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Hopping Mad in North Berks

Hopping Mad in North Berks

It rained on Friday evening and it poured down on Sunday, but Saturday 22nd September was bright and warm and sunny! Well over a hundred “Berking” mad hoppers had descended on West Oxfordshire for the second North Berks League “Hop”.

Several of us had started on the Friday evening with an hors d’oeuvre of an FA Cup tie at Didcot Town. Others had travelled to the six goal thriller at Pewsey Vale.

I went to the former and despite the frequent and heavy showers, it was a pretty tight encounter which the home side took despite offering their opponents a goal start!

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round

Didcot Town Friday 21st September 2012

npower Loop Meadow, Bowmont Water, Didcot


Friday 21st September 2012 FA Cup with Budweiser   k.o.:- 7.45pm

2nd Qualifying Round

Didcot Town               3                   Clevedon Town                 1

James Clark  64, 73                          Joe Flurry  19

Elliot Osborne-Ricketts 77

referee:- Wes Linden                          attendance:- 190

The following morning we were merrily bowling along the byways of the wolds to our first match in the village of Coleshill. Now, Coleshill itself is in Oxfordshire: the football team, Coleshill United play just outside the village at “Bottom of the Hill” which is in Wiltshire and, yes, you’ve noticed, the competition is The North Berks League! There was a lovely rustic sign almost hidden by the ripening blackcurrants, which directed you into the ground after a considerable walk from the parking area:

Welcome to Coleshill (United ?) FC

The village is apparently proud of its ‘best kept village’ status or some such and it objects to vehicles littering its hallowed precincts. The minibuses, however,  had special dispensation to park beside the ‘no parking’ sign!

When we got to the stadium (?), we noticed that several cars had been allowed to park inside!

Saturday 22nd September 2012:- Coleshill United 2 Ardington & Lockinge 5

This first game was arguably the best game of the day, played in beautiful warm and bright conditions. The home side were overwhelmed by their opponents, who really ought to have doubled their score, especially after the dismissal, midway through the second half, of a home player for a tackle that at worst merited a yellow card only! There were some glaring misses and truly woeful shooting, but that didn’t worry the away team, who came away with a convincing victory!

Coleshill United, Saturday, 22nd September 2012

The WAGS were out in force to confirm the scorers, which was fortunate, because the away team-sheet had obviously been concocted on Mars, the names provided bearing no relation to the actual players on the pitch!

The idyllic backdrop to Coleshill United's football ground

This wasn’t the first heavy home defeat for Coleshill United! The previous week, they had entertained Abingdon Town Reserves and been on the end of a 2-9 thrashing!

Coleshill United 2 Ardington & Lockinge 5. North Berks League Division 2

'Botton of the Hill' home of Coleshill United, 22nd September 2012

Saturday 22nd September 2012      North Berks League   Division 2   k.o.:- 10.30am

Coleshill United                 2                    Ardington & Lockinge                5

Richard Evans 32, 47                                  Adam Little  23, 25

                                                                          Jamie Clark 30, 71

                                                                          Jonathan Eudell 75

referee:- Adam Dewar                             attendance:- 171

The second match of the day took us to Faringdon, maybe fifteen minutes ride away. This small town boasted its own brewery and the football club is ambitious to gain promotion to a higher league with plans for stadium improvements, including floodlights. All the hoppers were personally greeted upon arrival at the ground by the mayor!

Chris, with the mayor of Faringdon as he greets the hoppers!

Sadly for Chris, his team, Swansea City, were receiving a footballing lesson from Everton at The Liberty Stadium, live on TV. All the while, we ate the ploughman’s lunches provided at a very reasonable £3 in the club house!

Tucker Park, Faringdon

The ground is named after one of six soldiers from Faringdon, killed in the Second World War. They were all comrades of an earlier incarnation of Faringdon Town Football Club, “Faringdon Thursday FC” and they were:-

Leslie Wright          Ronald Stevens

Harold Priestman    Gilbert Whiting

Arthur Mercer           Michael Tucker

It was the final comrade after whom the ground is named and additionally, there is a cup competition known as “The Faringdon Thursday Memorial Cup Competition” which is competed for every year by clubs in the area at step 5 and below. Faringdon Town last won this cup in 2010.

” For when the one great scorer comes
To mark against your name
He writes – not that you won or lost
But how you played the game.”!

Tucker Park, Faringdon, Saturday 22nd September 2012

The game itself was a dour contest. the away team, quaintly named Wootton & Dry Sandford were unbeaten this season. However, with the season a scant two or three games old, not a great deal could be read into that! The previous week, Faringdon had lost 1-3 at AFC Wallingford, whilst Wooton & Dry Sandford had won 3-0 at home to Benson.

