Sunday 3rd October 2021 ko 12:15
East of Scotland League- Premier Division
BROXBURN ATHLETIC 0
DUNDONALD BLUEBELL 1 (Ford 61)
Pie – Steak
Every year I turn up at the Scottish Hop’s single Sunday game, and wish we’d added a second game. After that game I then spend hours on the M6 glad we didn’t! We arrived a Albyn Park about an hour before the coach did, and way too early, there was upwards of 100 young girls playing in a multitude of 5-a-side games on the pitch at the time and certainly you didn’t want a crowd taking photos. It did, though show the great strength of Broxburn’s home.
Broxburn is a town built on the oil shale industry; you can still see the shale tips, or bings in the background to some of the photos, and its also what you’ll be standing on when in the covered enclosure. The ground was a classic Scottish Junior Ground, but was extensively remodelled in 2009 with a 3G pitch, floodlights and a social club added. The pitch moved longitudinally around 20 yards and slightly laterally, the latter to avoid mine workings below, which is why the stand sits slightly back from the pitch and doesn’t sit centrally. There’s grass banking affording arguably the best view, particularly if like me you like having the hills beyond as a backdrop.
Of course what a groundhopper looks for in a ground, and those young folks are almost completely different, and the fact that the throughput of customers did mean we saw, quite understandably, the most comprehensive Covid measures seen on this hop. I’m pleased that people understood what the temperature checks and mask requirements were trying to achieve. I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the social club, not least because the array of merchandise for sale was quite something. I do like to pick up reference books, to help with writing these pieces, and did buy one of the most niche books in my collection, a history of Lothian clubs in the Scottish Cup. That’s why I never ask family to buy me football stuff for Christmas; most of them think the National League in England is niche!
The club produced a quite exceptional programme with a highlight being the cover showing all the locations of the games of the weekend’s hop. Except for some reason, Bonnyrigg was missing; I’m not sure why, the two clubs met regularly in their East Region Junior days and of course Broxburn narrowly lost our to Bonnyrigg in the 2018-19 playoffs for a place in the Lowland League. Just one of those things…
But half the fun of this afternoon was simply strolling round the grass banking and allowing myself to catch up with folks for one final time. There was even time to enjoy the continuation of a running joke that started at a Swedish Hop years ago based on the banners that would get Tranmere Rovers in trouble, if they were to qualify for European football. Yes, it was relaxed, as final games of hops tend to be, and in this case despite the beast of a drive to come.
The game was fairly forgettable, not every game can be a classic, with Dundonald scoring the only goal of the game to keep the anti nil-nil brigade’s sanity from being damaged still further. But the like the Witney hop a fortnight earlier this was an event for people to enjoy each other’s company once again. I can’t describe it as post-pandemic, the procedures here were proof positive that there’s still some distance to go, but seeing the smiles on people’s faces made the difficulties we faced in getting the hotel and transport together worth it.
It was a weekend where each of the host clubs managed to both charm and educate their visitors. I’ve clocked up more than my fair share of football grounds in 20-odd years of groundhopping but I arrived back in Oxford having still learned plenty, and Robyn thought it worth the stress and expense of her first ever solo plane flight to join us for Saturday morning.
I hope that next time GroundhopUK are back, in March those organisational issues will be largely behind us. I know that Chris is talking to hotels for both the Hellenic and North West Counties Hops as I type this. But the final world does need to go to everyone that helped make this such and enjoyable weekend. For the next few days I’ll ponder how a chance phone call between Jamie McQueen and I at Camelon Juniors 6 years ago could produce 10,000 plus spectators. It is some going, and the best bit about it, is that there’s the potential to double that figure with the sheer volume of clubs we’ve still yet to visit!