Saturday 26th September 2020 ko 15.00
Gloucestershire County League
HARDWICKE 1 (Higgins 45)
PATCHWAY TOWN 1 (Poole 22og)
I suspect if you’re a groundhopper Hardwicke will mean one of two things to you. If you’re younger you’ll know the club as a village team in the Step 7 Gloucestershire County League. If , however you are a little older you’ll know them as the most controversial club ever to have taken part in a hop game.
It was the August 2009 Hellenic Hop and the first game of the day was due to be at Lydney Town vs Hardwicke. It had rained heavily overnight, actually call that a deluge and by the time we arrived the pitch wasn’t so much waterlogged, but underwater. We had a little time, so many of us helped work on the pitch, so it was slightly less waterlogged and with the referee “Leant on” by league General Secretary Brian King we did get 29 minutes of action before the correct decision was made to abandon the game.
What wasn’t appreciated by anyone there was the foul-mouthed critique of the event and groundhoppers in general by the Hardwicke manager. It was uncalled for, and it made it absolutely certain that we’d never organise a GroundhopUK event at any club he was involved with.
That season was Hardwicke’s first in the Hellenic, and as it transpired it’s only one. They won Division One West, but afterwards the manager walked away and with the club completely unable to fulfil ground grading for the Premier Division they folded , and were reformed down in the Stroud League in 2010. They returned to the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League in 2013 and the County League in 2015 . In essence that ground grading issue saw them drop 5 divisions.
Even with what had happened before it all seemed harsh, and whatever my view of what Hardwicke were one one day, eleven years ago they are a different club now, and I didn’t want one man’s rudeness a long time to prejudice my afternoon.
The immediate issue is finding which ground they play at. You’ll head down Green Lane and spot a ground on your left. Don’t stop there (it’s Hardwicke Rangers YFC) but carry on to the village hall on the right, the ground is behind it.
It is exactly the kind of place I expected the Hellenic’s lower divisions to look like back in 2009. There’s a railed off pitch, and not much more but its more than adequate for the crowds Hardwicke get, currently with the caveat that with the village hall shut due to the pandemic, spectators are asked to use the toilets in the Royal British Legion behind the near goal. I have to say maintaining social distancing is so much easier at this level.
But if there’s one message I’d like to get across from this visit it is that this is a friendly, outgoing club. The asking for the team line-ups was easy, and the banter about photographing players’ best sides may have been a cliché but it was friendly.
So much so that I actually felt sorry for Hardwicke when Patchway scored. It was an unfortunate goal, a shot hit the crossbar, rebounded back and hit a defender racing back, and into the net. Hardwicke fought back and missed a penalty before scoring after a scramble just before half time.
In playing terms it wasn’t the most remarkable of game, and I’m sure few would rate it as the most characterful of grounds. But a Robyn and I headed back to Oxford it was lovely to be able to frame Hardwicke as a friendly club near Gloucester rather than one man’s ranting in 2009. Perhaps those of us who were there at Lydney that morning ought to visit Hardwicke, to exorcise that particular ghost.