FaringdonTown FC

The game produced probably the best standard of football for the day, which was hardly surprising as the two teams were from the top division, but it also produced the lowest scoreline, a single goal separating the sides after a rugged, bruising struggle!

Saturday 22nd September 2012    North Berks League Division 1  k.o.:- 1.30pm

Faringdon Town                   1               Wootton & Dry Sandford              0

Matthew Pill  50

referee:- Ben Harrison                            attendance:- 181

The third game was in the village of Stanford-in-the-Vale on the other side of the A420 from Faringdon.

Cottage Road, home of Stanford-in-the-Vale

It was getting on for half-time in football games around the country as we arrived, and the results were flashing up on the television screens in the club house. After the ploughman’s lunches at Faringdon, cream teas were available – scone, jam, cream, cup of tea all for the princely sum of £2! Needless to say I indulged myself!

I was just returning for a further slice of coffee cake (£0.70) when, to my utter surprise, Phil from Watford was suddenly at my elbow! We normally see each other at cricket matches and tournaments organised by ESCA (English Schools Cricket Association). Last season, quite by chance, we both turned up at Hampton & Richmond Borough for an FA Trophy tie against Hayes & Yeading. I’d only chosen the game because it was, by name, the longest tie in The FA Trophy that day. He’d chosen it because one of his former students was playing for the away team. Now here he was again, after a morning round of golf trying to explain to his friends, as the results from the hop were relayed to him by text, just what was involved in “hopping”!!

Sadly, he hadn’t chosen the best game of the day. The contest was littered with errors and skill was at a premium. Probably the highlight of the entire game was the home striker’s middle digit response to the linesman who had flagged him offside! It earned him an immediate red card! The ten man home side hit back, however, to grab a late equaliser and a draw was probably a fair result. By then, however, Phil had slipped wisely and unobtrusively away, back home to a fine bottle of Shiraz… lucky man!

Saturday 22nd September 2012:- Stanford 1 Blewbury 1

Saturday 22nd September 2012   North Berks League Division 3      k.o.:- 4.30pm

Stanford-the-Vale                         1                             Blewbury                           1

Jamie Gregory  80                                                            Joe Lee Mitchell 20

referee:- Charlie Bullock                                                 attendance:- 178

The final game of the day was in the depths of The North Berks League at Division 5. However, it was played at one of the better appointed stadia and even had floodlights (well, it would have needed them for a 7.30pm kick-off in September, but they weren’t the brightest!). When we arrived, there was yet more nourishment for the hopping troops! This time chilli-con-carne and rice had been laid on (including a vegetarian option) and for £2.50, it would have been churlish to refuse!

Fawler Road, Uffington, Saturday 22nd September 2012

Uffington United had enjoyed a good away win last week by 5-1, but their opponents, Appleton Stars, were suffering the hangover of a 15-0 reverse at Benson Lions! The omens looked good and many hoppers were anticipating a record score for a hop event!

To put it bluntly, the playing staff of the home side looked positively Belsen-like in comparison to their opponents, two of whose substitutes might easily have tipped the scales against the entire home team! Indeed, overheard at one point during the second half, were the immortal words “that sub’s got bigger tits than my wife!” The home striker, Kieran Watson helped himself to seven goals (including the first one clocked at 1 min 09 secs) and could have had more. The away coach spent most of the second half coaching her bedraggled defence from behind their goal, but to little effect and the final score emphasised the gulf between the teams! It really was one of those games where the away team were lucky to get nil!

Saturday 22nd September 2012        North Berks League  Division 5   k.o.:- 7.30pm

Uffington United                                12                          Appleton Stars               0

Kieran Watson 1, 22, 32, 42, 71, 80, 87

Ben Cousins  12, 14, 57

Gary Haines 58, Jamie Glock 63

referee:- Andy Caven                                                              attendance:- 188

There was no sign of the “White Horse” which is supposed to have been cut into the hillside in a bygone era, but by the time the match finished you couldn’t see much, even by the Uffington floodlights! There was a distinct chill in the air as we made our way back to the minibus. The railway hoppers were all in good time for the 22.13 train to London and I was home around twenty past midnight!

It had been a pretty exhilarating day. Perhaps the football had not been of the finest, but there was plenty of incident and plenty to discover. All the clubs had put themselves out to provide an excellent fare for the hoppers and the presence of the mayor at Faringdon Town was surreal!!!!

As usual it was all over in a flash and the fine weather had disappeared, as I found to my cost the following day, when only nine overs play were possible (nine runs and three wickets!) in my final umpiring fixture of the season. Then the rain came and it hasn’t stopped since!

Many thanks to Chris and Laurence who choreographed the event. It was thoroughly enjoyable and…..


Here’s to the next time!









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