Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Not many Edgar Street sides at any level have an opportunity to perform at this South Coast venue. Hereford United lost an evening League Cup match there in 2009 but otherwise any previous trips will date back to the previous century. This is a novelty visit for our club and a hard work reward for our Academy U18’s who have already battled through 4 rounds of the FA Youth Cup.
Days before our victory on penalties at Stoneham, the home club shared a tweet with us.
“We have a plum tie at home to Hereford. The boys will invariably be huge underdogs against an ex-football league club who are well established and hugely respected in the football world with full time scholars. This will be a very big night for our boys and our club.“
Change just a couple of words to accurately re-use that tweet. Hereford have drawn probably the biggest Southern opponent possible in Round One. We will be huge underdogs against salaried full-timers in fine form. Pompey are clear top of their Youth Alliance League, having scored 33 times in 10 games, all against full-time opposition. In Second place in their League is Premier League Bournemouth and Exeter are third, a club nationally famed for their youth development.
Portsmouth U18 defender Harvey Rew signed a two-year pro deal this month. That’s primarily protection for Pompey as other clubs were sniffing around though the player will receive a significant salary increase. He’s already played 8 times for Wales U17. Young Pompey striker Alfie Stanley has scored 14 goals in 11 games. Contrast that with our lads. Chris (Hilton) Archie (Muirhead) and Shaun (Yalland) are our top scorers with 4 each in their 7 games in League and FA Cup. (pre-Bromsgrove)
The Pompey Academy have everything that the Bulls aspire to have – and far more besides. They have a full-time scholarship programme which include young players from Northern Ireland who are boarded with local families. They have an U21 team… and an U23 squad too which is effectively the club reserve team. Eight of the current first team squad are homegrown. Their Academy matches are videoed – with fixed cameras and a drone. They have their own sponsors. Their own lottery too. Pre-season, their U18’s had a pre-season camp with the Royal Navy. These are the consequences of being part of a big club in a major city with average attendances North of 18,000. Not to mention access to lots of grants and Academy funding.
Last season, the Pompey Academy side reached the FA Youth Cup Third Round where they were defeated in extra time by Liverpool, who eventually won the Cup.
It’s a tough gig for little ol’ Hereford. But there is also an element of being a free hit. Our young men have already overachieved. We weren’t supposed to be among the last 10% of Non-League Academies still competing in the Youth Cup. Our Academy is in its early days. Whatever happens, we must travel to Fratton to enjoy ourselves. If our players can give their best and effectively demonstrate to our management “we just might be your future” that will do me.
If you are a Hampshire-based Bull, this is a rare chance to see your club live. Or another rare chance as our previous Cup tie was also in Hampshire. Do get along if you can. Your support would be appreciated.
Radio Hereford FC will be covering the match live. We’ll try not to think about the mileage too much.
By Simon Wright