Groundhop 2024 Summary

Tue 5th March 2024 | General
By Martin Fallon

The 2024 NWCFL Groundhop went ahead over the weekend, with five of the seven games going ahead producing a feast of football for all in attendance. 22 goals were scored in all, with a total attendance of 2,583!

The action started on Friday evening as First Division North leaders FC St Helens hosted Daisy Hill. The Stripes squandered an early chance to take the lead as they were awarded a penalty on 20 minutes, with Josh Hall seeing his effort well saved by the keeper. Four minutes later though the opening goal did arrive when a cross from the left was won by Joe Barker, his header looping into the air before being turned in on the line by Hall.

Both keepers put in excellent displays to keep the scoreline close, Morgan Newns in particular with one stunning stop to prevent Barker scoring, whilst both also hit the woodwork. However St Helens held on to claim another vital three points in their quest for the title.

The official crowd on the night was 504, the highest attendance in the First Division North this season, a great start to the Groundhop weekend.

Saturday morning brought cloudy skies with frequent rainfall, but there was no stopping Longridge Town as they hosted Padiham in our second game (11.00am Kick Off).

Morgan Homson-Smith struck the post for the home side on 17 minutes before scoring the opening goal three minutes later with a nice lob. Padiham were level on 27 minutes with some nice football on the left before Jack Price found the top corner. And ten minutes later the game swung Padiham's way, with Joel Brownhill racing clear of the defence despite strong offside appeals to slot home.

The scores were level at the break though with one of the goals of the weekend, Mitch Marshall unleashing a thunderbolt of a shot from the edge of the box that flew into the top left hand corner to ensure the scores were level at the break.

The attendance was 438 at this game, and they saw Padiham regain the lead 11 minutes from time with Tyler James poking the ball home from close range.

With the rain falling, we travelled the short distance to Garstang as they hosted Ashton Town in our third game. Credit to Garstang here, who put in a tremendous amount of work on their pitch in the lead up to the game to ensure that it went ahead, with 388 spectators thankful for their efforts.

They were rewarded with the opening goal on 25 minutes, Harris Bailey's shot from the edge of the box taking a huge deflection to wrong foot the keeper and end up in the net. Eight minutes later they added a second with Theo Ball and Daniel Birch combining with the former slotting home from inside the box. Just after half time it was 3-0, with Bailey scoring his second of the game with a curling effort into the top left corner, Garstang cruising at this stage.

However Ashton are not in the play-off's for the fun of it and they started their comeback through a Chris Lomax goal on 68 minutes before being awarded a penalty barely 90 seconds later. Connor Ready took the spot kick and reduced the arrears to 3-2. Ashton threw everything at Garstang looking for a late equaliser, including some last ditch defending and a goalline clearance, but the home side held on for the win.

The fourth and fifth games on the Groundhop were in Blackpool, with both affected by the weather. However the amazing Groundhop community showed their colours though in helping both clubs.

Word had came through during the first half of the Garstang game that our fourth game on the Groundhop - Squires Gate v Ramsbottom United - had been called off due to a waterlogged pitch, Blackpool getting a battering from the skies after lunchtime. All the planning, including purchasing extra food, drink and programmes, had gone to waste, however the Groundhop community contributed in their droves to a GoFundMe page that raised over £2000 for the club. The 200 unsold pies were given to a Blackpool Foodbank.

After Garstang, everybody headed to AFC Blackpool, getting there a good three hours before kick off. On arrival, it was evident that the game was in doubt, with numerous people forking the pitch as they had been doing all day. A leaf blower was even brought on to try to disperse some of the standing water. It was all in vain though, with the match referee having no choice but to postpone the game. Again though the Groundhop community contributed, with most of the food consumed and a good portion of the well stocked bar. Some even allowed to club to keep the gate money that they had paid.

