Next Game: Pre-Season Friendly - Melksham Town Away on Saturday 7th July

Monday, July 31, 2006

What is so funny about Peace, Love and the Conference?

Talking Bulls loudest salesman, Simon Wright, pontificates on the new season

Promotion is almost always splendid fun. It is after all what league football is about coming out on top. And enjoying the moment. There were indeed many moments to enjoy. The win against all the odds at Exeter. Comebacks against Grays and Accrington from two goals down. Finally sorting Burton out. Proving to the nation that we were a better side than ugly Stevenage. Those last few minutes against Morecambe. Guy Ipoua and his Play-Off goals. The calmness of Tam and sheer class. The exciting talents of young Willo. The intelligence of Lisa Stansfield. The celebrations at Leicester. Our first promotion since 1976 deserved celebrations.

But come on, talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The Conference is a decent League and one that improves year on year. I am so disappointed that in some quarters that in their eagerness to shout their triumph, some people have felt the need to rubbish the Conference. Yes, its small scale. Yes, some of the play is not the best but come on, the Fourth Division is hardly the big time either. In a world where biggest is obscene consumerism, small is good. Small is friendly, affordable, cosy and the soul of football. It is real. My favourite living footballer Bob Taylor recently praised the Conference. Now SuperBob has played at the top level and frankly much of the audience didn't want about Non-league but he told them anyway. About how part-timers could give their all and then join the supporters in the bar for a pint. How Tamworth charge only £9 on the terraces. How their gates were growing (he was gilding the lily by this point), swelled by the disillusioned ranks of supporters of big clubs. I am so with Bob on this one.

Colin Addison addressed a gathering of Kidderminster based West Brom supporters in May and also tried to get over the message that there is life outside the top four Divisions. How the standard of play is rising all the time and its football at a simple pleasure level. Colin helps Radio Wales as an expert summariser but enjoys Conference football just as much as the Second and Third Division - or whatever it's called this year. Again, he was far from talking to the converted, this audience wanted to hear tales about Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Bryan Robson, John Trewick etc.

A more positive way of examining our promotion is not where we have come from but where we're going to. It is a novelty, uncharted waters, new places and new challenges. There are some bizarre venues in the Fourth. On Saturday, for instance, County have this enormous stand behind one goal. Yes, it looks splendid but where are the people to fill it? The entire crowd will fit in the Cheadle End on Saturday with seats to spare. Empty seats will be a familiar theme this season - particularly for those clubs bottoming out in the basement Division. Wrexham, Walsall, Lincoln, Swindon, Notts County - row upon row of empty plastic. None more so than Darlington. You really must see this monumental folly with its 27,000 capacity - and hardly anybody in it. Being out of town doesn't help - a problem too for Wycombe (neat ground but so obscure) and the abominable franchise. If there is one club that Hereford must put one over, it is that plastic act of Satanism in concrete cattle city.

But bear in mind, our days of being the Manchester United of the Non-League are over. 'We are Football League.' Indeed we are, but no-one is going to be too impressed by that cry. This is a rough, hard League. Most everybody has a Redmile. Most everybody has an Aaron McClean. Mean, ugly honchos are everywhere - and that's just the stewards. It is going to be so hard and often unsightly to watch. After a few months of this, Conference football might just become very appealing. But remember another chant that was doing the rounds 'I am Hereford 'til I die'? You'd better genuinely believe it. Stick with them when the going becomes hard because we're the best hope that this football club has got. We're small and we're proud of it.