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Sunday 9th October 2022 

11:00 Southern Counties East League- Premier Division

RUSTHALL 4 (Fares 9 Clark 16 Gitiba 60 Baldwin78)

K SPORTS 2 (Holliday 27 Lewins 48)

Att 344

Entry £8

Programme £2

14:00 Southern Counties East League- Premier Division

TUNBRIDGE WELLS 1 (McCreadie 58)

LORDSWOOD 1 (Reid 32)

Att 518

Entry £8

Programme £2

Without a massive amount of evidence I felt supremely confident about the SCEFL Hop’s Sunday schedule. Part of it was that I felt I knew the clubs a little, I’s seen what a go-ahead club Rusthall are when I’d visited 9 years ago, and my visit to Tunbridge Wells  a year later gave me the impression that they were an Isthmian League club in waiting. Normally my internalised challenge to clubs I revisit on hops is to change my perception of them., here I wanted them to reinforce my view. There were a couple of snags with that though.

The first was completely unavoidable. Overnight one of the coach party had collapsed, and had been rushed to hospital. Thankfully while he missed the two Sunday games, he did make a full recovery but needed to get to the coach after the final game for its trip back up to Nottingham. Fortunately that mirrored Craig Dabbs’ trip home so he and I formed an advance party for these games, and made a sharp exit after the Tunbridge Wells game to collect him back at the hotel. 

The other issue concerned Rusthall, or rather a small minority of their fans, who objected to their game being played on Sunday morning. Their reasons varied, some just didn’t like anything other than a Saturday at 3pm kick off, some felt Sunday morning interrupted seeing their children’s teams play.

This might surprise you but I do have some sympathy for that view, and yes a groundhopper does tend to visit only once, so any event of this nature is a compromise, the hoppers pay, and the club plays at an odd time, but gets a financial windfall. Of course, the corollary to the thought that a hopper only visits once, is that… the hopper only visits once! The event may have an inconvenience for some, but it will visit Jockey Farm just the once, and I trust the inconvenience was worth it. 

It was handy that Craig and I were at the ground, over and above distributing the last of the advance programme packs. Jockey Farm as the name implies, is still a working farm, and the access for the coach wasn’t straightforward. So credit all at Rusthall FC, they couldn’t have done more for us, yes we could fit the coach round the corner near the ground, and have a look the photos, you really couldn’t have found a better parking spot could you?

It was a morning to enjoy the Spitfire circling and take in one of the best presented hop games you could wish to attend. In fact the only fly in the ointment as far as Rusthall was that for roughly twenty minutes they gave visitors K Sports a way back into the game. The visitors drew level to the obvious consternation of just about everyone involved with the hosts. Fortunately for the hosts, they found their composure quickly to put the tie to bed.

Irrespective of the result though, it was a happy cavalcade that made their way to Tunbridge Wells. We all knew we’d visited a special club.

Craig and I arrived at Culverden Stadium with the place looking a little swamped. It didn’t take a genius to work out why, a crowd of 500 was down to more than just the GroundhopUK factor. While the car park looked choked we were grateful that the club parked the coach at a nearby school, there’s no way it’ve made it down the lane.

It all pointed to something I’d picked up on when I saw Tunbridge Wells at the 2013 FA Vase Final. There they ran a dominant Spennymoor Town side mighty close, but it was clear that both clubs were too big for Step 5 football. These days Town play in the National League North but Tunbridge Wells have played Kent/SCEFL football since formation in 1967. From what we saw here, their time for promotion must be soon?

Now I’ve seen no end of larger clubs on hops and the tendency is to what I ‘ve nicknamed “Step 5itis” where the club feels that since they get good crowds anyway they put little or no effort into their hop game. Those clubs always do okay, but when they compare receipts with smaller clubs who made more money from smaller crowds, that’s when the regret kicks in.

Not that Tunbridge Wells had anything like Step 5itis, far from it. In fact I’d go as far as saying that their hosting was superb, a stand out, in a hop that featured excellent host clubs. I enjoyed the curry, and I will admit to nabbing one of the “Welcome GroundhopUK posters” you don’t see things like that very often! Like at Rusthall it was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in the company of a friendly club, even if they had to fight for that point, Lordswood fought for every ball.

It was a hop that exceeded any expectation that anyone could have made of it. I expected gremlins as almost inevitable, remember the first stand-alone North West Counties Hop and then think how successful that’s became! A lot of credit should go to League Secretary (I’ve got his job correct this time!) Andy Short, and his committee, but also to all our host clubs, you were all wonderful and please pass on the benefit of your experience to next year’s host clubs.

And to finish, yes there will be a SCEFL hop next year, the league are happy so we can plan with confidence; now where’s that timetable from the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway?