The loneliness of the long distance groundhopper

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What > Easter ‘Hop’, Mar 28-30 2013. DSC00731
Where > West Yorkshire/South Yorkshire/North Yorkshire
Why > To bag seven new grounds.

This was the ‘second’ Northern counties east league groundhop organised by Chris of GroundhopUK. My seventh Easter hop, and possibly my favourite in respect of the quality of football and hospitality of the clubs.

The weather preceding the weekend must have given the clubs and Chris some serious headaches, as huge dollops of snow fell in Yorkshire, particularly in West Yorks where some of these games would take a place, thankfully a minor thaw took place a few days before the event.

But enormous credit must be given therefore to the clubs in getting seven of the eight scheduled fixtures ahead, generally all the pitches looked and played well.
The one match that didn’t beat the snow and ice being at AFC Emley, which thankfully for me, was the one game I hadn’t been intending to watch anyway. Having visited this venue just a couple of years ago. Ros and I decided instead to spend the Thursday evening in Wakefield where we enjoyed food and drinks, certainly if you like pubs and real ale, Wakefield is a place to head!

Having returned home and in trying to think of an original title for this blog, it got me to thinking how really to enjoy and tolerate our rather eccentric hobby, one really has to enjoy one’s own company as hour after hour are spent in lonely contemplation. Either behind the wheel of a car, or crossing the rail networks of the UK and farther afield. Thankfully over the last six years or so Ros has on most occasions accompanied me on my football travels, although she’d be very quick to point out, ‘not to watch the football’ but to visit places like National Trust or English Heritage buildings, whilst I while away ninety minutes at a ground nearby.

This weekend is a complete polar opposite, as hoppers descend from all over the UK, even europe, and one gets the chance to catch up with friends who share the same hobby, but are usually spread far and wide on any given Saturday, at one of the choices of hundreds, nay thousands of grounds and games available.

I suggest, to get a real in-depth feel, of each venue, game and town listed below on the Easter hop, I highly recommend Laurence Reade’s blog site > http://laurencereade.wordpress.com/

Game 1 -Friday March 29th, KO 11am at the Glasshoughton Centre.
NCEL Premier – Glasshoughton Welfare 2-0 Nostell Miners Welfare, att 307.

Dropped Ros at Nostell Priory.
Possibly the poorest game of the weekend. Poorest pitch of the weekend, bobbly and badly affected by the recent snow.
Club on the outskirts of Castleford. Good to see ‘Terry’s Badges’ in attendance but annoyed with self I hadn’t made a list this year of badge requirements.
Met a fellow hopper outside who recognised me from previous years in Cornwall, who’d been at the AFC Emley game (so I thought), 0-0 he said, not very good. Strangely, he didn’t correct me, but I found out later that the organisers managed to find another game and took the official coach to Atherton collieries (near Wigan) instead as a replacement game for the PP Emley. Good to see Hector again approaching the turnstile, having come with his master from Suffolk for more Easter fun.

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Game 2 – KO KO 13:30pm at the Beechnut Lane Stadium.
NCEL Div One – Pontefract Collieries 2-2 Selby Town, att 424.

Passing the race course on the way into this ground, this ground had very ‘northern’ feel, with a slag heap visible away behind the stand. This ground had a great lived in feel. Half time chicken curry was amazing. The long slowly moving queue for the food hut was worth persevering with, and the list of food options was beyond compare of most grounds I have visited over the years! This end to end game was a notch or two up in quality and entertainment on the morning fixture. Still seeing plenty of sun, but the 2/3 Celsius temp already starting to get through to my bones, even with four layers on! Real ale in the bar, but too early in the day for this driver, nice programme.

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Game 3 – K0 16:30 at the Fitzwilliam Stadium.
NCEL Div One – Hemsworth Miners Welfare 0-4 Knaresborough Town, att 415.

Scooping Ros back up from ‘Nostell Priory’ and dropped her at nearby Fitzwilliam station for her train back to Wakefield, I still made it to game three in plenty of time.
Met at the hoppers gate by ‘Milo’, clearly checking for any undesirables amongst our lot!
A newish looking ground, funded by the Football foundation. A game of two halfs if ever I saw one, Knaresborough scoring every time they went forward in the first half, HMW looking a much better team in the second 45 and unluckily not to notch themselves. Clubhouse heaving, many locals seemingly preferring to stay inside in the warm and sup lager, bizarre, must be a Northern thing? 🙂

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Milo the gatedog!
Milo the gatedog!

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Game 4 – KO 19:30 at Sheerien Park.
NCEL Div One – Athersley Recreation 8-1 Askern Villa, att 509.

