Result: Hereford 0-2 Altrincham (National League North)
Venue: Edgar Street (Saturday 29th February 2020, 3pm)
I’d decided to avoid the areas around flooding this weekend to, you know, just play safe. So I then chose Hereford. You know, Hereford. Near where the floods were pretty bad; yeah, that Hereford. Why am I like this? Who knows. Anyway, I almost didn’t make it and, for once, it was due to Northern’s over punctual service, as their train left a good 40 seconds early, meaning I had a race on my hands to get to Hereford in any good time. Their game was against the recovering Robins of Altrincham, a game that, 30 years ago, could have easily been a league clash (albeit with United), had the, now commonplace, promotion/relegation rules been in place back then. Alas, they weren’t, and so Alty sought their first Edgar Street victory in the second tier of Non-League Football.
Whatever the case, the game looked set to be a good clash, at a real classic ground. I just had to get there! After heading into Manchester, I had a pint in the Hourglass – recently a staple of my trips – whilst waiting for information about the planned train which, at this point, was showing on the National Rail app as being over 2 hours delayed. Eventually an announcement er….announced that the service would still run and, after securing tickets to Stroud for a visit to Forest Green in a couple of weeks, I caught the train, which departed after a swift ten minute turn around, meaning the delay was cut to just seven minutes. Not bad.
Passing through the sodden countryside of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire, I finally arrived into the latter’s county town for around 1.30pm and proceeded to head for Edgar Street to secure a ticket and programme and give myself as much time as possible pre-match to have the usual watering. I opted to go in the away end, as I reckoned I’d likely get a better view, as the “end” is actually side on – with fans being treated to both the upper, seated, tier and the lower covered terrace. As such, you are afforded a fine view of the action and the church/cathedral spires looming above the terrace behind the goal, currently only populated by flags.
A full £17 lighter (£14 ticket and £3 programme), I headed for a pub I’d missed out on my previous visit to the City (to watch Westfields’ famed FA Cup day at home to Curzon Ashton) – the Herdsman. It looked to have been given a bit of an upheaval from outside, though still looked quite old fashioned within. I got a Coors (£3.30~) in first up and soon discovered my sunglasses had separated themselves from me and, I hoped, would at least end up on the bull statue at some point. The Herdsman looks to be getting a bit more food oriented as it goes on, and the smell of Cauliflower covered the pub, which although I hate the stuff, the smell is alright. However, I didn’t want to be left smelling of it too strongly and soon departed across the road to the Cosy Club – a part of the Loungers group – which seemed to be located in an old mansion or something, judging by the inscribed fire I sat nearby. A pint of Amstel (£4.10) was had here, before a brief visit to the Imperial up the way for a swift Corona (the safe, alcoholic one; £3.50) was made, before I cut through the Market Square to the away turnstiles of Edgar Street.
Hereford is a cathedral city, civil parish and county town of Herefordshire. It lies on the River Wye, around 16 miles from the Welsh border, and almost slap bang in between Worcester and Gloucester. It became the seat of Putta, Bishop of Hereford, in 688 and the settlement continued to grow, largely down to its proximity to Wales and became the Saxon West Mercian capital in the 8th century. Hostilities between the two factions came to a head at the Battle of Hereford in 760, when the Britons freed themselves from the rule of the English. It was targeted again by the Welsh during their conflict with Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor in 1056 and, supported by Viking allies Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, King of Gwynedd and Powys, burned the town to the ground and returned to his home in triumph.
The 10th century saw Hereford being home to the only mint West of the Severn, with a cathedral and first bridge over the Wye dating from the 12th century. A base for successive Earls of Hereford, the city was once home to a castle which rivalled its counterpart in Windsor for size and scale, thus becoming a main base for the defences against the Welsh, as well a staging point for Henry IV’s campaigns against Owain Glyndwr. Unfortunately, the castle was demolished in the 18th century, though its location remains in the form of the landscaped Castle Green. During the Wars of the Roses, the 1461 Battle of Mortimer’s Cross ended with victory for the Yorkists and the defeated Lancastrian Owen Tudor, grandfather of the future Henry VII, was taken to Hereford by Sir Roger Vaughan and executed in the High Street. A plaque now stands on the spot. In perhaps some poetic justice, Vaughan himself would later be executed, under a flag of truce, by Owen’s son, Jasper.
