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Saturday 24th September 2022

11:00 Witney & District League Division 2



Att 168

14:00 Witney & District League- Division 1

TOWER HILL 1 (Scott 82)

HATHEROP 3 (Hathaway 31 Turner-Williams 56p 63)

Skinner sent off 20 (violent conduct)

Att 154

17:00 Witney & District League- Division 1

HEYFORD ATHLETIC 2 (Chambers 20 Phipps 90)

CHADLINGTON 2 (Charlesworth 7 61)

Att 153

Entry to each game, including programme £4

When the league and I were putting together this event, I found myself thinking back to Steventon, the first game on the first North Berkshire League Hop back in 2011.

Rightly or wrongly I see the North Berks and Witney Hops as being continuations of each other- both are grassroots leagues playing (mostly) in Oxfordshire. I remember a senior (in terms of numbers) groundhopper coming up to me before the event in 2011 to inform me that, in his opinion, a groundhop here couldn’t possibly work. We held 7 hops in the North Berks, and this was to be the 3rd in the Witney & District. And while I’ll be the first to admit that these hops aren’t for every hopper, they certainly do a lot of good for the clubs, I get a lot of personal satisfaction from seeing a good club do well, and any hop organiser will tell you, the smaller clubs tend to make the most effort!

I had mixed feelings that we only had enough clubs to make it a one day event, on one hand I know Sherborne Harriers and Kingham All Blacks did well out of their Sunday games, but it was a big ask to make those games happen. That is not to say I’d rule out a two-day hop in the future, but I will admit to being quite happy with a quiet Sunday. A change of date to accommodate a West Wales Hop that in the end didn’t run wasn’t a problem, apart from ruling out Chadlington due to a beer festival. Thanks therefore to Chaddy for being the visitors at Heyford, and we’ll look to get them as hosts next year. 

I made the move in getting former Bedfordshire Hop organiser Craig Dabbs involved. With his hop now defunct due to the actions of that league’s chairman, I wanted his skill set involved, particularly around programme production. His help was invaluable at our planning meeting at Carterton FC who managed to surprise me by both having switched to the Oxon Senior League from the Hellenic League, and there being a game on while I was there. It did seem rude not to be watching it!

But you learn so much from those planning meetings. Craig and I know the briefing notes are thorough, but sometimes what’s really needed is to look those club reps in the eye and see whether they’d be up to the job. Craig and I agreed, we had 3 superb host clubs, and all I needed to do was advise, and keep a phone line open for further questions. And save for one club’s prebooked programmes being a little late those 3 clubs did themselves proud. 

There was to be a surprise though. In the days before the event I was contacted by a young Swedish journalist, Joel Segerdahl who produces documentaries for the Discovery Channel. He’s researching a piece on British grassroots football, and since he was off to Hackney Marshes the next day I managed to find space for him on the hop coach and I spent the day introducing him to people I thought he might find interesting. I suspect we blew his mind a little, but what blew mine was when he said he lives in Sickla Kaj, in Stockholm. Robyn and I stayed no more than 100 yards from his home a month earlier!

Robyn was rather conspicuous by her absence. She was in Bristol attending her friend Amy’s Hen party. She does have a little history in that regard, having missed the 2019 Western Hop on her own Hen do. That, by the way, included a match at Portishead Town– where Eamonn, Robyn’s cousin’s husband is manager! I did get used to the “Where’s Robyn?” on these 3 games.

Brize Norton FC for the avoidance of any doubt is the side of the civilian village, the side of the air base is Brize Norton Social and yes, I would love to take the hop there! In many ways the roots of the Witney Hop lie at Brize Norton Rec’ I’d indulged in a little groundhopping one cold Saturday and met Ralph from the league. That chat wasn’t anything like an agreement, but I walked away knowing which league I wanted to replace the North Berks once our stint there was over.

We arrived to quite a hive of activity with breakfast meal deals shifting as anything involving bacon normally does. And if any club is reading this in the future and wonders whether groundhoppers really will buy bottle-conditioned beers at 10:00 in the morning, here’s all the evidence you need!  

