Saturday, November 05, 2016

From The Archives - Brighton Won't Relish Coming Here Said Turner

It's the First Round of the FA Cup this weekend and whilst Hereford are already out of the competition neighbours Westfields have a tie against Curzon Ashton.

Back in 1997, Hereford United were back in the Conference having exited the League after playing Brighton.

So when Brighton were drawn out of the hat to play against Hereford at Edgar Street six months later, Graham Turner said 'they won't relish coming here'.

A look back to November 15th 1997:

WHEN the season opened, a new set of photographs adorned the walls of the manager's office and home dressing-room at Hereford United according to the Birmingham Post. They showed players and supporters weeping, or with heads bowed, after May's fight to the finish with Brighton & Hove Albion. Now, like Hereford on that feverish afternoon, the pictures have come down.

The stark, black-and-white images were intended to instil in everyone connected with the club what it meant to relinquish Football League status, filling them with a desire to regain it via promotion from the Vauxhall Conference. But when the FA Cup's infinite capacity for coincidence brings Brighton back to Edgar Street today, they will be gathering dust behind a cupboard.

"We don't need photos to remind us of how bad it felt," reasons Graham Turner, Hereford's director of football. "That day, I remembered Bill Shankly's famous saying about football being more than a matter of life or death. He wasn't talking literally - there are obviously many more tragic circumstances - but the feeling of loss made me understand what he meant."

At the risk of opening old wounds, it may be appropriate to put the contest in context. When the final day of last season dawned, Hereford occupied bottom place in the Third Division. Brighton, the only other side who could be relegated, were level on points but had scored more goals. They needed only a draw to escape.

An own goal by Kerry Mayo threatened to earn him the freedom of Hereford and cider for life, only for Robbie Reinelt to equalise and set up the most fraught 28 minutes imaginable. When it was over and Brighton had slipped their chains of seven months, the emotions which engulfed Turner's team belied the belief of many football fans that they have a monopoly of feeling for a club.

Hereford reportedly changed in silence, broken only by Sussex's songs of relief outside. "Oh no," says Turner. "What you could hear was our lads sobbing, some of them hardened pros who've been in the game a long time. Whatever noise Brighton or their supporters were making was blotted out. It was like a dream.

"I've never seen so many grown men crying - on the pitch, in the boardroom, in the stands. It really was traumatic. I didn't think I'd ever see sport get to people so intensely. People might think `Hereford's only a backwater, so it doesn't really matter', but it was shattering for those involved. The next day on TV I saw Middlesbrough fans in tears because they'd gone down. We lost far more.''

Turner recalls feeling an "enormous sense of responsibility" as the final whistle sounded and snarling police dogs barred his way down the tunnel. There had been mitigating factors: he had not bought anyone for the best part of two years because of a transfer embargo and he was forced to sell five key players. He decided, however, that offering his resignation was the only honourable course.

Hereford's chairman, Peter Hill, refused to accept it, though it was the reaction of the supporters that persuaded Turner to battle on. "I got dozens of letters urging me not to give up. They even stuck posters on the doors saying I had to stay."

As one who was hounded out of Wolves, a victim of the very expectations he had raised, he appreciated the irony. When he was at his lowest ebb that Sunday, the Molineux owner Sir Jack Hayward rang and insisted on treating Turner and his family to a holiday in the Bahamas. He did not stop calling until his former manager agreed.

After the initial grieving, the club and city came round to thinking positively. The Conference offered a way back to the League, and by staying full-time Hereford planned to emulate Lincoln, Colchester and Darlington in bouncing back. Currently lying eighth, they are handily placed, but even that position was not achieved without pain.

Only weeks ago, the club's cash-flow crisis deepened to the extent that they were unable to meet their obligations to the players. Those paid monthly had to wait seven weeks between salary slips; the weekly earners were more than three weeks behind.

"These fellas, who aren't on big money anyway, have got young families, mortgages to pay and need to put petrol in their car," Turner says. "But they responded superbly. In a strange way, adversity seemed to bind them closer together."