During the English Civil War, the city changed hands several times. 1642 saw the Parliamentarians take the city without opposition, but withdrew to Gloucester, because of the presence of a nearby Royalist force. They again took control in 1643, but it was two years later that Hereford saw its major action. A Scottish army besieged the city, but were met by resistance by the stationed garrison and local residents. The resistance proved successful, as the Scots withdrew after receiving word of King Charles’ advance near to their position. Charles himself bestowed a coat of arms upon Hereford, bearing a rare lion crest signifying “defender of the faith”, the gold barred peers helm, only seen otherwise on the arms of the City of London, the Three Lions of Richard I and ten Scottish Saltires, one for each of the Scots regiments seen off. However, the Roundhead army finally took the city in December 1645.
In more recent times, the Harold Street barracks were completed in 1856 whilst, in the years of World War One, a fire in the Garrick Theatre tragically killed eight young girls who’d been performing at a charity concert. Hereford’s transport links have been improved by the link road, completed in 2017, whilst the train station, on the Welsh marches line, opened in 1854 and links both North and Southwards. A second station was added, named Hereford Barton, but was closed and later redeveloped. A station at Rotherwas has been discussed recently. In 1999, Britain’s SAS moved from Hereford, taking the clock – inscribed with the names of their fallen – with them. Notable people include Catholic priest and martyr, John Kemble, historical actors Neil Gwyn, David Garrick, Beryl Reid and Sarah Siddons, the commander-in-chief of the British forces in India, Major-General Stringer Lawrence, broadcaster Gilbert Harding and the majority of the band, The Pretenders. Muppets and Yoda puppeteer, singer Ellie Goulding, footballer Connor Wickham, whilst highwayman William Spriggot claimed, upon his execution at Newgate Prison, to be the son of a Hereford innkeeper. With all due respect, he really could have chosen anything!
I approached the turnstiles and asked the stewards on duty if they needed to check my bag out for the usual stuff. “We trust you”, was their reply, to which I responded “Well, you’d be the first”. I was soon being called for a full body search over the radio….in jest of course! As the old adage goes, “Oh, this is great banter; it really is!”. Edgar Street is a fine old ground – with two crescent-shaped covered terraces populating each end though, as I said earlier, only one is in use. Both sides are similar, although the difference is that the tunnel side of the ground’s bottom tier is made up of boxes, rather than terrace, with a small bit of cover next to it. That’s Edgar Street in a nutshell and this is the story of Hereford FC – as well as their predecessor….
Hereford Football Club was founded in 2014, following the demise of the city’s long-standing club, Hereford United. United had been founded following the merger of St Martins of RAOC (Rotherwas) in 1924 and joined the Birmingham Combination before moving into the Birmingham & District League in 1928. With the league beginning to see team numbers and its standing drop, Hereford applied successfully to join the Southern League, though their stay was cut short by the cessation of the league fixtures, due to World War II. However, Hereford would go on to finish top of the first post-war season, only to be demoted to runners-up behind Chelmsford City, who were awarded points for unplayed matches. The Bulls remained in the league for 27 seasons, finishing runners-up three times and lifting the league’s League Cup, also, on three occasions. Upon the league’s one-season regionalisation in 1958-’59, United won their regional division to secure a league and cup double that season.
In 1966, Hereford signed former Leeds, Juventus and Wales international John Charles and after he became manager following a season of playing, he set about building a team to challenge for the Football League and, exploiting his accumulated connections, he aided United’s bid to secure a spot there – though this eventually wouldn’t happen until after his eventual departure. Instead, it was helped by the Bulls’ cup run, which saw them attain national prominence and a continued upturn in support, both on the terraces and in boardrooms, with 1972’s Southern League runners-up placing being allied to a run to the FA Cup Fourth Round – a run which saw the Whites defeat top-flight Newcastle United and take West Ham United to a replay back at the Boleyn Ground, where Hereford were eventually vanquished. The club duly replaced Barrow in the Fourth Division for the following season, their strength there for all to see.
