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Friday, July 06, 2018

A Look Back At The Conference Play-Off Final

The Non-League Paper has looked back at the Conference Play-Off final at the end of the 2005/06 season when Hereford defeated Halifax.

There were 107 minutes on the clock when Ryan Green picked up the ball just outside the area.
Hereford and Halifax Town were going the distance, with the scores locked at two apiece.
What happened next will forever live in Bulls’ folklore. With a swish of his left boot, he curled the ball into the top corner for the decisive goal that sent Hereford United into the Football League.
But did he mean it?
“People say, ‘Was it a cross, was it a shot?’” Green says. “It was a hit and hope, to be honest. A tired, left foot shot that flew into the top corner.
“I managed to get my top off, carry a few people on my back, chuck the corner flag into the crowd – it was unbelievable.”
For club owner, manager and saviour, Graham Turner, it was redemption.
Hereford bad been close to closure before Turner stepped in, an FA Cup win against Wrexham keeping the doors open.
However, the relegation trapdoor beneath their feet also swung ajar in 1997 and they plunged into Non-League.
The 2005-06 season was third time lucky in the play-offs, having finished runners-up in consecutive campaigns, only to lose in the semi-finals to Stevenage and Aldershot respectively.
“I’ve dedicated 11 years of my life to Hereford United, so that’s the personal expense but it’s been worth it,” Turner said. “It was a foolish thing to buy shares in a football club and there’s probably not been a day gone by that I haven’t regretted it because you get entrenched. You can’t walk away from it as managers could. That involvement has taken a lot of time and a lot of hard work, most of it away from the playing side, but right at the moment the feeling is whatever I’ve regretted, I don’t regret a thing now because it’s all come right.”
Green remembers his time under Turner fondly. “When he speaks, you listen,” he says. “Probably the best I worked under. I was a bit of a wild one when I was younger and Hereford was a bit of a wake-up call. I’d been at Championship clubs and it was a wake-up call that if I didn’t do well there, I’d be struggling.
“He said to me a few times that he’d been at big clubs like Wolves and Aston Villa and I was the best right-back he worked with and I shouldn’t be at that level. I took that on board, grew up a bit so he definitely got my career on the right track.”

Versatile midfielder Rob Purdie echoes the same sentiment and credits Turner with his career.
For Purdie, it was how Turner made the players feel. They would do everything to win for him and it came from his aura.
But he also says Turner had the knack for bringing in the right characters each summer. Important talents like Steve Guinan, Ben Smith, Michael Rose and Matt Baker had moved on.
But Turner would find replacements with a point to prove and the attributes to fit into the team ethic.
“Hereford is a unique place, you have to buy into what Hereford is,” Purdie says. “It’s small and shut off from big cities so a lot of the lads would move straight to Hereford, which was a big plus.
“But we always had the right characters. There were never any big-timers, Graham always signed players that had been released from somewhere else so they were always players who needed to prove themselves.
“Peter Beadle has done exactly the same at Hereford FC now, no egos in the dressing room. And that was the main thing then. There were no players who thought they were better than anyone else. That comes from certain players moulding that.
“It was my fourth season, Tony James’ fourth season – so when people came in the dressing room, we made sure they went with what we wanted. Not in a dictatorship way, we just made sure they bought into why we were all there.
“If anyone had caused trouble, he wouldn’t have been at the club long, regardless of his performances on the pitch. It was a team game and that was massive for us.”
Green agrees. “Graham made sure he got the right people in, no troublemakers,” he says. “We socialised off the pitch, which always helps, and we were a similar age group. Apart from Guy Ipoua!”
It also shows in the stats. There were no standout stars as goals came from all over. Local youngster Andy Williams was top scorer but fellow frontmen Adam Stansfield, Danny Carey-Bertram, Stuart Fleetwood and super-sub Ipoua all made valuable contributions.
“That shows the quality we had,” midfielder Craig Stanley says.
“Then you had Purdie scoring goals from out wide, Tam (Mkandawire) scored from the back, Tony James,  Alex Jeannin scored free-kicks, Greeny scored in the final. We had so many players who could score goals but also we knew, especially at that time in the Conference with lots of part-time teams, that teams wouldn’t be as strong as us.
“When you all live together you give that extra yard for your mate. Even if you’re not particularly playing well, your mate might get you out of a hole. If we weren’t doing well at half-time then we got told.
“I think that’s the best way. If you aren’t performing, you need to be told. Nowadays it’s a bit different but back in the day then people, and even the players, weren’t scared to tell you if you weren’t doing well.
“So we had arguments but that’s how we had it. If you’ve got players all together and all agreeing with what the manager and coaches say then you’ve got a great chance.”