The situation had another unexpected side-effect. Several of the squad live a considerable distance from Hereford and were struggling to make ends meet, so Turner cut the training back to a couple of days a week. The next Saturday he was struck by how well they performed. The following weekend they won 5-1 at highly placed Morecambe.

"I don't think you could do that every week, but they did look refreshed. I heard a rugby union player recently say that when they were part-time and trained just twice a week, the Saturday game was the highlight. Since they'd gone full-time and were training every day, it didn't have the same magic."

A Cup replay with Sittingbourne brought in urgently needed revenue (helping Hereford see the bright side of Trevor Matthewson's diving header into his own net in Kent). Likewise an average gate which, at 2,800, is up on this time last year. The Brighton tie has generated further revenue, fuelling Turner's optimism.

"There's a lot of pressing debts - the VAT people and taxman are chasing us - and we've lost £100,000 in Football League money. But we're actually operating profitably because we've cut right back on wages and support has been so good."

Hereford have no chief executive or commercial manager, and Turner reckons he spends as much time doing the accounts as on the training ground. "It's been all hands to the pump to keep the club afloat. I've done everything from driving a dumper truck to rotivate the pitch to selling advertising boards."

The Cup was the making of Hereford - their epic victory over Newcastle helped them gain election to the Fourth Division 25 years ago despite failing to win the Southern League - and it could be the saving of them. Two years ago they netted £200,000 from two tussles with Tottenham. According to Turner, a similar draw this season could wipe out their problems overnight.

Before they start dreaming of Old Trafford or Anfield there is a score to settle. As they emerged into the night at Sittingbourne, a press man said to Turner: "You'll never guess who you've drawn." He did not need Mystic Meg to know that the answer was the B-word.

"Brighton haven't started well and won't relish coming back here," Turner says. "I won't regard it as revenge - one Cup win can't compensate for losing League status - but we'd take a lot of satisfaction from beating them."

HEREFORD United 2 Brighton 1 (report by Peter Povall)

United reaped some revenge against Brighton today following their relegation to the Vauxhall Conference at their hands in the last match of last season. The club also pickup up some much needed funds as the BBC camera's towered over the stands to record every kick for the Match Of The Day highlights that night.

The match started very well with play flowing easily and United pressurising the Brighton goal. The first opportunity United had on goal came when Minton gave the ball away to Foster deep into the Brighton half. Foster quickly moved through the thin defence and shot with a narrowing angle. The Brighton keeper made a high save.

Brighton replied quickly when Storer sent a through ball to Westcote which Murray Fishlock attempted to intercept but was beaten on pace. Westcote then played a short square ball to Maskell who tamely tried a shot past DeBont who confidently reached to hold it.

The best chance of the first half fell to Gary Cook though. The move started with Ian Foster on the left wing. He crossed the ball to Jamie Pitman who wasn't expecting it, but the ball bounced free to Brian McGorry who turned the ball over and sent it into the box. Gary Cook moved forward to intercept but a defender got a touch on the ball sending it high. Gary Cook didn't have time to compensate but did get a reasonable touch on the ball and looped it over the stranded Brighton keeper. The ball hit the face of the bar though and bounced down to the waiting keeper.

Brighton again were given an excellent chance to reply as Storer was free on the wing when his cross into the centre was completely unguarded, leaving a gapping hole in the United defence. Minton quickly ran onto the ball from midfield and drove his shot hopelessly wide of the target.

Hereford were also giving another chance on goal in the closing minutes of the first half as McGorry sent Pitman away with a through ball which he caught and paced beautifully, but his cross into the centre where Grayson was tracking, was too far forward and allowed the Brighton Keeper to collect easily.

The second half started with a chance as James McMue replaced Ian Rodgerson thanks to a calf injury. The captaincy therefore passed to Richard Walker. Brighton started the pressure with an early assualt on goal. The clearance was returned to the box where Maskell was felled by the new Captain Richard Walker as he slid a tackle in which arrived after the ball had left. The referee, Gerald Ashby, immediately pointed to the spot to give Brighton there best chance of the match.

