JOY to the world: the season proper is here! The last few years has seen the United Counties/Peterborough District League GroundHop become a traditional opener for grassroots football fans and this weekend is no different.
After a dismal opener on Friday night at Huntingdon, Saturday morning sees me at Carter’s Park, Holbeach with The Fox. Memories of last night’s damp squib are banished with a lively 6-0 thrashing of Sleaford Town by United.
After a very pleasant farewell from at Holbeach, fans spread out around The Fens for their next game. Some head for Moulton Harrax on The Hop, others go to drool over the famous stand at March Town United while I fill a gap in the Eastern Counties League at relative newcomers Wisbech St. Mary.
Jane SatNav takes me through a brand new housing estate to the rather clumsily named ABC Quality Meats Stadium. The ground is not yet open but there’s a guy working hard on the immaculate playing surface. Some League sides yearn for a pitch this good! I manage to secure a programme from someone at the main gate (£1).
Thanks to a tip-off from Steady Eddie, I next head to the Station Restaurant & Bar adjacent to the club’s small clubhouse. The bar is sort of linked with the club but not exactly: the whole complex is a community sports facility and is a credit to the town.
The reason I am in here is the extensive menu on offer: from steak dinners and standard bar meals to jacket spuds and Panini. I plump for the scampi and chips while The Fox goes Italian. Real Ale fans are catered for, too. Across from the bar is St. Mary’s official clubhouse. There’s a small bar serving hot drinks, etc. A nice touch is a clock bearing the club crest on its face.
I pay £5 at the entrance hut. By now, quite a few Hoppers have arrived from the earlier game. The ground is a simple affair with an area of cover down one side and an ‘At-Cost’ stand in one corner. This standard area for spectators is made all the better for having purple seats and yellow railings. This main side of the ground is the only one with any facilities. I stand behind the left goal and it proves to be a fortuitous decision. Woodbridge attack my end and race into a three-goal lead. The Mary’s left back may as well not have been on the pitch, such was his contribution to helping out his beleaguered goalkeeper!
The second half starts off at a steadier pace but soon livens up again when The Saints grab a goal. Things really start getting interesting when they snatch another: game on! Woodbridge wake up to the danger and rattle in another three goals. The instigator of this reawakening is Matt McKenzie, a lively substitute, whose perfectly angled runs hint of a player from a higher level. He grabs a second half hat-trick, as does Mary’s Jack Friend.
Regular readers will know that I usually end a report by stating that the score could have been many more. While this is still true about today’s high-scoring fixture – both Wisbech and Woodbridge could have doubled their tally – I was happy with a 7-3 thriller!