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Saturday 4th March 2023 ko 19:45

North West Counties League Division One South

ECCLESHALL 2 (Pickup 82 Stanton 90)

Lewis sent off 86 (violent conduct)

BARNTON 1 (T Turkington 72)

T Turkington sent 86 (violent conduct)

Att 314

Entry £6

Programme £2

Memory is an oddity- I’d visited Eccleshall back in September 2008 and remembered it being far closer to the Stoke interchange on the M6 than this. Perhaps the difference was we were on our fourth game of the day… and that it was bitingly cold. In fact you’re a good deal closer to Stafford to Stoke, and you will pass by HMP Prison Drake Hall on the way there!

Like Foley Meir earlier in the day Pershall Park has changed quite a bit since I saw them beat Holbrook Sports 1-0 15 years ago, and I don’t just mean the extra 250 on the crowd count!

The temptation is always to compare buildings then and buildings now, but clubs aren’t made of bricks and mortar, they’re made of people and what I took from Eccleshall this time round was just how good their hosting was. That started with a car park organised with military precision and then getting a 300-plus crowd into the ground with a minimum of fuss- how many clubs on hops have struggled with the concept of the faster you get your crowd inside, the more time they have to spend money with you?

If you’ve ever been involved in organising anything, you’ll know what I was feeling before kickoff. You look to see where you might be needed, ” Are the team lineups posted?” there’s a bloke handing out teamsheets and so on. Everywhere I looked everything was not just in hand, it was gliding along as if this were a typical evening at Pershall Park. I spent a few minutes with Martin Fallon from the league. He’d not only been at all the games, but had come here via hospital, as he was struggling with a chest infection. I admired his commitment, but gently advised him to head for home and rest. 

Apart from reasons of his health Martin had nothing to worry about, perhaps save for observing one of the best hosted hop games you’ll ever wish to see. Just look at that whiteboard by the food hut, no one could possibly have left the place hungry. It was a pleasure to spend a little time with club officials at half time and that included those from Barnton – boy has our relationship with the league improved since that first hop!

In fact, the only mild disappointment was the attendance, and even that needs to be taken in context. On one level it was lower than expected, the Saturday evening game does normally see the highest attendance of any hop with many local football followers swelling the cohort of groundhoppers. Here that didn’t seem to happen, Stoke City won away at Sunderland, but Port Vale had just beaten Milton Keynes and of course there were no end of local fixtures, ours included. I can only assume that the cold weather put many off- I know how cold I was, and I’m used to it! That said, I’m sure the vast majority of Step 6 clubs would welcome a 300 -plus crowd, as I said context is important!

The game took a while to warm up, pun intended, and no I didn’t fancy a consecutive nil-nil draw! It needed something special to break the deadlock and Tom Turkington’s 20 yard drive certainly was that! But then Ryan Pickup stabbed home from a corner before both sides lost a man; Tom Turkington and Luke Lewis being dismissed for a tussle that on another day might only have seen cautions. 

The game looked to be heading for a draw that would have been fair for both sides, but Ethan Stanton clearly had other ideas. he danced through 3 defenders, passed wide then stroked home the return pass for a victory. The sides looked as you’d expect, and I did feel for Barnton who certainly didn’t deserve to lose.

But as we returned to a hideously overpriced beer back in Stafford the overriding feeling was just how good host Eccleshall were. It’s always lovely to add another club to that most of exclusive of lists- clubs you’d advise prospective host clubs to call for advice. And I hope plenty to clubs do, they’ll learn plenty. One last thing though where do I buy a Eccleshall Fire Pit?