En route to our West Yorkshire destination, I drove past Elland Road. Hugely impressive stadium, with capacity filled for every game and immense ambition. Yet less than a decade ago, Hereford United were the visitors in a FA Cup replay and won. Deservedly and with style.
It’s a superficial comparison of course, a device to draw in more readers. Truth be told, I’m more enamoured with an Edgar Street club today than way back then. But Hereford have problems now. They had problems then, and it was ever thus. These days instead of the giant planets we are acquainted with the small moons. I like small moons, but I like them a lot more when they are closer to home, and they don’t inflict heavy defeats on my club.
Small moon Guiseley felt like one of the many small Gloucestershire town or village Step 4 sides we used to encounter. Best visited in the warmer months as their ground is far from built-up. And the silence. Oh dear. Other than the over-hyped PA announcer (whatever he was on, I really don’t want to try it) the 90 minutes were played out to almost complete absence of any active support. At times, there was more vocals from their noisy bounders on the cricket field next door. Quite bizarre that the match was segregated and then not, when reality dawned. Separation was not necessary as I pointed out in an email exchange with their club secretary over a week ago.
The pre-match message to our defensive unit was absolutely obvious “watch Martin.” Well we certainly did that – we watched the 27-year-old scaffolder score a hat trick and boost further his claim to be top marksman in England. Heavens, that guy so wanted the ball at all times that he didn’t care how he took possession. When a player is on such a hot streak of form, everything drops right for him. Witness his freak first goal which completely torpedoed Hereford’s promising start and caused shoulders to sag. We used to have strikers like that. With a fit Martin, the Lions will possibly make the play-offs. After which he, if not his team-mates, will be elevated to Step One. Wealthy nearby Harrogate gobble goal scorers like Pac Man. Meanwhile, we may have games in hand but a goals for tally which is ahead only of wretched Bradford with Brackets and the completely hopeless Blyth Spartans in the whole of Step 2 (North and South) is difficult to stomach.
Nothing went right for us in an attacking sense. Our strikers barely had a butchers at Dewhurst in the Lions goalmouth. His defence protected him well, boosted by our numerous wasteful set pieces and crosses. “Gullible” was one of the milder comments from those around me.
On paper, Hereford have a decent squad. Currently, they are like a jigsaw puzzle without the lid. How to get the right pieces in the right places is currently vexing our second (or even third) gaffer. Some appear to be not in their best positions and there is a notable absence of wide players. One wonders what new signing Alex Bray has done – or not done – to be denied any first team minutes. Right now, it’s hard to point to any area on the pitch which looks the part. There are no obvious solutions.
I do wonder whether some of our more mature players consider they are into their final contract before retirement. Money secured and no need to really push themselves to impress management anymore. They’ve done their whack and feel they deserve a bit of “easy street.” Takes one to know one and I’ll freely admit I’m in that situation myself, albeit I don’t wear football boots or work on grass. (or any other substance, ho ho.) Some of our new signings will not work out. It happens. At every club. To get 70% of incoming business right is usually considered a good year. And yes, I’m sure the cynics will be sniggering at this point as such an “aspirational” figure. Still early days.
Meanwhile, back in Gloucestershire, a certain college manager might exclaim “Not as easy as you thought, huh?” before lapsing into dark mutterings about “scapegoats.” And that old favourite “Git orf my land…”
Our external options are limited. Contracted players have little appetite to move – either into or out of Edgar Street. There may be some free agents about but this is shopping at the local jumble sale. The chances of a talented freebie are very low. Beyond that, there are loanees, at varying “prices.” The cheap raw ones need patience and a settled team. Remember those early season howlers by Yates? Or Dara being sent off three times the year before? Any more experienced loaners will tax our limited resources. Yes, there are cash reserves but the bigger imperative is to keep the club stable and not chase dreams. Look what happened last time. We’re in a much lower league than a decade ago but even so Hereford are not the biggest club nor the most streetwise or even the richest at this level. Some choose not to believe it.
We are literally years behind clubs such as Chester. They have a settled squad, including 4 local players and several promoted Academy members. Crucially, they have no internationals and train 4 times a week. And they have a generous benefactor who wants nothing in return.
York City are full time. Yet again, they’ve invested heavily in “name” players. Their debts continue to rise towards £7 million offset against their ground sale but right here, right now they are top of the League. This is what we are up against. I would not swap with York. Or Kettering, Kidderminster, Kings Lynn, Brackley, Bradford, Gloucester or Spennymoor who are one sulk or one early death away from closure.
Still early days this season. We have been defeated only by top five sides. It’s possible to lose a dozen games, even fifteen sometimes and still make the Play-Offs. Twelve months ago, both Stockport and Spennymoor were lamenting their wretched starts and look where they finished up. Hopefully, our new management will find new ways to get more from our talented-on-paper squad but there are painfully few opportunities to work together as a full squad.
We’ve just had the international break with 3 players away and now we’re back in midweek match mode which means just one training session a week. It’s just not enough. As a newbie to part-time shortcomings, Slade is probably desperately frustrated. Previously, he’s always had the luxury of working with his squad 4 or even 5 days a week. And just to compound matters, next month there is another international break.
Perhaps our players, to benefit themselves, as well as the club might agree to voluntarily train together for longer. Perhaps our-ranks-of-skippers-at-previous-clubs could offer their own suggestions for areas to work on. One of those “clear the air” meetings so well used in the professional game. Or perhaps not. I’m afraid there is no magic wand and no amount of abuse from the noisy minority will change that.
On a related note, I’m now going to become more selective in my choice of away games. Not from a “Boo Hoo, Stamp my feet, I want to punish you for your shortcomings” knee-jerk reaction. Not me. Not after 49 years of support. Far more so the returned reality that my presence doesn’t benefit my football club financially or in any other way. The days of our 400-500 massed travellers dominating away grounds and giving referees a hard time have long gone. Nowadays, a normal away following for non “local” games are between 60-100, a return to the old United days and numbers which honestly can’t do a lot of support other than just being there. Hereford FC would be better off if I didn’t travel so often and donated a small portion of the unspent cash to a HUST fund raising scheme. So sometimes I’ll do just that.