Onto Sunday then, and we awoke to a chilly day but clear skies. Euxton Villa was the first port of call to what was now the fourth game of the weekend, and they pulled out all of the stops to welcome everyone ahead of their opening game with local rivals Darwen. They had an outside BBQ selling breakfast rolls and an outside bar, with an upbeat atmosphere all around the place. They were rewarded with a bumper crowd of 619, setting not only the highest crowd of the weekend but also a record crowd at the Jim Fowler Memorial Ground.

It went well on the pitch for them too. Jack Wyers set up Dan Singleton for the opener on 24 minutes before Josh Briggs added a second nine minutes later. Singleton broke clear of the offside trap on 68 minutes, keeping his cool to score his second and confirm a 3-0 win for Euxton.

The fifth and final game was just four miles away at Mossie Park, home of Charnock Richard. Again the club pulled out all of the stops, including the unveiling of their superb brand new canteen which was open for the first time.

Struggling Skelmersdale United were the visitors, and it took just six minutes for the opening goal to arrive from Luke Power who converted Spencer Bibby's cross. Bibby was involved with the second on 33 minutes when his cross was turned into his own net by a defender to make it two, and just before the break it was a hat-trick of assists with Bibby finding Nathan Nickeas who scored.

The second half was more one way traffic. Nickeas slotted home his second on 56 minutes before completing his hat-trick on 64 minutes. Fenton Davies then tucked away a penalty for his first Charnock goal on 73 minutes, before Nathan Spinelli added a seventh after a superb run by Jacob Ridings on 88 minutes. Arguably the biggest cheer of the afternoon though came a minute later as Skem grabbed a consolation goal, Layton Baines setting up Jacob Rodriguez.

League Director Martin Fallon said afterwards, "It was a superb Groundhop once more and despite losing two games with the weather, all Groundhoppers that I spoke to enjoyed the games and certainly appreciated the work that the host clubs had put into things.

"I'd like to thank the seven host clubs for the efforts they put in, especially with the weather as it was, and I hope that you were well rewarded. I'm gutted for the two Blackpool clubs, but we will be back there at some point. I'd also like to thank everyone who came along, whether it be one game or all five. We really do appreciate your support on these events, and we hope that you go away with some good memories of both the clubs involved and the football that was played.

"We averaged over four goals per game, with an average crowd of over 500, including one club setting a record attendance. That shows the appeal of these events, and we hope to continue over the coming years until we have been to every club in the league.

Groundhop UK's Chris Berezai and Lawrence Reade were delighted with the event and given the weather, and expressed their thanks to everyone involved in putting the games on.

Chris said "With the terrible weather predicted for the Hop weekend, perhaps we got away lightly in the circumstances. Certainly, St Helens, Longridge and Garstang worked very hard to get their game on in the first place, whilst Euxton and Charnock were both glad of the 24 extra hours that gave them time to make sure their matches went ahead. But enough of the weather problems, because the five games we saw were all terrific!!
"St Helens were expected to win big but didn't due to poor finishing and fine defending, Longridge produced the two best goals of the weekend, Garstang raced into a totally unexpected three-goal lead then defended it like the Alamo. Euxton produced the biggest crowd of the weekend through their fantastic efforts, whilst Charnock produced the biggest score. All five matches had plenty to enjoy, some wonderfully exciting football, all a credit to the NWCL, and we can't wait to come back in 2025!!
Lawrence added: "Put simply we all know the NWCFL Groundhop is going to be good. We know that 350 plus fans will come to the games, and that those legions of volunteers will work their socks off to make the most of their chance to host
"I do feel endlessly sorry for Squires Gate and AFC Blackpool, the weather threatened to derail the whole event, and the loss of their games to waterlogged pitches was a painful blow. They will get their chance to host on a subsequent hop. Elsewhere we saw goals, cards, a former Premier League player and we all enjoyed 5 clubs company and forgot about the cold and the wet for a weekend, until we examined our footwear anyway!

"As part of the organising team a massive thank you to everyone that volunteered, attended, played, prepared or forked pitches this last weekend. You to a person were amazing. See you all at the next one!"

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