Next Game: Preseason Friendly - Evesham Away on Tuesday 17th July at 7.45pm

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hereford Are Back From Extinction And Thriving

There will be a lot of press interest in the Hereford FC story this week given the club are playing in the FA Vase final at Wembley next Sunday.

This morning The Mail on Sunday has an article with pictures written by Oliver Holt.

Not much more than a year ago, Edgar Street was a place of broken dreams. A fine, elegant old stadium, it lay bedraggled and unkempt in the shadow of a shiny new shopping development in Hereford city centre.
There was a Waitrose, a Wagamama, a Jack Wills and a nice, paved pedestrian area; all the usual trappings of English urban regeneration.
And then there was the football ground. Lying there like a derelict. Lying ragged and hopeless, washed up and beaten, like an embarrassment to a cathedral city which was trying to spruce itself up.
Back then, it was home to the epitome of a football club gone wrong. It was a symbol of the game’s disappearing heritage. Hereford United were a small club and a proud club, run into the ground by unscrupulous owners who bled them and battered them and then stood over them and watched them die.
They had slid out of League Two in 2012 and been expelled from the Conference because of financial irregularities in June 2014 before they were finally wound up by the High Court in December 2014.
For several months, Edgar Street was trapped in its misery, preserved in the moment that it ceased to be.
An artificial Christmas tree stood forlornly in the Addison Bar well into the following spring. A plate of mince pies still sat on the counter in early May. In the home changing room, dirty, damp kit from the last match lay discarded on the floor.
The stadium was left the way it was when the club went out of business, reeking of sweat and mildew and crowded with piles of rubble, like a warning to other threatened teams that this was what would happen if their worst nightmares ever came true.
I went back last week. The contrast was so beautiful it was almost funny.
It was a warm spring day and groups of kids from four local schools sat in great big circles on the pitch, eating their packed lunches, laughing and joking and running and chasing and playing.
When lunch was over, gangs of them headed for the goalmouths, like kids always do. One of them dribbled the ball towards the net and shouted ‘...and Mills scores at Wembley!’ as he smashed it into the net
Volunteers led other groups of children on tours of the stadium. The dressing rooms are sparkling clean now. The dugouts are freshly painted. ‘We’ve put a smile back on the old girl’s face,’ said one of the guides.
The place was full of life and verve and optimism. A phoenix club, Hereford FC, sprang up here last summer and the months since then have flown by in a whirl of joy and revival.
The club entered the ninth tier of the Football League pyramid, the Midland Football League Premier Division, and promptly won it.
They finished seven points clear of their nearest rivals, Alvechurch. They lost three of their first five games and then went on a run of 27 successive victories. They scored 138 league goals. Their leading striker, John Mills, scored 40 of them. Their goal difference was plus 105.
And the crowds have come flooding back. Hereford FC attracted an attendance of more than 4,000 for their first home league game, higher than four League One games that took place that day. They have averaged more than 2,800 at Edgar Street.
Enthusiasm is running wild. Some of the players, who are part-time, broke off from their jobs and gave up their lunch hours to come down to speak to the kids last week and take part in impromptu training sessions. They have bought into the rebirth as much as the supporters.
It’s a heady world they are living in. These are ninth-tier players, the majority of whom have little chance of making it as professionals, and yet they have been performing in front of nearly 3,000 fans every other week.
After every home game, supporters wait outside the ground, clamouring for autographs and selfies.
The club, who will play next season in the Southern League South and West and will be allowed to enter the FA Cup — the competition that gave them their most famous moment when they caused one of the biggest shocks in English football history by knocking Newcastle United out in a third round replay in 1972 — have regained their place at the heart of the community.
There’s more, too. The kid who was pretending he was at Wembley wasn’t just on a wild flight of fancy. Hereford United never got to play at the national stadium but next Sunday the club who honour their memory will walk out at Wembley to contest the FA Vase Final against Morpeth Town.
Hereford have sold 19,000 tickets for the final. Yes, you read that right. Most of the town is going.
A Wembley Shop, dedicated to Hereford merchandise, has sprung up next to Wagamama. Curly wigs in Hereford’s black and white colours are selling particularly briskly.
Even the club’s new sponsors are feeling the love. ‘Bless Jewson,’ said Hereford’s commercial manager Chris Ammonds, ‘because they took a bit of a punt on us at the start of the season.
‘They were backing nothing, really. Now, we’ve probably sold 1,800 shirts with their name on them and they will be on BT Sport for the FA Vase.’
During the afternoon, Hereford’s manager, Peter Beadle, took a quick break from talking to the kids and dashed out to collect the suit he will be wearing at Wembley. The club are four promotions away from a return to the Football League now but Beadle is trying not to get carried away.
‘Even though we are getting 2,000 through the gate, the hardest thing is still putting a team out on the pitch that is going to win,’ said Beadle.
‘If we had got knocked out in the semis of the Vase and finished fourth in the league, would that still be a fairy tale? I think so but I’m not sure all the fans would feel that way. We just have to try to maintain this enthusiasm. We have gone up in a straight line. There has been no steady incline.’
There is only one question still to be answered. What happened to the mince pies? ‘Oh, we sold them,’ said Ammonds, keeping a straight face. ‘It’s all about sustainability.’