Hereford 4 Dunkirk 1 (8th August 2015)
I think you know when you’ve hit one of football’s outposts when the best suggested route requires a near hour-long excursion down a series of B-Roads. On a lovely summer’s day, winding round country lanes through bucolic countryside does beat most other drives though, even if it does feel you are heading into an almost forgotten corner of England.
I have actually been to Hereford’s Edgar Street ground before, but it was over 25 years for a night game, after Reading had played a match in Swansea, and I couldn’t remember too much about the place.
One thing that certainly wasn’t there, directly south of the ground, is one of those city centre regeneration complexes of shops, cinemas, bars, cafes, making Hereford seem a pretty vibrant little place. I’d also not realised just how close to the centre the ground was. Bad traffic around Gloucester meant I didn’t really have time to have a proper look round some of its more attractive parts, but a five-minute walk did see me able to pop in to an old half-timbered pub for a spot of lunch. It almost offered an option of a shower too, as an air-con unit a few feet away sprung a leak, and started depositing a steady stream of water onto the pub carpet.
When I’d been to Hereford previously, it was for a 4th division game against Torquay. I don’t what the crowd figure was that day, but that season’s average was just 2132, the lowest in Hereford’s league history. The crowd for the game today would be a much more healthy 4060 – pleasing enough, but especially impressive because rather than being a 4th tier game, is it was back in 1989, this game was way down at the 9th level of the game.
As recently as 2009 Hereford had been in the 3rd tier, but financial and dubious ownership issues crippled the club, with Hereford United folding in late 2014. Thankfully a new club was formed, free of the old bad owners, still with use of Edgar Street, and if the club had to restart in the 9th tier Midland League, then so be it.
The fresh start certainly seems to have generated enthusiasm. The average crowd in the Midland league is about 75, but Hereford have already sold over 1200 season tickets, and will very much be a big fish in the league, and no doubt the other clubs will relish the chance to host Hereford and their travelling fans, and also to visit Edgar Street.
Fans these days often moan that grounds are too dull now, and lament the loss of traditional old-fashioned grounds. Edgar Street, on the other hand, is one of the few remaining “just how they used to be” kind of places left, and was a big reason behind me wanting to revisit. Those sunning themselves as the sip cappuccinos in the new cafes would look north to four old style floodlight pylons, a shade over 100 metres away across the street, with a small number of lights sitting on strangely oversized gantries.
The main stand side was the most lively place outside, with a club bar, ticket office, a ticket collection point “behind the old toilet block” as per the notice taped to the fence, and plenty of expectant fans milling about. Inside, the stand is notable for the seats being above hospitality areas, with 70s style glazed windows looking out onto the action at pitch level.
Both ends, only one of which is in use, are covered, and curve around at a fair distance from the pitch. Behind one was a Hereford bull, being photographed by all and sundry, with parading a bull around Edgar Street before big games being a Hereford tradition.
Perhaps the oddest part of the ground is the Len Weston stand, my vantage point for the game, just as it was 26 years ago. It must be one of the thinnest double-decker stands anywhere, with five steep rows of seats up top, and standing below. Unfortunately the top deck required a large number of pillar to support it. The architect had considered this, and designed these pillars to be flat, blocking the least possible amount of view for those looking directly ahead, but perhaps hadn’t considered that people will also need to look at an angle as well during the game, where x-ray vision would be required to see any part of huge chunks of the pitch.
It was behind this stand that a teenage girl asked me who was playing Hereford today. She said thanks when I told her it was Dunkirk, but the vacant expression suggested she thought I was either nuts, or puzzled by the large crowd assembling for a friendly against an obscure French club.
This Dunkirk, however, are based in Nottingham, and might have fancied their chances in this opening day game. Hereford might have a budget well beyond all the other Midland League clubs, but it was still a thrown together collection of players that had never played a competitive game together before. With them under pressure, and playing them before they’ve had a chance to gel, Dunkirk may have fancied their chances of an upset.
Dunkirk actually started well enough, and for about 15 minutes or so were almost giving as good as they got, as they rose to the occasion. To be fair, it’s not as if the home players were used to playing in front of large crowds either, and their looked to be a little anxiety in their play. The home fans, singing away behind the goal, were very tolerant and supportive, and it wasn’t long before Hereford calmed a little, and began to look dangerous.
There’d be a few near things before Hereford did what everyone had been waiting for, with John Mills having the honour of scoring the first goal in the new club’s history in the 19th minutes, slipping the ball past the Dunkirk keeper after being put through one on one.
Hereford stepped up a gear. They thought they’d got a 2nd when a ball drifting towards to back post was flicked towards goal, only to see the ball come back off the underside of the crossbar, and the rebound smothered. A chance of a tap-in was also missed when a cut-back just wasn’t near enough the intended target, when a goal would have been all but certain.
They weren’t to be denied though, and shortly before half time the ball sat nicely in the air to be headed in after a shot was blocked. 2-0, and it would be easy to think it was now a case of “how many?”
It looked like three shortly after half time. A clearance didn’t go very far, and it was volleyed back towards goal. It beat the stranded keeper, but with fans already starting to celebrate, it turned out to be just a little tease, bouncing up and just over the crossbar.
As the game wore on, perhaps due to the heat, the pace slowed. The crowd, some of whom who looked more suited to a stroll by the beach than a football match, watched as Dunkirk started to come forward again for the first time really since the early stages. One 20 yard shot had to be clawed to safety by the Hereford keeper, and maybe that was enough to wake the home side up, because thy made the game safe a few minutes later. Again Mills showed good compose to finish when put through, to celebrate in front of the happy fans behind the goal.
With the game seemingly drifting to a close, Dunkirk got some reward that their efforts probably deserved, taking advantage of some not so great defending to break into the box and go round the keeper, sliding the ball into the net as two defenders tried to get back. The travelling fans, apparently 29 of them, celebrated this very late consolation.
It was maybe fitting on this special day that Hereford had the final word. Pretty much from the kick off the ball went down the left wing where it was crossed in to the near post. The deftest of near post flicks saw it angle into the far corner for Mills to complete his hat-trick, and for Hereford to put the icing on the cake of an impressive victory.
It may be a long way back to the football league for Hereford, but the suggestions are that their stay at this level ought to be a brief one.