This was shown to be true, as the beginning of Hereford’s Football League life saw them quickly reach the Second Division, having finished as Fourth Division runners-up in their first season and Third Division champions in 1976, peaking at a brief spell in 6th place in the second-tier, before being relegated at the end of their first year there and swiftly returning to the Fourth Division, in 1979 where they’d go on to spend 14 years Financial issues began to creep in during the 1980’s and 1990’s, alongside on-field struggles and despite having decent FA Cup showings – holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw in 1985 and narrowly losing 1-0 to Manchester United in the 1990 edition – the club’s only silverware in the next fifteen years was the 1990 Welsh Cup. However, the club’s league form continued to be just enough to keep them clear of the drop, until 1996 when a dramatic upturn in form under new boss Graham Turner saw the Bulls make the play-offs, where they’d go on to lose out to another club who have followed a similar path in recent years, Darlington. Sadly for the Bulls, finances still didn’t recover and relegation finally came around in 1998, after a showdown clash with Brighton & Hove Albion. How fortunes can change!
Back in non-league ranks courtesy of the Conference, Hereford continued to struggle, though did benefit from the ITV Digital collapse in 2003 when, alongside many others, they went about signing a number of released Football League players and finished as runners-up, though lost out in the play-offs, despite a “record-breaking year”. They repeated the feat in 2005, but the next season was a case of third-time lucky, as United saw off Halifax Town in the play-offs to secure a League return. After fading after a solid start the previous year, a strong 2007-’08 campaign saw Hereford constantly be a presence in the upper reaches of the table and they eventually saw off Stockport County (another club whose fortunes fell away, of course) to secure promotion to League 1. Competing in the third-tier for the first time in over three decades, Hereford’s return was brief and they were back in League 2 after a sole year. 2012 saw the club drop out of the League for the final time and having been expelled from the Conference due to financial irregularities in June of 2014, the club were eventually accepted into the Southern League. But, by December, the club were finally declared as dead.
In quick time, Hereford Football Club were created as a phoenix club and inherited Edgar Street. The club began in the Midland League’s Premier Division and won their first competitive game 4-1 over Dunkirk (who I incidentally visited a couple of years back on their own day of glory) in front of 4,062 fans. Winning 27 consecutive games and going 34 unbeaten, Hereford clinched the league title and, with it, promotion to the Southern League South & West Division – later adding the Herefordshire County Cup and MFL League Cup, ahead of their appearance in the FA Vase Final at Wembley. Disappointingly for the Bulls, they were comprehensively defeated, 4-1, by Morpeth Town. Promoted from the South & West Division as champions at the first go, Hereford competed in the Southern League Premier Division in 2017-’18, a season which saw a fine FA Cup run, which featured victory in the 1st Round over AFC Telford United and a home draw with Fleetwood Town, resulting in a replay up on the Lancastrian coast, which Hereford eventually lost.
Their first FA Trophy appearance also saw them reach the Second Round “proper”, their run ending at the hands of Wealdstone, having seen off Dagenham & Redbridge en route. In the league, another strong unbeaten run led Hereford to the top of the Premier Division table, where they remained to seal the title (their third in as many seasons) and promotion to the National League North and again added two pieces of cup silverware – a third consecutive Herefordshire County Cup and the Southern League Shield, the latter courtesy of a 4-1 thumping of Kettering Town. Peter Beadle was ousted from the hot-seat soon into the next year, with Marc Richards’ reign lasting just ten months, before himself being replaced by Russell Slade. Slade and assistant Andy Whing both left in quick succession during the middle of January, with current boss Josh Gowling taking on the managerial role a few days later and hoping, I’m sure, to bring some stability to the role.
After a brief stop at the food hut for a chicken balti pie, we got underway with Hereford immediately winning a free-kick, from which Lenell John-Lewis had his flicked header safely clutched Alty ‘keeper Tony Thompson. Visiting winger Elliott Durrell had his first sight of goal within the first fifteen minutes, his drive kept out by Bulls stopper Brandon Hall, before Kelsey Mooney saw his wind-assisted effort fly narrowly off-target, as the sides continued to trade chances.
With little to choose between the two, the game settled into something of nothing, with little of note occurring over the next fifteen minutes or so. A back-pass was almost capitalised upon by the other Mooney on the pitch, Alty’s Dan, but the ball just evaded his trap and spared the defender’s blushes. However, on the stoke of half-time, Durrell would break the deadlock, volleying in Mooney’s cross from the left, although Hall will likely think he could have done better, with the shot not missing him by much. Half-time, 0-1, and all to play for in the second half.
