Saturday October 5th 2013.
Eastern Counties League Premier Division. KO 3pm at ‘Millfield’.
Hadleigh United (All Navy) 3-2 Ely City (All Dark Red), att 90.
Admission seven pounds, programme one pound.
Tea 80p (pre match), Coffee 90p (half-time).
Eastern Counties League Premier Division, KO 6pm at ‘North Road’.
Brightlingsea Regent (RedNBlack Stripes/Black) 2-1 Stanway Rovers (White/Red),
Att 250, Admission six pounds, programme errrr (free apparently!), Tea 60p, Tasty cheeseburger two sixty..
Hop time again, yep, you used to wait all season, and get one or two, now they are more regular than London red buses. The Eastern Counties League are now in on the act. In the process apparently having ruffled a few feathers. Originally a hop had been scheduled for this day in the Bedfordshire County league. Who, to be fair, and they were probably right to do so, upon hearing about the ECL’s plan for three in a day, moved their hop back one week rather than clash and compromise those who may have wished to attend both events.
Now I didn’t attend the 12 and 3pm hop games at Wivenhoe (att 137) and Clacton (att 197), as I had visited these grounds previously, but from what I heard later, Wivenhoe were rather caught on the hop, pardon the pun, with a lack of programmes and food supplies.
But this wasn’t my concern, having dropped Ros at Colchester zoo, I arrived in the pleasant and rather rural Suffolk market town of Hadleigh in good time. The early table topper on the day hosting Cambridgeshire based Ely City, sitting third bottom pre-match.
I was immediately struck at how tidy and well-kept the Millfield ground looked. An attractive little stand, with wooden benches for seats, and some flat standing with overhang cover on the clubhouse side is the only protection from the elements. But with one end having a natural bank, and all surrounded by greenery, Millfield ticked many boxes. The clubhouse is newish and was busy with locals. The burger bar outside had the welcome addition of tables and chairs set out on a decking area with cover, a nice touch, so I sat and munched my sandwiches with a view of the pitch.
Already I was overhearing some strong local Suffolk dialects, a joy to me, as I love the diversity of accents and regional phrases one so regularly notices when hopping around the UK. I had arrived slap bang in the middle of farming and horsey countryside. Suffolk is like most of East Anglia a region of small towns and villages, the pace of life is slow and the people have time for pleasantries and the local traditions are long borne. Some of these towns and villages take a lot of pride in all manor of things, and I was already getting a deep impression that Hadleigh United was clearly important to its local community, as club officials buzzed around, and folk were welcomed as they arrived into the ground.
As I’ve worked my way round the grounds over the years, I do find myself watching a lot of football at Step5 these days, having visited most of the Southern based grounds from Step4 and above, and today Hadleigh played as well in the first half as I’ve seen a team at this level for a season or two.
At pace, they gradually pulled Ely apart, stretching their defence almost at will, and arriving at the break two up, but the half ending on a sour note when their midfielder Mark Maher had to be stretchered off, the third such occasion I’ve seen that this season already.
But, Ely came out and played like a different team in the second half. Even though Scott Chaplin had already added a third, ex professional player and well-known TV pundit Dion Dublin’s son Adam Murray struck two lovely goals, on 64 with a twenty yarder, and on 87 with a 10 yard bullet header.
In the process rather scuppering my idea of leaving 2/3 minutes early to set off for Colchester Zoo and Brightlingsea. I really couldn’t leave this game, as end to end play continued, and one didn’t know if it would finish 3-3 or 4-2. But 3-2 it did finish, as I heard the final whistle in the car park, and my wheels sped away from the ground whilst the players were still shaking hands!
So, twenty miles south, and I was back at Colchester Zoo by five twenty, and heading East, South East, onto the Essex coast, about another twenty miles towards Brightlingsea. Rather slowed by the town centre traffic in Colchester, I pulled into the North Road car park about four minutes before KO. Thankfully the club had the foresight to envisage some parking issues with their small car park, and they had already directed about thirty cars pitchside, but were now clearing more space to allow me to squeeze in.
