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Tuesday 27th April 2021 ko 18:30

North Berkshire League Division One

GROVE RANGERS 1 (Faircloth 42)

DRAYTON 3 (Harrison 2 Jacks 61 Wilde 82)

Jacks penalty saved 77

Att c30 at Grove Recreation Ground

Free Entry

Now I know what you’re thinking, didn’t we pay Grove a visit on the 2015 North Berkshire Hop? You’d be right, but we actually visited them at their original ground at Wasbrough Field. That lies around 200 yards north of their normal home at the Recreation Ground, and the game got moved there because the rugby club didn’t want football fans in their bar. I’d have thought our money was as good as theirs but I regarded the switch as something as a groundhopper’s bonus and planned to visit the Recreation Ground at later date, but circumstances got in the way. 

For one thing the club left the North Berks in 2017 after a row over which division their reserves, promoted to become the firsts would be playing in. I remember their then chairman walking out of a fiery League AGM and pulling the club out of the league a few days later. Grove Rangers fell into abeyance and didn’t return to playing for 2 years when, under new management, they re-entered the North Berks’ 2nd division.  They were placed in the top division for this season.

Of course groundhoppers will remember Drayton well, being one of only a few clubs to host a hop game more than once. They were fine hosts on the both first hop in 2011 at Lockway and on the last in 2017 at the Diamond Light Source Ground. I’ve always got up well with their chairman Pete Ivey and in a similar fashion to East Hendred the week before I wanted to come and watch his side once more. Typically I watched the one fixture Pete couldn’t be at. 

Grove isn’t your typical North Berkshire League pretty village. It once was a tiny village on the Great Western Railway with a slightly rickety tramway that linked the mainline to Wantage.  A massive expansion and the arrival of Williams Formula 1 has made the village close to contiguous with Wantage and virtually swamped the village’s historic centre. 

A note to the good for those visiting the recreation ground, don’t set your SatNav for Cane Lane even though that runs parallel to Rangers’ pitch. The problem is that Cane Lane is gated just before the ground, so there’s a fair chance you’ll be on one side, and the ground on the other. Aim for Brereton Drive and the ground is at its southern end. You can’t miss the ground, its the pitch between the clubhouse and the entrance, and those in the know tell me the kebab van situated there is rather good!

It is a municipal facility so there was no Steve Mulford to produce a pristine pitch, and the result was a surface that both sides did well to produce an entertaining game on. There was little more than pride to play for both sides will no doubt look to place next season in the NBFL’s top flight next season. It was good to see a contingent from East Hendred there; plenty of the team live in Grove so being here was convenient, or was that because Steve Mulford had asked the team to come into spread a ton of topsoil on the pitch?

It was something of a meeting of friends in a way. Jonny James I met at Childrey in pre-season but he switched to playing for Grove mid-season. If I’m trying to visit every club in the North Berks, is Jonny trying to play for every single one? Then there’s Long Wittenham’s finest, referee Darren Hill  who the groundhoppers have seen officiate at the likes of East Hendred and Newent Town and is one of the best referees locally.

You could have assumed that with both sides playing their final games of the season, there would be little that was competitive. Well, dear reader the complete opposite happened with both sides clearly wanting to finish with a bang. And sometimes there was more of a bang than was expected. One Grove player decided at half time in a state of high dudgeon that that was it for him, got changed and drove home- no names, no pack drill, those who need to, know his identity.

In the end the difference was that Drayton defended better, with a couple of real howlers allowing the visitors to gain an ascendancy that despite some Grove pressure early in the second half, they never looked likely to surrender. It rained, I got wet but there’s nothing too unusual in that, and the upshot of it all is that as it stands I’ve just got Frilsham & Yattendon Old Boys left to visit to complete the league. But there’ll be an AGM between now and that visit, so there’s a fair chance they’ll be more new places to visit- I like that.