One of the simple pleasures of non-league football is the feeling of togetherness. Being able to converse and better understand your players, managers and directors and sometimes those of the opposition too. Commonplace in lower leagues.
But National League North is border country where Football League wannabes compete directly with the best of the rest. Those wannabes segregate supporters and often restrict access to their own club people. Sadly, Hereford FC sit very much within this group.
A victim of geography and circumstances for sure yet maybe we don’t always help ourselves. Our segregating tiny numbers of visitors looks and feels wrong. It acts as a disincentive to those little groups to return next season. It also costs us money. I’m thinking particularly of the 15 or so Gateshead diehards and the gallant eight from Blyth, and the future away following from Guiseley, Southport etc. They have no bar access. Limited food options and that leper colony feeling. There must be a better way to handle this, officially or unofficially.
Obviously, it’s not just an irritation at Edgar Street. I think back to the gallant 47 strong Hereford group at York City FC on a Tuesday night with our own stand, own ticket office, own set of stewards and own catering. What a waste. At Boston United, standing supporters were separated but seated spectators weren’t. At AFC Telford, seated supporters were in theory kept apart but had shared toilets and catering. Where’s the logic here? Most of the time, segregation is unnecessary and unwanted. If Hereford are not permitted to introduce their own in-house solution then I suggest our Board should be talking to the National League.
It’s not just our problem. Maybe more immediately pertinent is that Hereford supporters have next to no opportunity to interact with their own players. That Hereford FC squad train in Walsall upsets a minority of supporters. That is unfortunate. For me, it’s only common sense to train at a venue with first class facilities that your players can easily access. They are busy people with other jobs. The idea of training in Hereford is quaint, out of date and unrealistic for semi-professionals. Remote training is common for clubs based in smaller towns and cities. Boston United train at Doncaster Rovers, Truro in Exeter, and before they went full time, Barrow did their workouts in Manchester.
Information for other clubs is hard to find though Kings Lynn (who use Heacham FC), AFC Telford (Lilleshall), Spennymoor (Billingham), Alfreton (Chesterfield) and Guiseley (Leeds University) are among clubs who don’t train in their own backyard. They are quite probably a majority in our Division. No Edgar Street club will ever have a team of local players. The Shire talent pool is too thin.
Only one of the Giantkillers team was from Herefordshire. Nearly all the 71/72 squad travelled in and the question around training was moot because they were too busy playing matches. Half a century on and nothing has changed, apart from even fewer opportunities for young players to develop. 50% of our last Academy team had to be bussed in from various parts of South Wales.
Talent always has to be shipped in. Asking our current squad to train in the Shire would add 8-10 hours extra travel time for each player weekly. That’s dead time which would require compensation, effectively one extra day’s pay each. And for what? No footballer ever improved their game behind a steering wheel. So, remote training is here to stay.
Far better to be realistic and look at alternatives to make supporters feel closer to the people who play for or manage our club. Such as: – Occasional open training sessions in Hereford. These were promised last summer but are yet to materialise. Fingers can be fairly pointed at pandemic concerns but with restrictions gone, what an opportunity coming up to build some bridges.
Finally, most puzzling of all is the lack of online comms chats. Given the nature of Hereford’s widely scattered support and their equally widely scattered players, Zoom, twitter or whatever are very inexpensive ways of bringing people together, as we learnt during lockdown. We have Radio Hereford FC. We have media professionals. We have players and management experienced in online comms. Everything we need.
Hereford FC are blessed with a particularly articulate manager yet his sole (one way) interaction with fans are a few minutes after matches. There’s so much more which could be done to enhance communications. Near to me, a step 4 club runs weekly twitter chats. Club directors are invited to clarify current concerns and talk about future plans. The reserve team manager speaks honestly about his charges. And so on.
It works for them, ought to work for us. What an easy opportunity to have a structured, indepth chat with a new player of which we have many. Jon Nash could talk community. Jon Hale future direction. Lots of opportunities to promote Hereford FC and that togetherness feeling.
Our club could do more. The question is, will they?