This afternoon Rob Purdie has announced he will retire from football at the end of the season. A terrific servant to both Hereford United and Hereford FC many, many supporters will be extremely sad he will no longer be wearing the Bulls shirt. Proof, if ever any were needed, of his loyalty and commitment to Hereford fans arose just over three years ago in an article he penned following the demise of the old club. As a tribute to the ever popular player we reproduce his comments once again.
Over the last 13 years of my career I have spent eight years worth of it involved with Hereford United. Five years under Graham Turner (who out of respect I still refer to as gaffer), two and a half under David Keyte and the past 6 months have been with the UITC working out of our office at the back of Edgar Street with affiliation to the first team who of course were under the control of Tommy Agombar and Andy Lonsdale (to name a couple). Three different ownerships, if we group the last 6 months into one, and three totally different experiences to talk about! Everything I say is through my own experiences, honest and are my own opinions. Some people will agree with them, and some will disagree, but here are my thoughts and reasons of why I believe the passion of Hereford will always be the key to this city.
The Gaffer had his share of fans that did not quite agree with everything he did, but he had success with the club that anyone would have struggled to match. Along with probably Dario Gradi of Crewe I don’t believe any club outside the premiership has, or will ever have, an asset as good as the gaffer was to Hereford United. Loyalty is rare in football and he gave that to Hereford even when there was no gain in sight for him. It was unquestionably the best 5 years of my career, every year playing with a new batch of players that were hungry to improve, work hard for the manager and try and have success with HUFC. That was the gaffers quality, his dedication to find and sign the exact players that would fit into the team and the city, and he did all of this at an affordable price to the club.
He left for Shrewsbury having taken Hereford as far as he believed he could, he left a solid League Two team with money in the bank and a bright future, and sold it to the right man at the time, David Keyte. David was a Hereford fan that wanted to use his passion to take us that step further, but unfortunately it was the beginning of the demise that has seen us temporarily lose our club. I believe this was purely down to naivety and not understanding that football is a different business to any other, although I think towards the end anger, pride and a bit of spite were thrown in.
Getting relegated from League Two was not the start, it was the money given out in League Two where it all began. At the end of my first 5 years the gaffer really wanted to keep me, he offered me a very good deal but said he couldn’t go a penny higher due to the budget he was trying to keep. Three and a half years later I returned to the same club, in the same league with the same fan base to find players on almost double the wage he had offered me, and they also had the added bonus of their accommodation being paid for them along with bills! This is where all our the problems had started. The season we were relegated from League 2 we had numerous players on 4 figure a week salaries and not paying a penny for their own two bedroom apartment or house. In my first ever year at Hereford I was on £210 a week and losing £75 of that to pay for my digs, call it stingy from the gaffer, but I gladly did it to have the chance to prove myself and play at Edgar Street in front of the Hereford fans. I don’t blame any player for accepting a big contract, the fault lies with the person sanctioning the deal!!
Pay ups to coaching staff added to the problem which again lessons should of been learnt from the early dismissal of Simon Davey, the poor decision to bring Gary Peters in on a ‘I’m only here to advise but my opinion is the main one’ role which didn’t work. In the relegation year it got to a point where as captain I called a player meeting to see what the players felt, I then went to speak to the manager Jamie Pitman, and finally called David Keyte to try and advise him from a players point of view. No player should feel the need to ring the chairman about any matter, and no player would have dared ring the gaffer (Graham Turner) and try to advise him, he knew what he was doing every single day and if he got it wrong then he changed it and we followed him.
A week later Richard O’Kelly was brought in, unfortunately a week to late for that season. Relegation came with bigger headaches. Players still on their contract with no clause for it to change, one player once quoted me ‘they asked me if I wanted a 10% rise or fall in wage depending on promotion/relegation or it just stays the same regardless. We finished 3rd bottom last season so why would I take the risk!?’ It shouldn’t of been his choice!!
All this may seem irrelevant to what caused the end of HUFC as we know it but it is all part of how we got here. If anyone at a football club is mainly driven by money then success will be limited, and I use the word ‘mainly’ because money can be used as motivation, but like respect has to be earned, not given on a plate or stolen!!
The passion, professionalism and strength of Hereford United football club was going downhill and resulted in us needing a last day escape last season. Big players with tremendous attitudes like Luke Graham, Dom Collins and Kingsley James, to name a few, stepped up! Peter Beadle and Steve Jenkins were the right decision at the right time, Martin Foyle and Andy Porter had done everything they could for the sinking ship and were discharged (again lessons not learnt and pay ups were due later on) but we got to the end of the season a conference side and it was the start of the big turn around, or so we thought.
The club was sold to Tommy Agombar, a businessman from London who said he was a football fan. He saw a chance to make some money, nothing wrong with that, but his disrespect to every Herefordian, Hereford fan or not, was unbelievable. I think he only had to do one thing. Stand in front of fans and reporters and say ‘I’m a business man and I see development opportunity here along with a football club deep in history and pride, a town of passionate people so along with a strong team on the pitch competing as high as we can I hope to also add to the city with some needed development. I cannot do that and pay the bond the conference want so we are unfortunately going to have to start from the southern premiership. But I will get through the creditors as soon as I can and start to restore some pride in this football club’ that would of got people on his side and then he could of started to pay the creditors!
