Hereford Hero #4 – Mel Pejic

Hereford Hero 

MEL PEJIC 

Mel joined Hereford United from Stoke City in July 1980, and over the next 12 years made a record 413 Football League appearances for the club, overhauling the previous holder Chris Price. 

His popularity was underlined by the fact he was the only player to be voted ‘player of the year’ by supporters on three separate occasions, and during the time he was at Edgar Street he became a great ambassador for the club. 

Mel was born in Newcastle-under-Lyne on 27 April 1959, and from the time he started to kick a tennis ball around as a small child it seemed inevitable that he would become a professional player. 

His brother, Mike, who was nine years older than Mel, was beginning to emerge as a talented young player and it was not long before football became one of the main topics of conversation in the Pejic household. Just before Mel’s 7th birthday, Mike became an apprentice with Stoke City and began a career which was to bring him international honours when he was selected for England in the early 1970’s. 

Meanwhile, Mel was making progress at school level as a promising inside forward and was eventually selected for the Newcastle schoolboys and then the Staffordshire youth team. As a young teenager Mel would go down to the Victoria Ground during his school holidays to play in trial matches after Mike had become a first team regular with Stoke. 

However, his hopes of following in his brothers footsteps as an apprentice with City did not transpire before further trials arose with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Port Vale. Despite this apparent setback George Eastham stepped in to sign Mel as a Stoke City junior, and Mel made his first team debut at the Victoria Ground as a full-back against Ipswich Town on 12 January 1980 in the First Division. 

Mel recalls; “It was one of the happiest days of my life when I knew I was playing for the first team, and the only disappointment was that Ipswich won 1-0.” 

Although Mel was not retained at the end of the season he was offered terms by Hereford United manager Frank Lord. He had an unfortunate start with the Bulls when he injured his knee in the third game of the season at Mansfield, and had to undergo an operation which kept him out of the game for six months. 

It happened again at the start of the next campaign too, when United visited Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United. Mel said “It was obviously a big blow to me because it happened to the same knee. But the ligaments were not torn so badly, and I was back for the last 27 league games of the season.” 

It was enough to earn him a new contract, and for the next four seasons he missed only 5 out of a possible 236 league and cup matches. He was rated one of the best defenders in the Fourth Division, and was voted as United’s ‘Player of the Year’ in 1983, 1984 and 1985. 

Mel has many happy memories of his long spell at Edgar Street and rated the four cup matches with Arsenal amongst the highlights, especially the 1-1 draw in the first clash at Edgar Street. 

His biggest match though was as captain against Manchester United in the FA Cup Fourth Round on 28 January 1990, when the Bulls lost narrowly 1-0 to a late Clayton Blackmore goal in front of a crowd of 13,777. Mel had been instrumental in the club earning that lucrative tie as he scored a dramatic last gasp winner against Walsall in the Third Round. 

Mel also captained Hereford United when the Bulls lifted the Welsh FA Cup at Cardiff Arms Park in May 1990, for the only time in the clubs history, with a 2-1 win over Wrexham. It was the first competitive football match seen at the home of Welsh rugby, and was one of the few occasions in which an English club took the cup out of Wales. 

His career at Edgar Street looked to be over when manager Ian Bowyer released Mel on a free transfer, only for Colin Addison to renew contract terms two months later when he returned as the Bulls boss. 

Mel later joined Wrexham where he again gave fine service and proved to be a resilient defender, helping the club gain promotion in the 1992-93 campaign. He went on to make over 100 appearances for Wrexham before becoming the clubs physiotherapist. 

Then followed spells as the senior physiotherapist for Wales, Bolton Wanderers and Macclesfield Town. In November 2013 Mel returned to Stoke City to work in the medical department of the club’s academy.

Keith Hall

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