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Sunday 19th September 2021 ko 14:00

Witney & District League Division One


CHADLINGTON 2 (Morley 5 Burton 15)

Att 177

Entry by programme £4

I reached Kingham in a state of nervous exhaustion; I think the stress of getting this hop set up, then running to a standard I’d regard as acceptable had caught up with me.  I’ll never regret these Sunday games, both host clubs’ success was proof that gambit worked, but on Saturday evening sat in the pub I did find myself thinking that if I hadn’t asked for those games my stress would have been over.

But if you’ve read my last article, you’ll know that Sherborne Harriers had wonderfully blown our collective minds so I headed north with the stress dissipating as I drove. I knew Kingham had an excellent finale set up for us. 

Part of it was I knew what they’d planned, and part was the age of the club. They’re been around since the 1890’s but changed names in 1928 after being impressed by the touring New Zealand RUGBY team! That has caused one massive issue for the club, by and large they’ve not been allowed to play in all black! In fact this hop saw just about as close to that as you’re likely to see- chairman Roger Huxford was all in black and was on the pitch for 90 minutes. That of course was because he was referee at Sherborne Harriers and made a very fast trip north to help man the gate at his club. How many of you spotted the connection?

I enjoyed greatly the teas and so successful was the club’s “Meal deals” a clever idea for the last game of the event with the crowd scattering to the 4 corners of the UK, that I found myself eating a Kingham roll for lunch the next day! Less successful was the mug/coaster combination for £9- probably too expensive for a groundhopper’s wallet. However the programme was by some distance the best of the hop, and that was in an event where the publications were notably good.

The game saw visitors Chadlington take an early two goal lead, and try as they might Kingham never managed to get a foothold in the game. By the time their consolation came through Jack Lay it was too little, too late. Where Kingham clearly won out, though was off the pitch, and if Chadlington wish to host next year they could do a lot worse than ask their hosts. Put simply Kingham made my life very easy and I’ll always be grateful for that!

The hop was far better than I could have possibly imagined when I’d stood in front of the AGM a few months earlier. I do think the pandemic killed the momentum we’d gained from the first event, in essence we started from scratch, and that might explain why we had so many difficulties getting host clubs. I know some groundhoppers find it had to believe that, and point to the potential financial rewards. The issue with smaller clubs isn’t getting them to see the reward, it’s adapting the offering so that it can be achieved with a minimum of volunteers. 

I know there’s a rumour doing the rounds that this was to be the last Witney Hop. That will only be the case if the clubs don’t want to host any more, and I know we’ve got RAF Brize Norton as a potential host club. That will mean we’ll need to dust off the entry procedures we used at RAF Benson in 2013, I wonder if they’re still using the ground I visited there? I’d rather like to have Brize Norton FC afterwards, mainly due to geography, but also as its the place where I first met Ralph from the league and it was where the idea of a Witney Hop was first discussed. That and the idea of watching Brize Norton times two!

The other side of things is finding visiting teams prepared to play at unusual times. We probably weren’t helped by the first hop featuring only top division clubs with this one having only 1 Premier Division host! We now have 8 clubs who have hosted but never been a visiting club. Those clubs have had the reward, so I’d hope they’d help out the next tranche of host clubs. Mind you finding a first XI host for Sherborne Harriers might be an issue!

Certainly the feedback I’ve had from both groundhoppers and clubs has been positive, and there’s some real gems in this league that have yet to be be visited! The Witney & District have quickly made themselves very well respected in groundhopping circles. John Smyth commented that we may be small but we do things well. I’d agree with that so let’s make it happen- the mouse can roar again.