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North Berks “Hop”

So come on lads
The golden rules – remember?
Hold your positions
Run into space
Call for the ball
Play to the whistle
Pass only to members of your own team.

Last of all
Sounds bad, but it’s not the end.
We can turn it round
We can get a result
It’s a game of two halves.

So let’s go out there
And show ’em!

from ‘Team Talk’ by Allan Ahlberg




Friday 20th September 2013 FA Carlsberg Vase k.o.:- 7.45pm
2nd Round Qualifying

Kentish Town                                                                3
Sroan Jovanovic 6, 88
Sean Flaherty 20
Hanwell Town                                                               4
Ian Bywater 50, 54, 89
Connor Duffy 52
referee:- Mr P. Parkins                                         attendance:- 53


The North Berks ‘Hop’ weekend started off with an FA Vase match in north London. There was some pretty heavy Friday evening rush hour traffic on The M40, but with Graeme at the wheel we made it comfortably with an hour to go before kick-off.


Kentish Town were only formed in 1994 and have lead a pretty nomadic existence for the last ten years or so, during which time, they have played at  six different locations from Barnet to Potters Bar Town. The Middlesex Stadium, which they have already shared  with Hillingdon Borough for one season, had a careworn and somewhat forlorn look about it. Everyone from the club, however, was cheerful and helpful (they even counted the crowd for me!) and it was very pleasant up on the balcony, which overlooked the pitch, and where we enjoyed a very passable meal before the match began.


Behind one goal, there was a stand with seating for perhaps one hundred spectators. At the opposite end was a covered standing area, but the rest of the stadium was open to the elements! Somebody commented that the pitch had been turned through ninety degrees at some stage, but it was hard to verify this.

The game was a cracker! The hosts were a division below their rivals, who presently occupy first place in the Premier Division of The Molten Spartan South Midlands League, with eight wins from their first nine league games. Kentish Town lie a lowly thirteenth in the division below, with only three wins from their first eight league games.


The balcony which overlooked the pitch 

Graeme and I had the result down as a regulation away victory for the high flying Hanwell Town, even though they were missing one or two ‘regulars’. The ‘Townies’ had other ideas and by half time they were deservedly two goals to the good. The half-time team talk for the away side proved pretty effective, for, within ten minutes, they had not only wiped out the deficit, but had taken the lead for the first time in the match. It looked as if there might be a goal rush! Not so, the home side stuck to their task and were rewarded with a late, late equaliser, just two minutes from the end. There was yet more drama as the away team somehow managed to dredge up an even later goal to regain the lead and banish all possibility of extra time as they took the tie (and a cheque for £800) away from the gallant losing hosts!

Saturday 21st September 2013 North Berks League k.o.:- 11.00am
Division III

Benson Lions                                                         1
Ryan Keightly 83
Westminster                                                          4
Neil McMahon 16, 59
Josh Bourton 29, 68
referee:- Ash Bradshaw                              attendance:- 153


Is it a Spitfire at the entrance to RAF Benson?

‘Yes, the guns are real’ announced the chairman in his programme notes as he wished us good morning and welcome to RAF Benson. He also bemoaned the fact that team selection was heavily dictated by whose turn it was to hunt for Al-Quaeda in Afghanistan! Having said that and after a reasonably short wait at the gate, we were allowed into the base and, indeed, “The Lion’s Lair” where the match was to be played! There was a full English breakfast on offer, ‘cooked by the lovely Rachel’ along with bottles of fine English ale and even cupcakes.


RAF Benson came into existence in 1937 and during the Second World War, was best known as the home of the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. Today, it is mainly a helicopter base, although there weren’t many in evidence when we were there. There were a few personnel in support or assisting with the organisation, the ladies in the tea hut all had (or used to have) RAF or army connections and there were several cadets to guide the minibuses to their allotted parking spot!



Chris will, no doubt, be pleased to have learned that the Lions kit was modelled on a previous manager’s love of Swindon Town! However,there must have been a substantial number of personnel on duty against Al-Quaeda today, because this was a humbling experience for the home team! They did score a goal, but not until the 83rd minute, by which time, they had already shipped four goals at the other end. This was Westminster’s first ever victory at The Lion’s Lair, and indeed, the very first time they had left the place with anything other than a defeat! Their success was richly deserved!