Sadly, the programme blues came back to haunt, as on paying admission I was advised that none were left, a nice thing to give them out for free, but not to anticipate how many might be needed. But they told me they were starting a list, and will re-print and post on. A tad irritating, as I had used the clubs website/contact form during the week to ask if they could hold me a programme, but for whatever reason my message didn’t get through.
Personally I was fully expecting a two hundred plus crowd at this one, a 6pm KO on a Saturday evening is always going to attract ground hoppers, especially as after a ten-year absence Brightlingsea were only spending their second season back in the Eastern Counties league so this was a tick ground for many people. But it seems like the 250 who turned up probably exceeded what the club and the league had been expecting.
I was in full flow chatting to a couple of hopping friends, and wondered aloud “I think perhaps the Eastern Counties League committee have a few questions to answer” after I had just been told that the programmes had sold out at Wivenhoe a good 45 minutes before KO, and also that they had run out of bacon for the bacon butties early as well, much to the irritation of a South coast based hopper.
An ECL blazered official had been standing close by and came over to speak to me. To be fair he was a very polite and pleasant guy, “We are learning”. “This hop is new to us”, all entirely valid points I thought, but one wonders why when leagues come up with the idea of a hop day, that they don’t consider speaking to other leagues that have already ran hops to get some tips. Personally I think if someone has travelled from one end of the country to the other, as a few had, that enough programmes should have been printed, and enough grub be available, after all it’s a good little earner for the clubs.
“We hop to learn for the next one in March” I was also told. Or was it “Hope to learn”?
As I need two of those planned three grounds/games, I shall be back to see for myself, I hope so, because the ECL is a cracking league with lots of lovely venues. And I’d like to think they will organise another couple in the 2014/15 season.
As for the game, it went by a little bit of a blur in the first half, late arrival is never my favourite thing, especially when a spurned paper chaser, I was a little aggrieved. Local rivals from Colchester Stanway Rovers took on the mantle of Ely City in the earlier game, by being continually being pushed back and two quick fire goals on 15 from Terry Rymer and then 2/3 minutes later from Liam Whittaker from out on the left, with the aid of a deflection. already had them seriously on the back foot. Brightlingsea second in the table already clearly looked a decent side. Half time arrived and I added my name and address to the growing list of paper chasers, whilst Ros queued for our half time burgers.
I was a little disconcerted to find the list atop the bar, and already a little damp in places from drink spills, and one wonders what sort of state it was in at games end? were they able to read all the addresses, will the elusive programmes ever be despatched? Only time will tell.
Also during half time I was able to reflect on how different North Road was to Millfield. Whereas Millfield was edge of town bordering countryside, and had a rural feel, North Road was hemmed in by housing, with only one access road into the ground. Also, even though only about thirty-five miles apart, culturally the feel was quite different. I noticed a couple of young girls with fake tans, and some lager swilling ear pierced lads. The Suffolk brrr was nowhere to be heard, and although perhaps in a more affluent part of Essex, it certainly did not have the feel of East Anglia that Suffolk and Norfolk gives. Sadly time had not allowed a view of the waterfront during daylight, and the GBG pub in the town would have to wait for another time.
But I did see a rather fractious second half of football. Again, like my earlier game the visiting team came out with a renewed sense of purpose and a different looking formation. For this half I stood opposite the small atcost stand and not far from the dugouts. I heard, as gradually the moaning and whingeing from the Stanway bench increased in volume. They felt the need to argue every single decision the officials made, which soon became very tedious. Such as shame, because after 53 mins they were back in it with a goal from Maina, and the game became rather end to end at this point. But Stanway bench and players seems to lose their discipline, and they eventually finished the game with 9 players. And from my,by now dimly lit view on the other side of the pitch, after firstly on 87 a second yellow for Ince (I think it was) for simulation, then on 90 another red for Sackey (I think) which may or may not have been for violent conduct or verbals to the ref, as by now as I was hovering by the corner flag near the exit, awaiting the full time whistle.
All in all, a great day out.
footnote: Fair play to all at Brightlingsea, my programme arrived in the post only 6 days later 🙂