Before the game started there was a presentation to referee Callum Jordan winner of last season’s referee of the year. He was almost immediately involved in the games one controversy, was the foul for the penalty outside of the box? After that Brize had the chances to at least take a point, and will no doubt be disappointed not to have win. It was though good to see everyone at Cassington again, and to see a goal, I’ve still got one hopper who isn’t happy  at last year’s hop game!

If Brize Norton was the genesis of the Witney Hop then Tower Hill certainly was its birthplace. The league holds many of its meetings here at West Witney Sports Sports & Social Club, and I attended an AGM and no end of planning meetings here. The club started life as part of Witney Aerodrome which was in operation from 1917 until 1951, which would explain why the area is so level! Smiths Industries took on the site, and their works side played 3 seasons of Hellenic League football from 1964-7. 

Later West Witney took on the site, and I watched them win the Witney League here in May 2013, but they folded 3 years later. But Tower Hill had been running youth football since 1971 and they filled the gap in men’s football left by Tower Hill and they kept a presence in the Witney League here until 2020 when they folded, mainly due to the pandemic, but thankfully were reformed for this season. 

I will happily admit to finding Bradley Olive and his cohorts’ enthusiasm both infectious and endearing. I steered them a little, I knew they could do better than cold food, even as it transpired, the weather was warm enough to justify it! But it turns out one of the players is a chef, and I did enjoy my curry. Come to think of it, I suspect that this season I’ve had curry for breakfast, lunch and evening meal! But by abiding memory of Tower Hill will be when I visited the previous Thursday to collect their prebooked programmes. Bradley and co were having a club meeting and he handed over the programmes in such a matter-of-fact way that I left in absolutely no doubt that everything was in hand. 

Last season Hatherop’s visit to Sherborne Harriers caused a certain amount of consternation amongst some groundhoppers. Back then what we saw was their reserves, but the firsts soon scratched from the Swindon & District League, so it was really only a matter of time. That hop game was the only loss Hatherop FC suffered on their way to the divisional championship and a double promotion. Here they won well despite the early loss of Shaun Skinner, to a dismissal for a stamp that was well spotted by eagle-eyed referee Steve Wilkes. 

When John Smyth told me Heyford Athletic had put their name forward to host I was amazed. Not at their desire, I wasn’t aware that they’d firstly pulled out of the Hellenic League, secondly they’d by-passed the Oxon Senior League, and thirdly that they hadn’t returned to the Banbury, District and Lord Jersey League I’d seen them play in back in 2014. But as I got to know the club the reasoning was clear, the club wanted to return to their local roots, and as for the league Lower Heyford is placed in the north of Witney’s catchment area and the south of Banbury’s. It was simply a question of picking a league they thought they’d enjoy the most!

We certainly enjoyed Heyford’s company and their organisation was top-notch particularly as the King George V Playing Field isn’t straightforward to access. I did take one complaint that the food did take a while to get served, mainly I suspect because of the sheer variety of what was on offer. How can I possibly criticise a local club’s ambition? That and my chilli was sublime! It was a time to enjoy people’s company on a warm evening. I managed to spend some time with Joel in between interviews who looked like he’d filled several notebooks of information. I’ll look forward to seeing what he produces, and there’s another friend made to go for a beer with when I’m in Stockholm next year.

We did the drop-offs back at Oxford Parkway and I was settling down for a pint when Robyn called. Her train was enroute to Didcot and could I collect her? Oddly it was calming to sit in the waiting area alone as the train made its way towards me. 

It was a hop that again was a triumph for the league and our host clubs, they move heaven and earth for us, and certainly have put themselves well and truly on the map. Thanks also to John Smyth at the league and Craig and Chris at GroundhopUK for their help and support. Lastly thanks to all who came out to support the hop, without you we are nothing.

I keep hearing that each Witney Hop will be the last, well that’s news to me! I remain of the view that the Witney Hop will survive while there’s sufficient willing host clubs. Looking at next year, we only failed to visit Chadlington this time due to a beer festival, and there’s Hatherop who’ve been visitors twice without hosting. Then there’s Charlbury and Hailey who’ve expressed an interest, and I’d love to do another game on an air base. I’m looking forward to next year already!