Saturday 21st September 2013 North Berks League k.o.:- 2.00pm
Division I

Berinsfield                                                             4
David Murphy 33, 44, 46
Mason Curtis 81
Faringdon Town                                                 0

Danny Quegan s/o 81

referee:- Western Mufiri                                   attendance:- 251


“Welcome Hoppers”, was the announcement on the entrance to Lay Avenue as we arrived for the afternoon match, and it seemed that the whole of Berinsfield had turned out for the occasion. There was a carnival atmosphere to the place and all the stops had been pulled out to provide both sustenance and entertainment! Berinsfield have been waiting a long time for this opportunity to take part in a Ground Hop fixture (I remember chatting to officials about the upcoming event as long ago as 27th April, when they won the North Berks Charity Shield final with a 1-0 victory over AFC Wallingford at Abingdon Town’s ground. They were keen as mustard even then!) and they made the most of their opportunity by including the whole village in their venture.


Berinsfield on the attack!

Just like Benson Lions, the village of Berinsfield occupies the former site of RAF Mount Farm, a satellite of RAF Benson. It was later taken over by The USAF who used it as a reconnaissance base. From here, stars like Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Glenn Miller took off to entertain the troops in Europe. Miller performed for the US service personnel at the base in December 1941. From here he went to RAF Twinwood, boarded a Noorduyn Norseman single engined aircraft, took off for Paris and …..was never heard of again! Berinsfield comes from a local saints name (Berins) and ‘field’ was added because the Americans called their base an airfield. The village is only just over fifty years old! All of this excellent information was included in the programme and much more besides!


The match was played at a good pace. Faringdon Town were no pushovers, but Berinsfield, spurred on by the large crowd, and determined to provide their own measure of success to the proceedings, rose to the occasion and swamped their opponents with two goals in each half and a thumping 4-0 victory.

I must make special mention of the linesman on our side of the pitch who was extremely helpful in letting us know the names and numbers of the substitutes and the goal-scorers. He, too, helped to make the occasion memorable! So, too, was Jackie, the official who made a special effort to ensure that I had a picture of the club crest for my blog. It seemed, that on the day, nothing was too insignificant, nothing so small as not to be considered in the course of the afternoon. I can only say that the organisers deserved the success of their event!


Saturday 21st September 2013 North Berks League k.o.:- 5.00pm
Division I

Long Wittenham Athletic                                 4
Joe Murphy 27
Matthew Saunders 35
Callum Bowler 55
Tim Barton 63

Crowmarsh Gifford                                           0

referee:- David Faulks                                        attendance:- 193


The last match of the ‘hop’ took in the small village of Long Wittenham. On the edge of the town along a single track road was the football club with its own club house and surrounded by fields and not much else! The club is proud of its heritage as a long standing member of The North Berks League and of providing footballing opportunities for sons of the village. They had a stunning selection of prizes for the raffle, which included several free meals at local hostelries and, rather more prosaically, a couple of tickets to Oxford United. They had The North Berks Cup on display and for a small donation, one could have a picture taken with the cup. It seemed churlish to refuse!


Yours truly with The North Berks Cup!


A melee in the home goalmouth.

Many ‘hoppers’ are real ale aficionados and the club had made a special effort in this direction with a vast variety of cask and bottled ales available. Sadly, I was twenty days into my annual one hundred days without alcohol and thus unable to partake!


At the back of the programme was an article on ‘Groundhopping’ by Kate Shrewsday, a local author. At first she talked about St James Park and The Liberty Stadium and I began to get turned off. However, when she got down to the nitty-gritty ably aided by insights from Chris and Laurence, my interest was re-aroused. Indeed, she even quotes from Laurence’s blog! Probably her most telling comment is that “It’s seductive. Enough to tempt you away from the keyboard and into the stands.”

As to the match, Crowmarsh Gifford started the more brightly and it seemed that they might even prevail. On the half hour, though, the home side took the lead, somewhat against the run of play, and never looked back. Another goal was added before half-time and two further, second half goals completed the rout.


In the background, you can see the hoppers’ minibuses!

And that was it! We stayed for another forty-five minutes or so because Long Wittenham had promised an after match barbecue, but many of the hoppers were keen to get to the station. The last train for London was at 8.29pm. I thoroughly enjoyed my day ferrying hoppers around in one of three mini-buses that Chris and Laurence had hired. I’d been driving a minibus all the previous week, but this was for pleasure! On the way home, Graeme nearly turned the wrong way up a dual carriageway, but I was back home before midnight after an exhilarating day’s hopping!

