Published on November 6th, 2017 | by Bill
Hereford FC: A modern FA Cup throwback to when football was good.
Good times only get their gleam from being contrasted by the bad. Both Hereford and Telford United felt the gut-wrenching misery of going out of business and yet they met at Edgar Street in the FA Cup Round 1 on Saturday.
The pair, both with gritty cup histories of giant killings, now go under the names Hereford FC and AFC Telford United, ‘phoenix clubs’ approaching full flight and swooping on gnarled vultures above.
The good needs the bad and you don’t know how bad modern football has got till you go to see fine clubs like Hereford in their grand, ragtag ground. A club at the heart of a town, a short walk from its Gothic train station, through streets and markets full of people like Northampton and Carlisle and countless other County centres before their industries were asset stripped, England’s mixed economy ruined and the full weight of Tory despair took hold.
Hereford should receive a hefty sponsorship by Adidas given the number of Gazelles on the feet of its residents. An authentic casual culture exists there which doesn’t necessarily mean the people have splashed out £250 for the Stone Island jumper they are wearing. The pubs are packed.
You feel real football under your feet, against your fingertips and in the inside of your nose. The smell of onions cooking hits as soon as the main road to Edgar Street is crossed through the shopping centre which used to be the Cattle Market. Football continues to bring this largely rural community together and people still stop to crane their necks at the looming floodlights installed in 1953. The ground has been there since the late 1800’s in one way or another and still going strong.
Everything points to the Meadow End here, Hereford’s home terrace, except perhaps the 727 Telford fans who have travelled in convoy through the Shropshire hills for this Welsh border country clash. They are in the beautifully mismatched Len Weston stand with its standing lower tier and its seated upper.
But the Meadow End, with its pretty curve. That’s all you need, a curve, some steps and a roof. The rest, as top-level fans haven’t realised in their super stadia with artisan popcorn and voyeur tunnels, is all just nonsense imposed on fans by the marketing divs that have taken over football and need to be driven back out.
The stand is full at kick-off, the Hereford lads are singing rude things about ex-Chairman David Keyte and a sell-out crowd of 4702 is happily in situ for a clash between teams at steps 6 and 7 of the League pyramid. The fans, quite clearly are the clubs, making a mockery of the theory that football can’t operate without its Premier League
When the sun is out, Hereford is the brightest place on earth and supporters use programmes and anything else on hand to shield their eyes. Not that they are missing too much on the field, given the absolute significance of this FA Cup tie means the game revolves around a multitude of personal battles. £18,000 to the winners by all accounts. ‘We’ll put an outside bar in if we go through’ says the barman at half-time with the place heaving and murals of Ronnie Radford obscured by black and white shirted Bulls’ fans.
The quality of the play, which is up and down like the undulating penalty box in front of the home end, makes no difference to the enjoyment of fans whatsoever, this is a folk occasion rather than the sit down-shut up arena shows that higher levels have become.
There was a red card in the 68th minute, when Jon Royle, the hefty Telford player with the proper old-fashioned football name stuck Pablo Haysham with a proper two footer. ‘Cheerio’ sang the Hereford faithful with a reminder that a sending off can be almost as satisfying as a goal.
Not that it’s good to see groan men leaning over kids and calling the departed player a cunt yet a little word in the ear from the parents, an apology and job done. That terrace etiquette and self-policing by fans that has ignored by outside influences looking to demonise them.
The best goals are the ones you miss and John Mills’ winner for Hereford will forever remain a mystery to me. It was probably one of the greatest of all time, struck with speed, from distance like a Mk2 Volkswagon Golf GTI screeching down the A49 instead of some tap in. Who knows? Maybe it was the cider, or the bouncing or the euphoria of being at this thoroughly modern throwback to when football was good which threw me.
By full time, the old-time floodlights are struggling to keep the match aglow, symbolising the fading light of such old-school grounds which struggle to exist in the face of predatory land-value speculators and football’s clamour for heated seats and wi-fi.
Written for STAND, by Tom Reed.