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Tuesday 14th December 2021 ko 19:45

Gloucestershire FA Challenge Trophy 2nd Round

HARTPURY UNIVERSITY 6 (Baidoo 22 48 66 Bam 38 63 72)

BOURTON ROVERS 0

Moore sent off 68 (2nd booking)

Att 81

Free Entry

At my stage of my groundhopping “Career” I’ve got to a point where a floodlit new ground midweek has to be worked on. The limiting factor is my two-hour window opportunity from finishing work at 5:30 at Oxford, and in planning the week in question I was quietly contemplating a mad dash to Selsey.  If everything that needed to behaved I’d have arrived a couple of minutes before kick-off. It wasn’t ideal, but there was nothing else new that I could get to, but then this popped up.

Hartpury College is situated roughly four-and-half miles north west of Gloucester. It feels isolated, far removed from the inner city college I attended all those years ago. Hartpury started life as a purely agricultural college but these days has added sport too. The college is best known for rugby, rowing and now football.

Times have changed, when I played Uni football the best players were those who’d just failed to make the grade at Football League clubs. They went straight to Uni, studied for BA in Leisure & Tourism (often abbreviated to BALT) and after graduation they became either teachers or leisure centre managers. In the meantime, they played non-league football Saturday and Tuesday, and student football on Wednesday afternoons. 

These days those players, in effect, have the chance to resurrect their playing careers while studying. That can mean playing for, as was the case in my day playing for an external club, or for Hartpury’s teams in both the Herefordshire County League and in student football. It seems that nowadays the footballer can have their cake and eat it.

The oddity is the league they find themselves it. Hartpury played the Hellenic League’s Division 2 West in the abandoned 2020-1 season but transferred laterally to the Herefordshire for this season. One look at the division they’ve left reveals the no end of sides in Herefordshire and North Gloucestershire, including this evening’s visitors reserves. I imagine they calculated that the Gloucestershire County was a little too Bristol-centric for their liking.

The problem is that they’re cruising their league- played 10, won 10 and with a goal difference of +53! I suspect the other clubs in this cup looked at drawing Hartpury as drawing the short straw! But Hartpury do have their own issues. For one they are limited by their ground, or should I say their pitch?

On one hand the pitch is superb, professionally prepared and drained. It’s fenced off and floodlit, but it isn’t enclosed, nor is there a stand or even hard standing. Even the changing rooms are some distance away in the main university buildings, and it’s difficult to see how what I saw could be made to be Step 6 compliant. Could the club share at the University rugby stadium just round the corner? Or would an external groundshare work better?

That hints of the next issue they’ll have, and its the same issue faced by another university side playing non league football- Loughborough University. You could call it the “Team Bath rule” as no student club can now play above Step 5 after the FA’s experiences with Team Bath who were formed from the sports department of Bath University. They reached the National League South before folding abruptly in 2009 with the club’s financial affairs being called into question. So why build a stadium when your ambitions are this limited, and those players in their charge could play for other clubs while continuing their education?

That dilemma was illustrated neatly here. Bourton Rovers were second-from-bottom of  the (Step 6) Hellenic League Division One, or putting it another way are playing a division higher than their hosts. You’d have never have believed it though from watching this game, and that’s no insult to Bourton- you’ll see far worse sides at their level.

But Hartpury took them to pieces, with King Baidoo and Emmanuelle Bam both collecting hat tricks. Forward Dan Moore saw red for two challenges that were late, but how often will he and his team mates be so utterly out-passed? It would be grossly unfair to judge Bourton on this game.

So what’s next for Hartpury University? There seems little point in them staying in the Herefordshire League, but how can they square the circle of finding a stadium and league suitable for their players’ ambitions? And given that most degree course are of three years’ duration, how can the football club plan for the future with any certainty?

Perhaps the view to take it to enjoy Hartpury Uni’s football team in the here and now, and let them work out their own future later. They were certainly wonderful to watch here. 

Dedicated to the Polytechnic/ University of North London Football Club circa 1990-1993, and Jenno, and Evo in particular; they’d have loved a set-up like this. I really didn’t belong on the same training ground as them, but they taught me so much.