Late goals were huge – Purdie jokes they were Non-League’s Manchester United – throughout a season where after November they lost just one league game, reached the FA Cup second round proper and the semi-finals of the LDV Vans Trophy.
It came from hard work from the off with Turner and popular assistant John Trewick putting the players through the hard yards. Pre-season started with vomit-inducing running and hill sprints before the footballs came out for hard passing and possession sessions.
They also had Tony Ford, a Commonwealth gold medallist in weightlifting, for fitness sessions throughout the season.
“Graham was big on work ethic,” Stanley says. “During the week we had Fordy putting us through our paces with fitness work on Mondays and Tuesdays. He would be playing music and getting us up before games. Training was tough, a lot of it passing and possession play. John Trewick was a really good coach.
“Graham and John were a good partnership as manager and assistant. They were strict and knew what they wanted, but they could have a laugh as well.”
Fitness told in the play-offs. After a 1-1 first leg draw with Morecambe, Purdie levelling from the penalty spot, they were pegged back from two early goals as the Shrimpers forced extra-time.
Ipoua won it for them and then came off the bench in the final at Leicester City’s Walkers Stadium to score an 80th-minute equaliser to set-up another 30 minutes of extra time.
“Guy Ipoua came on and he was quality” Stanley says. “Sometimes in training you thought, ‘This guy can’t play football!’ His touch, his shooting, it was terrible. But put him on the football pitch and he was unbelievable.”

In truth, Hereford didn’t play as well as they could have against Chris Wilder’s Halifax. Twice they fell behind to goals from Lewis Killeen and John Grant, with Williams grabbing Hereford’s first equaliser.
The build-up to the game was notable for the Shaymen’s Ryan Sugden getting married the day before and his bride Sharon turning up for the game in her wedding dress with the wedding party all suited and booted.
The dry cleaning bill would have been bigger for the men in white. Purdie collided with Peter Atherton and the flow of blood meant he had to change his shirt three times. For Halifax’s opener, he was off the pitch.
“Two weeks before I’d had two false teeth put in,” Purdie explains. “I went up with Peter Atherton – stupidly, there was no point even attempting to win a header against him – but he caught me with his forearm. My two new teeth went horizontal in my mouth! I had to pull them back down into position. I had to change my shirt three times because of the blood and had to play the whole game gritting my teeth because they were basically hanging out.
“So personally I didn’t do that much, I didn’t play very well and I was a bit isolated on the left. But at 1-0 and at 2-1 down we still had that confidence that we’d get something.”
Green saw to that. The two finalists had contrasting, and then similar, fortunes. Halifax went into administration in 2008, reforming as FC Halifax Town at Step 4.
The Bulls won promotion to League One that season, but four years later were back in Non-League before a catalogue of problems saw them liquidated in 2014.
Purdie and Green have been mainstays at new club Hereford FC. Under Beadle they have won three successive titles and will kick-off next season in National League North.
Purdie, 35, is hanging up the boots to take up a full-time role in the fire service, but Green, 37 and in property development, is carrying on, hoping to make more memories.
“I’ve still got the shirt,” he says. “I have shirts from all my clubs. I’ll get them framed when I’ve got a bigger house!”

Relive the goals: