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Saturday 8th October 2022

11:00 Southern Counties East League Division One



Att 331

Entry £6

Programme £2

15:00 Southern Counties East League Premier Division

BEARSTED 2 (Freeman 18 52)

FISHER 1 (Kationa 52)

Att 229

Entry/ Parking/ Programme £8

17.45 Southern Counties East League Division One

LARKFIELD & NEW HYTHE 2 (Burdon 13 West 30)

GREENWAYS 1 (Saxton 49)

Att 243

Entry £5

Programme £1

There could be no doubt as to how important the SCEFL saw the groundhop; they did as the South Wales Alliance did and placed an official on the coach, mainly to help with directions but to troubleshoot where needed. Having Barry Fenn around was a godsend, not just for what he was mandated to do, but for the little nuggets of knowledge he imparted on the way.

One was the terms, “Kentish Man” and “Man of Kent, ” you think they were synonymous, wouldn’t you? If you’re from Kent, then you couldn’t be more wrong, the first refers to a man born west of the River Medway and the latter to the east. For women, just substitute “Maid”

From the previous evening’s entertainment in Gravesend in “Men of Kent” territory, we crossed the Medway at Rochester and picked our way along lanes dotted with hophouses  (how appropriate) on our way to Staplehurst. In contrast, earlier we’d passed by the little village of Borstal whose youth prison there gave its name to the style of Young Offenders Institute. I told you Barry was a mine of information!

We’d had a superlative opening to the hop at Punjab United and while I knew that there was little or no chance of the level of hospitality being replicated across these three games, I hoped that the clubs would do well, and that people would understand that this was a league hosting its first ever hop.

That feeling went double when we arrived at Staplehurst Monarchs, who are only in their second season in the league. Their home at the Jubilee Playing Fields is fairly obviously a work in progress, but this was a couple of  hours where a club invited complete strangers into their midst and both sides enjoyed each other’s company even if my wife Robyn didn’t completely approve of my purchase of a club branded travel mug!

Sadly the game was attritional, and a goalless draw looked likely until substitute John Osagie danced through the visitors’ defence to score a stunning goal to win our hosts the game. It was out of character from the rest of the game, but I really couldn’t begrudge Staplehurst the win, I’d enjoyed their company that much!

If there was one revisit I was interested in doing it was to Bearsted. Robyn and I had seen them between Covid lockdowns and while we’d enjoyed their company our visit like a few at that time came with a slightly unworldly sense. Neither of us felt we’d seen the club how they’d wanted present themselves, so what better way than via a 55-seater coach?

On any league’s first groundhop I don’t expect perfection, often that first weekend all sides tend to feel their way round an event, and Bearsted were a classic case of this. We advised them on the number of programmes we suggested they print, only to be told that club policy is that the entry fee includes a programme. We use “Entry by or includes a programme” on our off-pyramid hops as a means of allowing a club to take a gate in a public space, but if that’s club policy we were more than happy to go along with it, even if they looked rather expensive for the club. 

Other than that, I got the sense beforehand that the club was looking at this game as simply a normal game, albeit one with an influx of groundhoppers, we even had a phone call with one official who claimed to not know there was an event on at his club! But that thankfully was a miscommunication and I enjoyed Bearsted’s company including the story of how the changing room block was “liberated” from a council building site. They did ask for permission, but……

Having Fisher as the visitors did ensure any hoppers who’d opted to go elsewhere as their fans helped boost the crowd. However, the Fish have made a dreadful start to the season, and while their defeat wasn’t unexpected, the manner was. You expect the side bottom of the division to ship goals, but the tragedy here was that for long periods Fisher looked competitive, but in all sports it’s those silly errors that kill you, and so it was here. 

Larkfield and New Hythe I should explain is nowhere near and has nothing to do with the Hythe as in Hythe Town. New Hythe is a good 35 miles north-west, near Aylesford, and it’s fair to say the local club are going places, and quickly.

They started life in 1961 as Larkfield & New Hythe Wanderers playing in the Maidstone & District League and within six years they’d bought the land that is their current home. The ground was floodlit in 1996, remarkable as the club only made the Kent County League in 1997! 

Promotion to the SCEFL in 2021 saw the ground transformed with new stands, pitch surrounds, lights, dugouts and renovation to both the changing rooms and clubhouse. The ground looks new, not half a century old, and we caught virtually the last game before the demolition of the clubhouse, a larger version is on the way. In the longer term the club are eying up the land opposite the ground for the shortest of moves. The ground’s footprint is tiny and with a tilt at the Isthmian looking like an aim sooner rather than later, perhaps it was no bad thing that we visited when we did.

That hints at a couple of minor gripes, the kind of thing you tend to get at on the first hop in a new league. I’m not sure where our driver Shirley ended up parking our coach, but reversing it out of New Hythe Lane certainly took skill, as one of her banksmen, I had a ringside seat! 

I greatly enjoyed the club’s hospitality, and anyone visiting will love the club, but seeing food done via outside catering is one of my bugbears. On any groundhopping event, the biggest moneyspinner should be food and drink, and that goes double for the Saturday evening game. So as good as my chilli and rice was the fact was that a fair percentage of the fiver I paid for it, didn’t go to the club which is a shame. I hope no one at Larkfield & New Hythe will see this as undue criticism, rather that if they’d hosted in the third year, rather than the first, they’d have probably looked at it differently. As it is, I hope that they pass on the benefit of their experience to subsequent host clubs. 

They won the game in half an hour against K Sports– based Greenways, declared at half time, and were made to sweat rather as time wound down late on!

It did seem like an early finish, at 7pm we could have easily squeezed in another game, but sat in the hotel bar it was good to have time to reflect on our day. As hoppers we’ve seen endless clubs host hop games, these events have been going on for over 2 decades, and the temptation is to compare what was saw with only the best of what has gone on in the past. 

The fact was that all 3 host clubs were excellent, and even more so when you factor in it is a first hop. I allowed myself a smile as I headed back to our room, exceeding expectation is satisfying feeling.