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Friday 3rd March 2023 ko 19:45

North-West Counties League- Division One South

ELLESMERE RANGERS 2 (Harris 62 Rogers 79)

ALSAGER TOWN 1 (Bebbington 34)

Att 272

Entry £5

Programme £1

It would be so easy to paint this as Robyn and I’s return to GroundhopUK duty, but in reality we hadn’t stopped, even after the final games in the SCEFL Hop. Robyn gradually took over social media duties, and you really couldn’t have failed to see her efforts on the @NWCLHop2023 account. That really helped us both to tease the hop, but also to update people too.

After years in Manchester and Cheshire, the decision was made to base ourselves at the southernmost part of the league’s footprint. That would mean a slightly different clientele from the past, and in many cases we’d be visiting clubs that could or would have been more used to being in the Midland League. Before you ask that league HAS been in contact. The hop was interesting over and above what is normal. I genuinely cannot remember when we’ve only visited one division of a multi-divisional league. Over the seven games we certainly got a real flavour of Division One South!

On a purely personal level that would mean multiple revisits, courtesy of a decade living in Banbury, but Ellesmere did mean one of two new grounds for me, albeit one with a preview! For the very first standalone NWCFL Hop we’d used a coach company from Ellesmere and I’d couriered it from depot, through the weekend and back. That depot was close to Beech Grove and so I did find time for a nosey around!

I should point out that this is the Ellesmere in Shropshire, not Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. This is an extremely pleasant market town on the mere, or lake, that gives the place that gives the town its suffix. You could so easily be in Wales too, the coach approached from Stafford, and did briefly cross into Wales. It was odd to think that we’d hopped Mid-Wales back in the 2010’s and we were so close by. 

That relative isolation may well be why Ellesmere did so well out of this hop game, it certainly was the reason I’d not seen a game here! The systems we use at GroundhopUK are now well-engrained the point of compromise so well-established, that the set up with the prebooked ticket and programme packs near the turnstiles is standard practice, and people are now used to getting the event’s programmes all at once, all at the first game. The stall is a chance to catch up too, it was fun to see Andy from the SCEFL and Harvey from the Northern League having a chat, each representing leagues from the opposite ends of England.

Just as importantly it was good to see German groundhopping legend Jens back on our shores. His ground count of over 9,000 surpasses just about everyone else, but due to personal problems he hadn’t been seen on an organised hop since before the pandemic. I must admit, whenever the press ask me for someone interesting to interview I tend to point them in his direction. 

As is always the case with the first hop game of the year, it was an excuse to catch up with friends, enjoy a beer, and the club did well selling a delicious curry to stave off hunger. We saw a good game too, even if Alsager will wonder how on earth they failed to win this one. They took the lead, but spurned opportunity after opportunity to ram home the advantage. Perhaps that’s a factor of their struggles this season, and I hope they’ll do enough to stay in the league.

But the night unquestionably belonged to friendly Ellesmere Rangers. They hosted the throng beautifully, and gave the hop an excellent start.