When – Saturday September 21st 2013.
Where – South Oxfordshire.
Why – To watch three games in the North Berks League.
How much – Pre-paid day ticket cost twenty four pounds which included programmes and badges at all three clubs.
D3 – KO 11am – Benson Lions (All Red) 1-4 Westminster (White/Black), att 153.
D1 – KO 2pm – Berinsfield (RedNBlackStripes/Black) 4-0 Faringdon Town (Sky/Black), att 251.
D1 – KO 5pm – Long Wittenham Athletic (Yellow/Black) 4-0 Crowmarsh Gifford (Orange/Black), att 193.
Seven weeks into the season, with three full hop days already completed and having snaffled nine new grounds and games in Cumbria and North Wales, here I was now on hop day four, thankfully this time, in hopping terms ‘on my doorstep’, or using the lingo of South London, almost, ‘in my manor’.
Ms Sat Nav told me I had just 14.2 miles to navigate through some of my favourite parts of my locality, namely, the leafy and Thames hugging villages of Pangbourne, Streatley, Cholsey, before then joining the A4074 towards Oxford.
It’s not long before one turns right into the village of Benson. But today was something a little out of the ordinary, not a game in the village itself as such, but on the RAF Base. Yes indeed, Laurence Reade had managed to persuade Benson Lions FC to allow 150 or so furtive ground hoppers access onto the site to watch their North Berks league game versus Oxford based team Westminster FC.
As it turned out it all went very smoothly, as we flashed our passports or drivers licenses to the RAF guard on duty, our mobile numbers were taken and names were ticked on the pre-prepared list. Base pass and car park pass secured, with a jaunty step I walked across to the football pitch.
All that the average hopper needed was catered for, hot and cold food, drinks, programmes/badges, lineups written on a white board and even a representative from both ‘Terry’s Badges’ and the ‘Groundtastic’ magazine promoting and selling their wares. To put the attendances into perspective, since I bowled up at the inaugural North Berks League Hop in 2011, I’ve watched about three games in this league, and the usual turnout is 10, 20, maybe 30 on a good day or sunny evening in late season. So to get a turnout of 150-300 is a major deal for the clubs involved, and a chance to add some much-needed funds to the club coffers.
The Lions team is mostly made up of serving personnel. However, sadly so inept was their performance on the day, that many I spoke to questioned why Westminter from the same division but just promoted from the league below had looked so superior on the day, and frankly, eased to a 4-1 win. An ever changing team due to players serving overseas is probably the short answer! Also Westminster looked like a team on the up, and no one in attendance on the day would be surprised to see them win a second consecutive promotion.
The ground was decent enough, the pitched roped off, with a good sized bank at one end behind the goal. Staff houses and the changing rooms giving a more enclosed feel at the other. Red Kites gracefully glided overhead, when I had been expecting flight of the engine variety! One couldn’t help but admire these wonderful birds.
It was just a seven mile drive to our next venue at Lays Avenue, in the rather ugly looking village of Berinsfield. Built in the 1950s, it probably was a welcome new home at the time for young families moving out of the likes of Oxford and Reading, unfortunately the ugly grey stone of this period gave, and still gives the village the feel of a council estate. BUT, the welcome was warm and friendly, and it soon became evident that many in the village had turned out to support the football clubs big day. A massive 251 (head count courtesy of Laurence and Chris), got themselves pitchside to enjoy the football. On offer was a lovely selection of home made cakes, bottles of ale and lager, hot food etc.
I unfolded my lazy chair, sat on the bank which ran along on the side of the pitch, ate my cake, took it all in, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. An even game for the first half hour turned into a rather flattering 4-0 win for the Saints as I will now call them (the village was named after St Birinus).
Two games already under our belts, we set off for game three. A short four mile drive to the ancient village of Long Wittenham, mentioned in the Doomsday book. Soon after arrival the sun came out for the first time, and this country feel venue of Bodkins Field had a real laid back, days of yore atmosphere to it, you could imagine a match here in the 1940s, as so little has probably changed since then.
Set slightly out of the village with a view of the Wittenham Clumps behind one goal, long wispy grass enclosing one side, and little to disturb the peace. Even the Red Kites were quiet in their reverence of this lovely location and venue as they swooped overhead.
I was chuffed to see three beers on hand pull in the clubhouse from a local brewery, Loose Cannon. As I driving I could only really drink a pint, so I tried the IPA (5.2%), wow, amazing, in great condition and very tasty indeed. As it was now approaching ‘teleprinter’ time, I sat in the lovely little clubhouse to enjoy the beer and see the scores come in from around the grounds. The general ambience and the people at this club gave out a great vibe. The sunny atmosphere was further enhanced as the two teams ran out wearing a variety of yellows and oranges.
This match was also in many ways similar to that at Berinsfield, in that visitors Crowmarsh Gifford gave a very good account of themselves for the first half hour, then fell away badly after that, eventually to a four goal defeat.
At half time I snaffled a slice of chocolate oatcake which was frankly 4th division compared to the wonderful victoria sponge at Berinsield earlier, and then missed out on the very last North Berks League handbook, as I was rummaging around my pocket for loose change at the time, hey ho!
The final scoreline may have been a little harsh on CG, who competed well, again mirroring Faringdon Town FC earlier.
In summary, it had been another excellent day out, the clubs did their bit to make the event enjoyable for all involved, the weather was dry and mild, and I’m sure most of the hoppers who attended will be back in 2014 for the NBL Hop Part 4! If you are tempted, keep an eye on the North Berkshire league website, and expect it to happen on virtually the same weekend in 2014. I’m sure Laurence is already giving it some thought!
Also for match reports and hop perspective from the organiser Laurence, take a look at his site.