Hereford are due to return to the Impact Arena on Tuesday night in a re-arranged National League North encounter which gives us a chance to delve into our archives.
The Bulls met Town in October 2005 in an FA Cup replay, when Graham Turner was in charge. Glynis Wright was there.
As far as their ground was concerned, it was dead easy to find. Just a two-mile putter down the road from the A38, to you, squire, but you certainly couldn’t say the same about those damned-elusive away turnstiles. Shades of Plymouth Argyle as their Home Park abode is located slap-bang in the middle of a public park. But here at Alfreton we navigated our purposeful way through leafy, lush environs, and by a circuitous route indeed, one taking us a good three-quarters of a mile out of our way. Such was the profusion of greenery about those parts, I began to seriously wonder whether it hid beneath its leafy depths a Japanese soldier or three, the sort that had never quite clocked the fact the war had finished some sixty years previously, and were hiding out in the undergrowth, still awaiting the next order from their long-dead Emperor.
Finally, we did locate the away turnstiles, hidden cunningly down a small but well-trodden slope, and within seconds, we were in. The first thing that struck me once in the ground proper was the relative lack of Hereford bodies; almost zilch on the standing area behind the goal, and the adjacent seats over the other side of the park were very sparsely populated also. There were, we noted, two Portaloos at the back of the terracing, to cope with whatever the evening brought from the motorway.
‘Im Indoors was later to discover a sign within stating categorically that said facilities were only guaranteed to cope with ten people working a 40-hour week; any bodily detritus above and beyond that, liquid or solid, and the supplying company would not assure that the ‘facilites’ would remain in a fit and sanitary condition. So presumably, had there been a big crowd that night, it would have been ‘clothes-pegs-on-the-nose’ time for the travelling faithful?
Walking further over to the other side of the terracing, we saw precisely why the temporary ‘thrones’ were there in the first place; before us, half-built only, stood more permanent accommodation. Another excellent reason why the £10K prize-money would have come in handy for the home side, so that away supporters could be properly ‘satisfied’!
In the seated area, where we were headed, were no more than around 16 Herefordian souls. How come? Easy; the interval ‘twixt draw and replay had been insufficient to enable away regulars to make transport arrangements, take time off from work, and so forth. According to Nick Brade and his little ‘harem’, the coach was only partially-full for this one, fifteen in a fifty-seated number, which explained the paucity in numbers we’d noticed. However, nearer the kick-off, it became clear that some had elected to make their own way to the place: 150 good Bulls and true was the final head-count, according to my other half, who has a thing about counting things, especially away attendances. God knows why, but there you have it. Modest that might sound, but it comprised around 20% of the audience, the total gate being around 740.
A strange set-up indeed: even stranger was the music on the PA as we walked in: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and that mid-eighties naughty, “Relax”. Mind you, the follow-up “Ghost Town”, by The Specials hit the nail right on the head. “Dis town is comin’ like a ghost town..” It pretty much summed up both ground, and town that time of night, really. Add to that heady mix the intermittent explosions produced by fireworks let off by local kids outside. It made the place feel more like Baghdad with every ground-shaking detonation, and you really had a Cup-tie going. Where the hell did they get the money? Those pyrotechnically-inclined kids, I mean, not Alfreton Town.
As both teams entered the arena, I decided it was time to visit those splendid ‘facilities’ myself, my reasoning being that no discerning Bull would want to miss the kick-off, and I’d have them to myself. And, yep I was right. Just as described, they were, with one additional ‘feature’ that made me speculate long and hard. A flush handle on the side of the pan, the absolute double of a car’s gear-stick it was. Cue for my fevered imagination to get going. If I pushed the knob forward, would some unseen engine propel me right into the middle of the goalmouth? I could just see it, my rapid ejection for encroachment onto the playing area, and me with my trousers in ruins around my ankles, still. No surprise, then, that I treated that flush with far more respect than it might have otherwise warranted. Oh, and another thing, I’ve been in toilets all over the world, Asian ‘elephants’ footprint’ jobbies, the lot, and have sometimes gone about my ‘business’ with music (or that other refined excretory torture, Muzak) playing soft and seductive overhead, but never before have I let gravity do its worst with “Come on, Hereford” ringing out by way of (loud, and very, very close!) background accompaniment!
