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Published on April 5th, 2017 | by Bill

No Bull: Successive promotions for phoenix club Hereford FC

We’re on our way, on our way.

To the Football League.

We’re on our way.

How do we get there? 

I don’t know.

How do we get there?

I don’t care.

All I know is Hereford’s on our way.

There are strange things going on at Hereford FC who have just won the Southern League Division One South and West title. There’s nothing particularly weird about the Bulls claiming the championship with 5 games to spare or becoming the first team this season to be promoted in the English pyramid system. What’s strange, however, is that an outfit that often attracts just shy of 4,000 spectators is operating in step 8 of English football.

The reasons for the reborn Hereford FC plying their trade in the lower reaches of non-league are becoming as muddied and impenetrable, due to time passing, as the pitch on which Radford and George picked off Newcastle United in the early 70’s.

Amassed debts of £1.2 million from despised chairman David Keyte saw the then Hereford United passed to Tommy Agombar for £2 in 2014. Yet, fans did a bit of digging on Agombar and found out he had a conviction for lorry theft and had served time in jail. Digging also proved a big problem for director and Agombar associate Andrew Lonsdale who became the public face after ownership passed to Alpha Finance. Lonsdale had a 2008 conviction for dumping 600 lorry loads of waste on green belt land in South Bucks.

Eventually, with fans boycotting what was left of Hereford United, the club was wound up in late 2014 over debts of £148,000. You can only imagine what it was like for the Hereford hardcore to realise that their team, formed in 1924, was beyond help. All the while, a feeling of abandonment by the Football Association hung in the air at Edgar Street. That neglect has since spread to other clubs with the FA admitting that, bar glaring criminal convictions, there is little they can do to keep unsuitable owners away.

But Hereford United’s old motto remained true: ‘Our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen, but in rising when we fall’. There was no way fans were going to let the Whites die and so Hereford FC was formed in late 2014 with the tagline ‘Forever United’ on the new crest. Fast forward to 2017 and the new club, owned to the tune of 25% by its supporters’ trust are celebrating their second promotion on the spin.

It’s true that last Saturday’s opponents Wantage Town were not of the Bradford City or Plymouth Argyle ilk, clubs that the United incarnation faced as recently as 2012 in League 2 but Hereford FC are taking each game as it comes.

With the title in the bag for Peter Beadle’s men after the 4-0 rout of Salisbury FC, the Whites fans were out in force before kick-off drinking their beers and obligatory cider, spilling out onto the street in front of the bar named after the man who sent the Magpies into a flap.

Meanwhile, Supporters Trust volunteers buzzed around selling 50-50 draw tickets from which they have raised circa £45,000 for club share purchases. The ‘Junior Bulls’ stall also did a roaring trade in ‘Champions’ t-shirts and commemorative mugs.

It’s clear that starting again as a phoenix entity has seen Hereford create an innovative system of fan engagement. Indeed, pre-match, the space in front of the the Meadow End home terrace was filled with happy smiling kids larking about, something that the Premier League sees all too little of. The £20 season ticket for under-18’s is clearly having a positive effect with plenty of young adults, priced-out higher up the leagues, making up the crowd of 3,484.
Hereford FC are rightly proud that a family of four can turn up on the day and pay no more than £20 for entry.

To have access to Edgar Street alone is no mean feat and the Whites have done well to secure a new 10 year lease on the quirky ground in a prime location in Hereford City Centre. Indeed, it’s worth noting what a reasonable stadium lease and a decent proportion of fan-ownership can do for the vitality of a team.

The Bulls have gone from looking down and out to becoming a flourishing community club which wouldn’t appear out of place in the Football League.

There were certainly no flat celebrations on the cider country curva on Saturday when Hereford’s Pablo Haysham prodded home a last-minute winner to send the Meadow End into raptures.

Hereford now chase a treble including the Herefordshire FA Challenge Cup and a Champions Trophy showdown with the winners of the Southern League Division One Central. That may not sound much but, to Bulls fans, who contrast the 70’s Newcastle cup nostalgia with the realties of being cut adrift by the FA, picking up silverware while climbing the leagues is priceless.

The Whites will be presented their League winners trophy on the 22nd of April at Edgar Street. There’ll be no better place to be.

Allez Allez Allez oh

Hereford FC

From cider country.

Photos and words by Tom Reed.

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One Response to No Bull: Successive promotions for phoenix club Hereford FC

  1. David B says:

    What “decent proportion of fan ownership” is the author referring to? Hereford FC are not “fan-owned” in any sense in which the phrase is generally understoodl.

    Despite the baffling and regular attempts by individuals involved with the club in some way to disguise themselves in the costume of fan ownership, Herford FC bears little resemblance to the likes of Enfield Town, Exeter City, AFC Wimbledon, Porstmouth, Newport and Wycombe among others. Hereford are essentially privately-owned by wealthy men who ultimately call the shots. Indeed the structure has been carefully established by the wealthy backers who established in such a way that fans are essentially neutered.

    If any HFC fans think I’m being harsh then they should ask themselves this – would HFC fans be able to eject Jon Hale, or any of the private owners’ men on the board who wield the real power,against the wishes of the private faction, or vote down a groundshare as Exeter fans did to their Chief Executive and Chairman? Would they get a veto on a takeover proposal by a wealthy individual, or a regular vote on important issues such as the Kingsmeadow/Kingstonian deal like AFC Wimbledon fans?

    In short, do Hereford FC fans have the right to say “no”? That is the ultimate test – at the very least fans should have a shareholding with meaningful power and the prospect of at least sometimes being able to exercise that power before the club’s official and unofficial PR machines go around trumpeting the virtues of their so-called “fan-ownership” model to all and sundry. I stand to be corrected, but from the outside none of that appears to be the case with Hereford FC.

    Being owned and controlled by private individuals who fit the description of “fans” (or who claim to) is not fan-onwership – neither is a token presence of fan representatives in the boardroom. If that was the case then clubs like Brighton and Huddersfield, not to mention a legion of others, would be “fan-owned” – and that is patently absurd.

    Hereford had the chance to become fan-owned, but chose to go another route in circumstances that seem to be a good deal more controversial than the club’s PR machine likes to divulge to a credulous and lazy media and blogosphere looking for a feelgood story.

    How the Hereford FC want to run their club is up to them, However whatever model they have chosen, they should own it (pun half-intended). This continual attempt by the club and fans supportive of the board to cloak themselves in the guise of fan-ownership – seemingly as a public relations exercise – is bordering on the cynically mendacious.to to say the least.

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