Tuesday 24th September 2013 Molten Spartan South Midlands League k.o.:- 7.45pm

Premier Division

Hatfield Town                                                                2

Shane Wylley 14, Karl Lewis 73

Oxhey Jets                                                                      4

Adam Lowton 28,

Jim Armstrong 43, 46

Chris Killer 90+3

referee:- L. Lungarella                                       attendance:- 28


In the doom and gloom of a misty September evening, Gosling Park felt like a trip down to the bottom of the ocean where the silent and ghostly wreck of the Titanic lay gently rusting. It was an athletics stadium with a velodrome track on the outside of the running track lanes. There was even some athletics activity with a myriad youngsters practising on the track and even on the football pitch. Some were involved in quite interesting bodily contortions! It was, however, pretty run down, both forboding and forbidding. The huge stand had a ground floor terrace and outdoor seating at mid-level, whilst on the top floor, there was a balcony which overlooked the pitch.This provided free viewing of the match, and a bar and large screen football facilities too! No wonder the official attendance was so small. Most spectators – my son Michael included –  didn’t pay a penny and got a grandstand view! Graeme and I accepted ‘old man gonna die soon’ entry at £3.00 with a free programme thrown in!


The biggest talking point of the night was the referee. I hardly ever mention referees, except to moan about the late starting of matches, but this evening, and with a referees’ assessor in attendance, the official performed abysmally! First of all, the match started fourteen minutes late because the nets were not adequately secured (something which should have been sorted out an hour previously). then there was a disagreement over who should be wearing bibs in the dugout and, as the game wore on, there were  several curious decisions, which perplexed both players and supporters. At the end of the game, at just after 10.00pm, as we were leaving, we asked the referees’ assessor what he thought, and he told us that he would have several observations to share with the referee!


Hatfield started brightly, indeed, they scored first through Shane Wylley’s 14th minute drive, but Oxhey were the stronger side and by half-time had taken the lead. They scored again, immediately after half time to put the game almost beyond the reach of the home side. The hosts came back gamely, however with a goal a scant quarter of an hour from the end. The Jets hung on though, and sealed their victory with a goal deep into added time at the end of the match!

That wasn’t the end of the story. On the way home I nearly sped through a red light in my haste to access the A1 and then we found the A1 closed at Biggleswade and the A14 closed at Thrapston. Poor Graeme had to find his way through Corby and onto the Market Harborough road to get home. I don’t think we will be returning in a hurry!

Wednesday 25th September 2013 Leicestershire Senior League  k.o.:- 7.30pm

Premier Division

Melton Mowbray                                                                   1

Dave Hazelden (pen) 12

Cottesmore Amateurs                                                        0

referee:- A. Murphy                                              attendance:- 51


Asfordby Amateurs Sports Club

Whatever it might say in the expensively produced ‘Non-League Directory 2014’, Melton Mowbray do not play in that town. They may have done so in the past, and, indeed, they may even do so in the future, but this season at least, they are playing at Hoby Road, the home of Asfordby Amateurs in Asfordby, a village perhaps five miles outside of Melton, who host a team in a lower division of the league. It is a very pleasant location with around five football pitches as well as an indoor sports area and a floodlit five-a-side court. The main pitch, adjacent to the changing rooms and club house, is floodlit and provides a lovely playing surface.


When I arrived around forty-five minutes before kick-off, there seemed to be a great deal of sporting activity going on, but no-one seemed to know about the evening kick-off. There were no programmes, but I was eventually able to obtain team lists from a very co-operative referee. In the bar, there was a large pannier of cheese and ham rolls and, besides alcoholic drinks, there were tea and coffee and soup! There was nobody on the gate to take any entrance fee, but midway through the first half, a young lady came round to collect a £2 charge for watching the match. The official attendance was 51, but at first there were many more than that, as parents and friends looked on whilst waiting for other sporting activities to conclude.

It was a fine, balmy evening and two well-matched sides put on a quality contest that could easily have graced a higher level. The goal that separated them was scored by the home side early on when the referee awarded a penalty for hand-ball in the area. It was one of those incidents where referees judgements frequently differ, but the home side were just about value for their victory. They had the greater edge and one or two quite skilful and incisive players who opened up The Amateur’s defence on more than one occasion, only to blow their opportunities with wayward finishing! The goalscorer, Dave Hazelden, was particularly effective throughout!


I came away with mixed feelings. I had thoroughly enjoyed the match, but I felt that so much more could have been made by the home side of the opportunities for staging the contest. No doubt, as tenants, and amidst a host of other sporting activity, it would have proved difficult, but it would have been worth a try! Sat-nav took me home via Gaddesby, Ashby Folville and the Leicestershire Wolds, so I never got near to Melton Mowbray itself!

This was my fiftieth game of  the 2013/2014 season and the forty-second new ground that I had visited over the same period!

Roll on The FA Cup!




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