hear that on a Saturday afternoon it was chaos at Tesco’s , but on this particular day the issue wasn’t folks trying to buy a year’s supply of loo roll in one hit, rather a larger than average crowd at Ericstan Park situated adjacent to the supermarket.

To be fair to Wythenshawe Town they’d advised everyone to park at Tesco, there’s 3 hours’ free parking there, and virtually nothing at the ground, which occupies a remarkably small footprint. The ground is named after two long-standing club officials Eric Renard, and Stan Hahn whose service with Town started in 1974.

The ground is interesting, a mismatch of old, and new. There’s the home-made stands, built with scaffolding poles and ingenuity sat alongside bang-up-to-date LED floodlights; I know I’m not the only groundhopper to have taken a minute or two to have a look. Truthfully I rather took to the place.

Now, one of the misnomers about how GroundhopUK runs these events is that we give orders, we don’t, there are very few hard and fast rules. For one thing one size seldom fits all and on another we want plenty of opportunity for clubs to put their own spin on what is their day, not ours.

We held a host clubs meeting to start a conversation on hosting ideas, and offered advice gained on the 20-plus year history of the organised groundhops. We know the advice works, I’ve been climbing on and off coaches for long enough to know it does, or I suppose you could ask Llanboidy or Selby Town if you don’t believe me.

So when Wythenshawe Town opted to do so little catering that the pies ran out 20 minutes before kick-off I may regret that so many hoppers saw the inside of that Tesco for their lunch rather than the club profiting, but that’s the club’s prerogative. Yes, Chris Berezai did take one look at the lack of food and called Cheadle Heath Nomads and told them to expect a run on their food and drink well in advance. Come to think of it, once we got there that was the shape of things to come all over again!

We also advise clubs not to offer concessions to the over-60’s as so many abused the discount in the past ( see the Peel Croft article for how) and we agree an entry fee so we can set the advanced ticket price. However if a club opts not to follow that agreement all we can do is either credit or refund our eligible ticket-holders so that everyone receives the same discount. Its not an issue as such, but it does reduce the payment to the club, and for the record, it doesn’t affect GroundhopUK’s finances at all.

In the end I got the distinct impression Wythenshawe Town thought they didn’t need our advice. Again that’s their right, its their club and not ours we are just hoppers conducting a one-off visit after all.

There’s no point me letting my ego get in the way even if their idea of how many people were present was laughable. Chris and I have long since got used to taking brickbats for our head counts, some folks take a perverse delight in saying we inflate our figures, so to be told we were over 150 short was ironic to put it mildly. It left me wondering where were those all those extra people? How could we “lose” 150 people and more in such a small football ground? Were they all in Tesco buying their lunch?  I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I felt a little sorry for the league officials on this one, our agreement with both the clubs and league is that GroundhopUK do the crowd counts but as a league felt honour-bound to take the club official’s count as the one of record. I and just about everyone else may feel that the crowd was way fewer than what we saw at Wythenshawe Amateurs, and so my records will take the 434 figure as the one I believe is the more accurate. That is of course my prerogative….

Whatever my disappointments may be at how Wythenshawe Town’s staging was, at least we got a game and the ticket holders got their programmes in advance. I suspect Town got what they wanted too, and that was to report on both a record crowd, and a larger crowd than at Amateurs. I expect the regret will seep in the next time the league holds a club meeting and compare notes as to how well the event swelled their coffers. That is of course their prerogative too.

In the end I can’t get too angry at whoever decided Town’s plans for their day. They made their decision and I’m happy to accept that. After all, I’m a groundhopper so my hobby is based on visiting everywhere once. As hoppers we got our needs satisfied, and I’m happy the club were given an opportunity.

I’ve often said that as organiser you look for one of three things to happen. There’s great staging, a great ground and a great game. Well dear reader from what you’ve read so far you can assume we had 1 out of the 3, but the truth is we got 2, as the game was great to watch, and thanks to all at Abbey Hey for their co-operation in both playing at a slightly unusual time and also for being a part of what for me was the game of the hop.

The game was one of those topsy-turvey encounters that make you glad you were there. Both sides led, both sides will thick they deserved to win it, and the meanest defence in the league was breached twice yet still found a way to win. There was skill, commitment and aggression and was by any measure a wonderful advert for both the North West Counties League and non-league football in general. You could easily argue that of the seven hop games only the Congleton Town game came close to matching this game for excitement.

If only I hadn’t felt so hungry as I climbed back onto the coach!