Football: Groundhoppers invade Devon again

Non-League notebook
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The Independent Online
THE busiest man in the non-League game this Easter will be Phil Hiscox, the secretary of the Devon League - and the organiser of a festival of football which will ferry several hundred fans to seven games in two days.

This is the second year in which the Devon League has hosted the annual Easter groundhoppers' convention. From all over Britain and beyond, non- League enthusiasts will be heading west to take in three games today and then four tomorrow.

The humble standard of football will neither surprise nor distress them - what matters for the groundhoppers is the opportunity to tick off new grounds. Hence none of the seven venues to be used this weekend was visited last year - and there will be seven other clubs to visit next year for the final Devon Hop.

"I started planning for this year before last year's Hop," Hiscox said this week. As well as sorting out the fixture programme, he has had to arrange accommodation for the hoppers at Exeter University and find coach drivers that can cope with both Devon lanes and the tight schedule.

The biggest worry for Hiscox is the weather, with rain, hail and even snow forecast for Devon this weekend. "Home clubs - and referees - are being told every effort must be made to get games on," he said. If needed, he will no doubt do what he did at Newton Abbot Spurs on Tuesday - don his wellies and help to fork the pitch.

Last Easter 236 hoppers bought advance tickets for the weekend. The number this year is 220 but, like last year, many more will buy tickets on the day. Two fans from the Netherlands are returning for their second Devon Hop, and they will be joined by other familiar faces like the hopper who has to touch both crossbars at every ground visited, and the blind fan who relies on his friends for commentary.

"The nicest thing that happened last year," Hiscox said, "was unexpectedly receiving an Ajax shirt in the post for my young son from the two Dutch fans a fortnight after the Hop."

As long as the weather does not spoil the event, Hiscox is looking forward to this year's Hop - and next year's. "I'm keen to see it start," he said. "I enjoyed it last year - but only after the first game kicked off."

WESTWARD DEVELOPMENTS DEVON LEAGUE EASTER HOP: Today: Topsham Town v Budleigh Salterton (11.0); Cullompton Rangers v Willand Rovers (3.0); Ottery St Mary v Stoke Gabriel (7.30). Tomorrow: Ivybridge Town v Dartmouth Utd (11.0); Plymstock Utd v Appledore (2.0); Elburton Villa v Plymouth Command (4.30); Plymouth Parkway v Weston Mill Oak Villa (7.15).