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Friday 4th March 2022 ko 19.45

North West Counties League Division One North

GOLCAR UNITED 3 (Cox 14 Barrett 27 Naidole 52)

CAMPION 2 (Maltby 59 Boshell 85)

Att 467

Entry £5

Programme £2

If you are roughly my age then the most famous person to have been born in Halifax was unquestionably John Noakes. The Blue Peter presenter was, in a age of two channel tv and received pronunciation a revelation to this small boy from the shires; who could forget his climbing of Nelson’s Column without any kind of safety equipment?

It did feel slightly counter-intuitive to have a North West Counties League hop based in West Yorkshire, territory I tend to associate with the Northern Counties East, but that’s the vagaries of FA league allocations these days. The GroundhopUK party was based between two hotels in the centre of Halifax, one in a converted mill. Neither were cheap as we’d like, Covid is continuing its impact on the hospitality sector, but its location was both handy and interesting. 

I knew the hop’s coda would be at Ilkley (Moor) with that connection with Noakes which added to the nostalgia but we had a more pressing issue in the here and now- the rain. We knew that Bacup Borough is notorious for waterlogging, but we’d spotted at our first game at Golcar had postponed their midweek fixture. Worse on the Thursday GroundhopUK owner Chris Berezai had called in to Golcar to collect programmes for the advance ticket holders packs, and seen just how waterlogged the pitch was. The club were confident they’d get the game on, Chris wasn’t. 

A late afternoon pitch inspection would decide the games’s fate one way or another, and in terms of the event it was a worry. I chose though to take a phlegmatic view of it all, for one there are far worse things going on in the world than a wet football pitch, and if the game was off, then conveniently Huddersfield Town were at home.

As it transpired the club pulled off a minor miracle in getting the pitch playable, an achievement I’m sure Noakes would have approved of, and so a party of us pre-empted the coach and drove up to the village overlooking Huddersfield, to distribute those tickets and programme packs. It was cold, and wet underfoot, and obvious that if we’d have seen any significant rain we’d have lost this game, and probably Bacup too. 

It was busy, the car park was full, the coach couldn’t get anywhere near the ground, and once in the catering was stretched to breaking point. Don’t see that as anything resembling criticism of Golcar United through; they were superb hosts. The issue was this hop has become close to being a victim of its own success, the truth of it is asking any Step 6 club to cope with 467 visitors is likely to create what we saw here, and at just about every other club on this year’s hop.

I found myself thinking back to when another Step 5/6 league tried to run an event that was discontinued when attendances averaged 150 a game. I remember the defence that got raised and I quote,

“Crowd numbers were double to usual at …..  more than double at ……… and….. and just short of double at Wanderers”

Now there may have been a geographical element to it, but as far as I’m concerned the numbers we saw at Golcar was people being attracted here by reputation- they know that what they see will be excellent, and our hosts maintained the league’s hard-earned reputation. That creates a virtuous circle, would Golcar have made quite such a herculean effort in getting the game on if they’d have been expecting 150 people?

I also do wonder whether there is still an element of people using the hop as a social event. There were plenty of people present over the weekend I hadn’t seen before the pandemic; this was the first English Pyramid Hop since the last pre-pandemic hop, co-incidentally in the North West Counties League 

A very positive element was seeing a number of much younger folks being attracted to groundhopping. The remote nature, and high costs of the Premier League has probably pushed many non-league’s way, and I’m also sure the Futbology App has helped. It does amuse me when I see the younger ones refer to those with the more active Twitter or Futbology accounts as “Legends” That’s the way these days, even if my groundhopping legends are some of the older hoppers with 5,000 plus grounds ticked, not 500. 

Once those packs had been distributed, I finally had the chance to see Golcar’s volunteers in action. They coped well with the huge crowd, albeit at full stretch and managed to maintain a sense of humour about it too- no easy task. I did wonder whether they’d spoken to visitors Campion who by coincidence had opened a hop themselves, the final Northern Counties East hop 5 years. Like Golcar they were superb hosts.

We treated to entertaining game with both sides making light of the heavy conditions. Golcar featured Joe Skarz, something of a cult hero at Oxford United not least due to him playing through the pain barrier in 2016 to get the club to Wembley and to gain automatic promotion from League 2. Here, and still aged only 32 he played in that pocket of unconscious competence you only see when someone is playing well below their level.

He was part of an excellent entertaining game, where Golcar looked to have the game won after an hour but two Campion goals, including one superlative free kick made the last few minutes of the game interesting! I couldn’t begrudge Golcar their win, however highly I still regard Campion. Despite the mud outside the ground we still just about beat the coach back to Halifax, It had been an odd day, if stressful due to the wet, but the volunteers at Golcar United ensured it had been a supremely successful one. We had, and have a lot to thank them for.