Back to the stand, then, and just as the ref set the whole messy business in motion. Being more used to the vagaries of top-notch football, which is usually totally devoid of any sense of humour whatsoever, sometimes its lower division dopple-ganger can come up with some hilarious moments, and tonight was no exception. Example – Later in the first half, Hereford were awarded a free-kick just on the edge of the box. Alfreton’s keeper, the same lad that had impressed me so much during the first game, immediately began bawling instructions to his comrades about the wall. “Left! Left! Left!?” he shouted, prompting some evil genius or other in the away end to counter with the precise opposite, “Right! RIGHT! RIGHT!” It being a small ground, and a small crowd, it must have confused those poor defenders no end.
The first half was mostly the property of the Bulls. In their frantic search for the definitive deadlock-breaker, they hit both the post and the bar in rapid succession. Denied twice also, of course, by the magnificent form of the Alfreton keeper, whom I now understand to belong to Birmingham City’s Academy. No wonder The Bulls got so little change out of him the whole of the first game. Unfortunately, though, it was the home side that drew first blood, and completely against the run of play, on 30 minutes, to be precise. And very Oedipus-like was the strike too. The Alfreton player responsible for completely ruining Graham Turner’s evening was none other than his very own son! Shakespeare would have loved the irony, of course, but I’m not so certain Dad did!
The interval turned up a situation so surreal, I had to pinch myself to ascertain it was really happening. The problem was with the stewards, not as individuals, as each and every one we spoke to was courtesy personified, but they had to ensure complete segregation between us and the home regulars immediately on our right. There were but around twenty of us in that bit of stand, and none of us under the age of forty, but rules were rules, apparently. What the home lot had to do was give the money for their food/drink etc, to one of the stewards at the barrier, upon which point he then traipsed off to the adjacent refreshment area, returning shortly afterwards with the goods, and the correct change, presumably. The whole process absolutely beggared belief. Why the hell someone couldn’t have been allowed to use their common sense out there, and simply allow these old farts complete access, I’ll never know.
The second half brought much better fortune to the visitors; after a period of sustained pressure. It really seemed easier for them to score, than to miss, on occasions. The Bulls got the equaliser. Stanley was the scorer, from a header. Now the visitors surged forward in an attempt to get the winner. It all proved too much for one Alfreton player, their Number 11. With about twenty minutes of the half gone, he pulled up as if shot on our side of the pitch, then shouted to the bench, loudly: “I’M STRUGGLING!” Countered Nick, equally-loudly: “IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING, YOU SHOULD SEE OUR BLOODY LOT!” Well done, Nick, always the man to rise to the occasion.
By now it looked very much as though extra time and penalties would beckon. Mind you, that didn’t stop the home side from raising their game in the last ten minutes of the half, and it couldn’t have been an easy time for the defenders; given a bit more luck and a following wind, they might well have snatched a sneak winner. Extra time it was, then. No surprise, then, to see the entire thirty minutes develop into a war of attrition for both sides. A bit like watching a pair of mud-wrestlers slug it out in the ring, really; the only true winners would be the fittest players.
Come the end of the game’s half-expected coda, and still the issue remained unresolved. Penalties it was, then. As we all know by now, the Bulls won that one 4-3 with Guy Ipoua slamming home the winning spot-kick. This meant they were through to fight another day, but in passing, I do feel honour-bound to relate what transpired when Alfreton were lining up to take their second. The taker? None other than Turner Minor, the apple of the Bulls gaffer’s eye. Just as Graham’s flesh and blood was about to take the kick, someone in the crowd bawled: “Go on, miss it for your dad!”
And that’s precisely what he did do, miss the damn thing. Enter that disembodied voice, again: “Thanks, Dad!”