The break came and although it seemed to go on for a fair bit longer than the staple fifteen, we were back playing, although there was very little to get pulses racing being created out on the field of play. Indeed, it took a good ten minutes for anything like a shot on goal to come the way of any side – Dan Mooney’s try being comfortably saved by Hall in the home goal. But just moments later, his namesake Kelsey ought to have levelled up the scores, when he stabbed wide from a matter of yards, when it looked for all the world that he would find the back of the net. Would he come to regret the missed opportunity?
Soon after, Hall’s clearance was almost charged down into the net by an Alty attacker, the ball thankfully ending up off target for the gloveman, before John-Lewis nearly bagged (that’s as good as a pun I can get in here, I think!) when he cut inside his man but fired wide of the mark. Kelsey Mooney’s header grazed the bar on its way just over as the match entered its final ten minutes, before Alty sealed the points through sub Simon Richman who proved my assessment that a second, on the break, looked likely, reacted quickest to the ‘keeper’s parry of Jordan Hulme’s original shot to slot home. Hereford attempted to get back into it late on, Tom Owen-Evans lashed drive flashing across goal and Tommy O’Sullivan shot straight at Thompson, but it wasn’t to be for the Bulls and it was the Robins who took the points back north with them.
Post-match, I made my way along Edgar Street, the light towers still dominant all the way along, until I popped around the corner to the Beer In Hand just off the way. It was only upon arriving that I spotted the Horse & Groom right next door and it looked pretty old – and interesting for me – so that was added to my list. The Beer In Hand was a nice, modern like bar, with many craft/real ales and ciders on, with myself opting to try out the Orange & Cinnamon cider, which peaked my interest; it’s promise of being something of a winter warmer definitely appealing! After aiding a kid in her chase of her brother(?) in a very intense game of hide and seek – which ended in a fall and tears…not for me! – I headed next door for a swift Holsten bottle (£3), before making my way along to the far end of the city, where the dangerously high River Wye was flowing through at some speed. A quick pic of that was taken before a little backtrack around towards the cathedral and the Black Lion was navigated, with another Holsten (£3.50) being the pick of the day in this old coaching inn.
My walk had again thrown up somewhere I wasn’t previously aware of, on this occasion it was the Orange Tree. Again, this was a craft/real centric place and I decided to stick with the Orchard Pig cider (£4) before making my way off towards the station, a route which just happened to have a couple of pubs I’d earlier earmarked on it. What were the odds of that, I hear you cry?! It was a welcome shock, I assure you. These two places were, namely, the Stables and the Queen’s Arms, with a bottle of Beck’s (£3.60) and a second Corona (£3.50) had before I made my way past the famed Hereford bull statue and back to the station for the train home which, unbelievably, had been delayed. Shock.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all that long until it pulled in and I soon drifted off for the majority of the journey, awaking once more upon our arrival into Nantwich and with just the 35 minutes or so left. Decent. Upon arriving, I had a fair amount of time to wait before my train home, so I reckoned I’d take advantage of this and make a stop in the Piccadilly Tap, something I’d not been able to do for quite some time. A further pint of Adnam’s cider was enjoyed in here, whilst I became an unofficial referee for a game of pool between a couple, so I can only hope my decision on the rules didn’t lead to a break up. Break. Get it? Ah, I’m lost to the comedy world.
After mourning the desperate waste of alcohol on the table next to me, along with the girl working there, my connection was duly made in decent time and I was back inside the door before 11pm – not too shabby, all things considered. As for the day itself, it has to be said that Edgar Street surpassed my expectations. I knew it looked to be an old, traditional place, full of character, and that it was, but the views and overall atmosphere created by the history of the ground gave it a feel that more modern grounds do lack, as nice and tidy as they may be (not to say the Bulls’ home isn’t, mind you!). Okay, the game wasn’t the best and the pies were you’re run-of-the-mill types (though the Chicken Balti here didn’t give me the usual staple heartburn, so kudos for that!) but I enjoyed seeing more of Hereford, along with its pubs; it really is an underrated place, in my opinion. So another stormy weekend is in the books and, hopefully, more settled things are to come. What do you mean, coronavirus….?
Value For Money: 8