On a council estate in Barnsley, the location reminded me of Merland Rise/Banstead Athletic FC. I squeezed the car into the small car park, temperature outside now seriously dropping. Holed up in the intimate clubhouse, heaving with hoppers and locals, took some stick from many for Palace having just lost 4-0 at home to Birmingham, but strangely ‘not’ from Eddie (Millwall) and Dave (Charlton). Some vocal singing locals swigging cans of lager seemed very excited by this hop game, turned out their table topping team were a tad useful! Chilli and Rice went down very well, more excellent fare laid on by a host club. Top v bottom, late scoring spree from the Rec kept my interest as my toes lost any feeling in the cold. Happy to get back to Wakefield and the warmth of a pub, toes still cold during the night! 4 down, 3 to go, including the stand out fixture of the weekend. Enjoyed the company of 2 hoppers from Maidstone in the pub, staying at same hotel as us. Ros didn’t come to pub, claiming it was too cold outside, never!

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Hector the dog hopper!
Hector the dog hopper!

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Game 5 – Saturday March 30th, KO 11:30am at the Neil Hudgell Law Stadium, ‘Queensgate’.
NCEL Premier – Bridlington Town 3-3 Scarborough Athletic, att 1,569.

An early start for this 78 mile drive from Wakefield to the North Yorkshire coast, my first ever visit to this pleasant-looking seaside town. Sadly, after dropping Ros at nearby ‘Sewerby Hall ‘, there was no time for sightseeing. Gossip all weekend had been about the possible attendance at this ground share derby, and with ex league club Scarborough Town no more, the fan owned phoenix club Athletic have a healthy fan base as befits such a club. Rather surprising to see a police van parked opposite the gate/car park entrance, apparently there had been some handbags amongst the youngsters of both clubs last season.
Terry’s Badges appeared to be doing a roaring trade as I walked by to find a good vantage point on another bright sunny day. As seagulls drifted overhead this game was engaging from start to end, Scarborough taking an early lead, before the scoring went back and forth. Bridlington had two players suffer bad injuries, one to concussion, one stretchered off near the end. The draw was a fair result, and the occasion was enjoyed by all. With 1500 present this felt most unlike a normal hop game.

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Game 6 – KO 15:30pm at ‘The Recreation Club’ Mill Lane.
NCEL Premier – Pickering Town 3-0 Worksop Parramore, att 302.

Not all the hoppers arrived at this lovely market town on the edge of the North York moors, as games at Whitby/North Ferriby and Spennymoor amongst others attracted them to venues that interested them.
A lovely little three-sided ground, church spire visible at the town end, cover at the clubhouse end, and two seated stands, neat and tidy, this ground was probably my favourite of the weekend.
The culinary highlight was the absolutely amazing shepherds pie and peas served by the ladies in the spacious clubhouse, three quid produced a very generous tasty portion served on china plates. It resembled a soup kitchen pre match as hungry hoppers tucked into this wonderful fare, easily the best food I’ve ever eaten at a football ground in my life!
Fourth placed Parramore played like they’d tucked into a few portions of the pie, as the Pikes dominated from first to last, it was actually rather enjoyable to absorb the laid back atmosphere after the sparkle of the morning game.
Ros enjoyed wandering around Pickering castle. Last leg now as we headed south towards Tadcaster.

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Game 7, KO 19:30 at 2inpirePark, Mill Lane.
NCEL Premier – Tadcaster Albion 5-1 Barton Old Boys, att 288.
We had time to check into our gbg listed gastro pub accomadation five miles or so from Tadcaster, which had a lovely cottage with ensuite rooms just next door. And made arrangements for them to serve some food for us at nine thirty when I returned from the football.
Hemmed in by the brewery buildings John Smith’s, I was then amazed and disappointed that Tadcaster Albion didn’t have any real ale for sale in the clubhouse (not 2 inspiring!), I still remember Dobwalls FC in Cornwall three years ago, who put on two or three barrels at the last game hop game of that weekend which sold very well indeed, a missed opportunity I felt. Had a good chat with Cath and Pete, lovely Essex people I met on the Swedish hop in 2010, and we stared in unison at the ‘Heath Robinson’ stand, sited behind the goal, it made the strange affair at Holmesdale FC in Kent look like luxury. I didn’t really take to this ground, also the floodlighting appeared a little weak, and the game was a slow burner, perhaps it was just ‘hop fatigue’ ? In the second half at 1-1 Taddy had a player sent off, and the game changed, perversely, they started to dominate and added late goals, all well worked team goals, Barton OB clearly preferred playing against eleven men! Caught up with Steve Jackson who’d manage to tick Whitby Town from his list in the afternoon.

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This was a fabulous weekend as usual, all games were of interest, and the only problem was the cold, not much the clubs or organiser could do about that! Already looking forward to the 125th anniversary easter hop of the Northern League in 2014. 🙂

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