Paul McDonald was sent in to take the penalty but his placement of the ball was contested by Andy DeBont who felt that it wasn't actually on the spot. He in fact moved the ball and was supported by the referee in his action. McDonald hit a well placed shot right to the edge of the goal, but Andy DeBont made an even better save as he dived to full stretch to reach the ball and push it out for a corner.

The returning corner came in after a slight scramble in the penalty area Warner cleared the ball up field.

Hereford's opener came just minutes later with the best collection of passes and moves during the entire game. Murray Fishlock played down the line to Foster and ran around him to gain position. Foster returned the ball, again down the line, leaving Fishlock with very little space as Smith beared down on him. His ground-ball cross into goal was run onto by Pitman from the right and a sweet little back-heal gave Grayson all the space he needed to round the keeper and simply tap into the net.

Brighton quickly obtained the upper hand though as they were gifted a corned. Paul McDonald sent the ball in and DeBont came to collect it, but didn't complete the job. The ball continued on it's way to Stuart Storer who was waiting just outside the back post to half-volley the ball powerfully home.

Brighton were given another chance just moments later as well, when Westcote sent in a low drive which DeBont failed to hold onto and a scrapy clearance was called for. The clearance was collected in defence after it had been returned, and Fishlock sent a long ball out to Pitman who in turn sent the ball out to Foster on the wing allowing him to use his pace to beat the defender and cross to the centre where James McCue got a toe to the ball but still sent it wide.

Barely a minute later and James McCue was again striking on goal as his shot slid over the bar from just outside the penalty area.

Almost as quickly again, Fishlock released the ball to Foster on the wing who tried to turn inside Smith and open the angle on goal. Smith was not prepared to give in though and their struggle which started a yard outside the penalty area ended with Foster being pushed to the ground. Again Ashby had call to point straight for the spot.

Neil Grayson came forward to take the penalty. His vicious left foot shot grazed the underside of the bar and drilled the ball down into the back of the net for his second goal of the match.

Almost immediately from the restart Hereford went in search of a third. Foster sprinted down the wing with the ball at his feet and then crossed to Grayson in the centre, who in turned flicked it on with his head to James McCue, who controlled the ball fairly well but then blasted his shot wide of the goal and deep into the home fans.

The match closed with some very scrappy play as United clung to their victory position and Brighton threw everything into the final moments.

REVENGE, as any Mafiosi will tell you, is a dish best eaten cold. Hereford have had to wait just over six months to get their own back on the side who cast them into the depths of the Conference by forcing a 1-1 draw at Edgar Street on the last day of the season reports the Independent.

Memories of that fateful day almost came back to haunt them when the goalkeeper Andy deBont handed Brighton an equaliser - many still blame him for the Brighton goal that cost them their League place in May. But this was the FA Cup and the romantic element had been played out 12 minutes before when he saved Paul McDonald's 49th-minute penalty.

Hereford had edged the first half and only Nicky Rust's crossbar had denied them a due reward when Garry Cook beat the keeper with a header. A first-half injury to the skipper Ian Rodgerson forced alterations in the home tactics after the break and the addition of Jim McCue's Glaswegian aggression was unsettling for Brighton's defence.

No one could have blamed Hereford for feeling the fates were still against them when Richard Walker's challenge on Craig Maskell in the 49th minute cost them a penalty. Brighton, who had gone more than eight hours without scoring, gave McDonald the job of rectifying matters but deBont read the kicker's intentions and dived to push the ball to safety.

A relieved Hereford took heart and seven minutes later Jamie Pitman back-heeled Murray Fishlock's cross into Neil Grayson's path for the striker to side-step Rust and stroke the ball home. Six minutes later deBont chose to play villain when he flailed at McDonald's corner only to see Stuart Storer's volley fly past him into the net.

But 17 minutes from time Ian Foster pierced the visitors' defence only to be hauled back by Paul Smith. Grayson confidently smacked the penalty past Rust - both his goals scored at the same end as Ronnie Radford's goal that beat Newcastle 25 years ago. The romance of the Cup notwithstanding the Hereford boss Graham Turner pointed out that his side were still in the Conference and Brighton were still in the League.