Sunday 8th March 2020 ko 11.30
North West Counties League Premier Division
CONGLETON TOWN 2 (Jones 7 79)
NORTHWICH VICTORIA 4 (Barski 11 22 Lynch 52 65)
It was all change at Crewe on the last day of the hop, and although we weren’t to know, the last day of organised groundhops this season. We’d spent the previous 5 games watching the North West Counties League Division One South and the previous 4 in Greater Manchester. Sat at the hotel in Crewe it was time to step up a division and aim for south of Manchester, and at least at our first destination, the foothills of the Peak District.
We left early, perhaps too early in the minds of some, then promptly got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the edge of Congleton. It gave us time, something always in short supply on these events, to consider where we were.
You can’t avoid the fact that Congleton is genteel, even down to the football club’s name being “The Bears”. It derives from 17th century when the town bought a bear for bear-baiting purposes. The problem was that the bear was far too friendly, and therefore of no use in the bear pit. So the friendly bear was pensioned off, and a replacement sought. But in those days fierce bears came at a premium and so the town sold off its bible to bring in the most suitable candidate, to the consternation of the local religious types!!
Booth Street is one of those wonderfully traditional grounds tucked away in the side-streets of its fanbase. If it it weren’t for the floodlights you could easily miss the place. But there was a club official to welcome us- always a good sign, and despite the hold-up were were still early enough to have a look round.
And what a ground Booth Street is, my favourite of the hop. There’s something for everyone here, from the backdrop of the Peak District, to those grass banks, to the cornucopia of delights that is the club shop.
Being a hop game you looked for signs that club had thought about how they were going to host. We’d seen huge crowds the day before, and all 4 clubs had been put under considerable stress in hosting. The likes of Cheadle Heath Nomads and Wythenshawe Amateurs pulled it off well, while Wythenshawe Town seemed more interested in indulging in petty oneupmanship and bothered with little else.
One glance at the gazebo serving up bacon rolls at quite a rate gave me a hint, but the one-off “Groundhopper” Real ale showed an understanding of the clientele! It became clear from the say-so that we were going to get another large crowd, clearly the frustrations of all those games lost due to waterlogged pitches were pushing up the crowds. (Writing this, as I am on April 2nd I am very aware of the irony!).
The two Sunday games featured the two incarnations of Northwich Victoria. Here we saw the original club now exiled at Witton Albion with the breakaway Northwich 1874 providing the opposition later at Winsford. It was obvious that neither side likes the other judging by the chants I heard!
If Wythenshawe provided Saturday’s best game, then this was the best of Sunday, and a close second game for game of the hop. Both sides led but for me Victoria were slightly the better side and deserved their victory. As their fans celebrated, we had a decision to make.
With that hold-up delaying our arrival we held a quick pow-wow of ourselves and the league’s officials and agreed to have the kick-off at Winsford put back 15 minutes. Of course we climbed back on the coach… and sailed straight out of Congleton just as the workmen were taking down the roadworks.
That’s life I suppose, but giving Winsford extra time was no bad thing and hopefully no one was inconvenienced.