If he was genuine then that would of happened before a ball had been kicked, instead he put his energy into acquiring the leases. It soon became clear he was only here to make as much money as quickly as he could, football was a distant second in his plan. The dismantling of the previous squad and staff was as swift as the lies about paying creditors. So many out of pocket and constantly told they would be paid. With Mark Ellis installed they wanted a team to sell although with players apparently on non-contracts they could move around for free and probably make money for their agents touting them, no need to ask who their agents were linked to! I put no blame on the players, they didn’t know what they were coming into and were young players groomed into what the owners wanted, some were very good players but while being around all 40 something of them at some point over the last 5 months I not once got any feeling that they cared about Hereford.
I’m not saying they didn’t care at all and some of them were nice guys. Bilal, Javia Roberts and Sheldon Martinez would always ask how we were getting on but never did I really see the passion that I had seen in so many players like Ben Smith, Andy Tretton, Tony James, Ryan Green, Steve Guinan, Jamie Pitman, Matt Baker, Wayne Brown, Craig Mawson, Andy Ferrell, DCB, Tam, Adam Stansfield, Luke Graham, Danny Williams and Andy Williams to literally name a few. Too many players to write down. In fact I can’t bring a player to mind that didn’t have that passion to do well for themselves, for the gaffer and for the fans in my first 5 years, but quite a few since. That was the biggest change I saw, it started from the owners because they didn’t care about Hereford itself, and it filtered down from there.
Tommy remained a voice after he had failed the ownership test, at one point threatening to fine the players because they had refused to train until they had been paid. Fining players money that they haven’t even been paid isn’t quite what you would expect from a footballing man!
We at the UITC had to sit on the fence for most of the last 6 months, one false move and we would be thrown out of our office and the badge taken off our shirts, something we were threatened with a few times and couldn’t afford to happen. Myself, Steve Brotherwood, Jonny Evans and Nick Nennadich tried to install passion and commitment in our lads so that one day they maybe able to wear the first team shirt with pride. They were asked to train with the first team in pre-season and returned to tell us they didn’t want to train with them again because of the experience. The lack of professionalism from the first team was something I was disappointed in and that all starts from the top!
Lazy and messy owners breed lazy and messy coaches which breed lazy and messy players. Jon Taylor was a nice guy and I think he saw a chance to promote his managerial career. We talked when we crossed paths and he was trying to build something. I think he lost his way when his job was touted to other people, something that shouldn’t happen and part of me feels sorry for the no win situation he was brought into.
I only watched one game that season, a 4-0 win at home against Dorchester but I could see the lack of discipline on the pitch, the laziness that had been bred. The changing rooms, gym and VP room were constantly in a poor state around the ground to the point where I asked my youth team boys to help me clean the gym on several occasions just to make it feel like the place I had worked so hard in with Tony Ford and Jon Trewick all those years ago. Every time, it was trashed again by the next day!
I watched one training session with my assistant Steve and physio Jonny and was again let down. Jon Taylor wasn’t there but I watched 25 minutes of keep ball. In those 25 minutes not one word was uttered to any player from the assistant manager. In training I can’t go one minute without giving my players advice or encouragement. That, along with the game I saw, hurt because it made me realise the club I had so much love and passion for really was dying!
Fast forward and Andy Lonsdale became more of a prominent figure but nothing big changed. The winding up petition and court appearances were becoming draining for all, it needed to go one way or another but all that was forthcoming was the word ‘adjournment’. One thing I will say is that Lonsdale along with Simon Pullen did want to improve the football side. After they spoke in a meeting with UITC two weeks before the final court date I fully expected the club to start paying the creditors and to attempt building bridges with HUST and the fans. They had a plan to start moving the club forward with Andy Lonsdale now majority shareholder and Tommy out of the picture (literally no control at all), I saw the tiniest glimmer of light.
Alas that was diminished in court when the judge ordered the winding up of HUFC, as finally the excuses weren’t good enough. The true Hereford passion from a chairman willing to risk everything, like Graham Turner did, down to the player sat in the stand not involved had disappeared. It had disappeared a while ago and only got worse over time. The ROK and Beads had briefly installed some of it in their stints, Alfreton at home in their last season was the first time since the gaffer was in charge that the meadow end had made every hair on body stand up walking out of that tunnel…if you have a passionate owner, passionate staff and passionate players all doing it for THE RIGHT reasons then here at Hereford you have an unbelievable crowd, a unique crowd at this level, that is willing to back you against anything that tries to get in your way, and that takes us to the future.
Because we have that passion in the right people, Hereford will be back. From the businessmen in Hereford to HUST to every single fan around the world Hereford itself will survive. Whenever I play against Chester or Telford I am not playing against a reformed team, I am playing against the same local Telford I did years ago, and the same Chester that pipped the best squad of players I have ever played with to the title by a point in 2003. Hereford will rise again, I hope that I experience it on the pitch or on the sidelines but if it has to be in the stands then I will sit there knowing the meadow end will make my hairs stand up on many more occasions. There will be promotions, there will be giant killings, Ronnie Radford’s goal will be played the next time we face higher league opposition in the FA Cup and there will be a time when we are back where we belong.
Thirteen years ago Hereford was a city I had never heard of, it has become the city I call home. The football club brought me to Hereford and along with the people it has made me want to live out my life here. I have made friends and family and that is what only a great football club and city can do. Other ex players, notably Tony James have found the same and many more would of stayed in the city if their jobs had allowed it. That isn’t the same for every football club, but one day it will be the case for Hereford again!
I look forward to the next time I can cheer on the team closest to my heart!
Rob Purdie, 2015.