Raging Bulls: The Emphatic Return of Hereford FC
FA Cup Third Round weekend is traditionally a time of year at which most football supporters come to think of Hereford United, however fleetingly this may be. One of the tournament’s defining portmanteau images, of Ronnie Radford belting the ball past the flailing Newcastle United goalkeeper Iam McFaul before being swamped by youths in snorkel jackets, occurred at Edgar Street forty-four years ago, and even today broadcasters remain fonder of showing this particular clip than any other at this time of year. Grainy images from the past, however, cannot insulate a football club from mismanagement in the future, and Hereford United died a little over a year at the High Court in London, wound up after a precipitous decline that saw the club tumble from the Football League to the Southern Football League and then into insolvency in the space of a little over two and half horrendously mismanaged years.
A little over a year on from this disastrous sequence of events, however, football in Hereford is not only back, but is back in a ruder state than even the most optimistic supporter might have hoped after United’s winding up and expulsion from the Southern League a little more than a year ago. A newly-formed club, Hereford FC, is tearing through its first season in the Midland Football League, setting records left, right and centre and bringing huge crowds flocking to Edgar Street, even though the club is playing at a level of the game at which most clubs count their home attendances in the dozens rather than in thousands or even hundreds. After an unsteady start to life at the ninth step of the English league system – as far removed from the National League as clubs in the National League are from the Premier League – which saw the team win just two of its first six league matches, Hereford have won their last twenty-six consecutive matches in all competitions, a record which has seen the club go twelve points clear at the top of the league table.
From the moment of rebirth of the club, there has been a sense that something rather special has been going on at Edgar Street. A crowd of 4,250 turned out to watch the club’s first match, a pre-season friendly against FC United of Manchester in July which resulted in a one-nil win, and the 4,000 attendance barrier has been broken twice in the league since then, most recently when an astonishing attendance of 4,381 saw the team beat local rivals Westfields by three goals to nil on Boxing Day. Of this crowd, around 1,500 of the number was taken up with season ticket holders, a number which in itself confirms the depth of interest in the club. Overall, the club’s average attendance this season now sits at a little below the 3,000 mark, but this compares extremely favourably with at least the final years of Hereford United. The old club’s average attendance during the 2009/10 season, when the team finished its League Two season in sixteenth place in the table, for example, was 2,010.
Although the club has embarked on this extraordinary run – and has already scored seventy-nine league goals in just twenty-four matches so this season – promotion from the Midland Football League isn’t quite as much of foregone conclusion for the club as a twelve point lead at the top of the table might suggest. The biggest challengers to Hereford sit in third and fourth place in the table. Third placed Alvechurch are fifteen points behind them, but have six games in hand on the leaders, whilst fourth placed Sporting Khalsa are eighteen points from the top of the table, but have five matches in hand. Furthermore, thanks to a combination of the vagaries of fixture scheduling, the inclement weather conditions this year and cup commitments, none of Hereford, Alvechurch or Sporting Khalsa have played each other at all in the league yet this season. There is, therefore, all to play for in the league, regardless of any records that may or may not be broken at the time of writing or the size of Hereford’s current lead at the top of the table.
Promotion may be at the top of the agenda for a club seeking to get back to a level of the game that befits its attendances and facilities, but the club’s first season could also yet end up with it setting a further record for the city of Hereford. In the whole of its ninety years of existence, Hereford United never managed to reach Wembley, but in its very first season Hereford FC still has a chance of doing so in the FA Vase. Last weekend, in the Fourth Round of the competition, they were ahead by three goals to one at half-time in their match against the psychedelically-named Leicester Nirvana at Edgar Street when the match was abandoned on account of a waterlogged pitch. The highlights video from the match seems to confirm that this was an entirely understandable decision on the part of the referee, and so it is that it is to be replayed this weekend, weather permitting, and in today’s draw for the Fifth Round of the competition, the winners of this match were drawn away to either Hartley Wintney of the Combined Counties League or Bradford Town in the last sixteen of the competition.
Leading the attack for the team this season is striker John Mills, who has already scored thirty-eight goals. That Mills should be scoring for fun at this level at Edgar Street this season is, perhaps, no great surprise. Mills was plying his trade a division higher last season, in the Southern League League Division One South & West for Didcot Town, last season when he was approached by Hereford United. The club’s collapse prevented that move from going through to Didcot’s significant benefit. Mills scored a total of fifty-seven goals for the club last season before signing for Hereford last summer along with Pablo Heysham, who has himself scored sixteen goals so far this season. The club also has significant experience in the form of manager Peter Beadle, who spent three years as the manager of Newport County and spent a short period as a temporary manager of Hereford United towards the end of the 2013/14 season without being given the job on a permanent basis.
There may well be Hereford FC supporters who don’t care for the possibility of breaking any records for runs of consecutive wins – which the media have touched upon recently in conjunction with the club possibly breaking records held by Ajax and Benfica – it can only take small changes in fortune at any level of football to curtail the dreams of supporters who may be starting to idly give some thought to hopes of a Midland Football League/FA Vase double come the end of this season. Having said that, however, a football club can hardly be in better form than twenty-six consecutive wins and there has been little indication of this run coming to a halt of late. The matches coming up against Alvechurch and Sporting Khalsa will most likely come to define Hereford’s season, but at least the people of the city are watching football at a club that they feel a part of, rather than boycotting a shell of a football club in terminal decline. The memories of 1972 will always be with those who were a part of them. Hereford FC is creating new stories and memories in its very first season of existence.
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