After a fascinating summer period, and an encouraging set of pre-season friendlies Hereford open their Vanarama National League North campaign with a home match against Spennymoor Town on Saturday, 3 August. Simon Wright provides us with a comprehensive Talking Bull preview.
Fancy a gentle start to the new season? Well, tough because visiting our city on the opening day are opponents who fell a single penalty kick short of promotion. If you need a reminder of how good they were, there is a very watchable 30-minute video of season highlights on their website. Comically, keeper Matt Gould’s conversation, son of Jonathan Gould our former ‘keeper, is subtitled. Perhaps being born in Warwickshire means he can’t make himself understood that far North. We mentioned before that Matt Gould used to be Stourbridge’s goalkeeper. The latest rumour going around the Black Country was that Matt moved North, not to follow his Dad who had secured a job at Middlesbrough, but to get away from his barmy grandfather Bobby Gould, who was a regular tolerated attender at Glassboy home games.
Spennymoor have two of the most expensive forwards in the Division. Glenn Taylor was the Division’s leading scorer last season. Powerful guy, happy to play a lone strikers’ role and happy to stay because of his teaching career. Taylor had keyhole surgery on a cartilage in his right knee, a problem he’d been carrying for several months, though sadly for us, he is fit again They also have Adam Boyes, a big signing from Bradford with Brackets, who was probably supposed to be their top scorer, but ended up largely on the bench.
In addition, they now have James Roberts who described his new club as “oozing ambition…” And two new wingers in Ben McKenna from Bradford with brackets, and Rees Greenwood who is an ex-Mackem, trying to get noticed again.
Gavin Cogdon had returned. He’s roughly Spenny’s answer to a full-fit Johnny Mills. Between 2009 and 2016, Cogdon scored 138 times for the Moors on their way to winning the Vase and several promotions. Gavin moved to moneybags South Shields and scored for them regularly enough but he’s 36 now and Shields didn’t renew his contract. In total, Ainsley has bought in 7 new players, 4 of them pedigree attackers.
New arrivals aren’t just the preserve of County Durham clubs. Of the top 18 goal scorers in our Division in 18/19, at least ten of them have moved upwards. Of the eight or so who remain, Hereford have signed two. I think we have decent firepower of our own, and an improved squad all round. Our nine new signings have collectively played over 1,030 games at Step 2 or above and have 63 previous clubs between them. If the rumoured 10th player is added on, those stats will look significantly better.
Hard when discussing Spennymoor not to highlight manager Jason Ainsley. He is the longest serving manager of any club in our Division (and most others too), when he’s not on school duties. Season 19-20 will be his thirteenth term. During his reign, he’s moved the club from Northern League obscurity to just one spot kick short of the National League. Even so, during Spenny’s bad patch in March when they lost 4 games in 6, there were some supporters who wanted him sacked. The green ink brigade doesn’t need much excuse.
Last season was the first time we’d ever played the Pride of County Durham, as they describe themselves. Football is often about timing and both results were away victories as the home side were enduring a bad patch. The Northerners rolled up during our dreadful period of seemingly conceding three goals to everyone. Spenny were big, strong and determined, winning comfortably and predictably 3-0. Manager Ainsley summed up the victory as “perfect game management performance.” For the return game, Spenny lost a crucial League game to Stockport a fortnight earlier and had completely lost their confidence. The much-missed Lance Smith and TOE scored for the Pride of Herefordshire for possibly our most enjoyable results of the season. I do recall how our Board members celebrated lustily afterwards. I was hugged by a carousing Dodsy and I think Ken shook my hand. That sort of afternoon.
The County Durham club do talk a good game. They are well funded, have an excellent team, truly likeable supporters and yet… and yet … visit Brewery Field and I think “Seriously?” This is a small club in a small town, pushed well beyond their natural place by the wealth of one man, their guarantor Brad Groves.
The club are investing big time. Spenny laid on free coaches for their League gate at Stockport and both away Play-off games. They filled 15 coaches for the Final at Chorley. Over the summer, season ticket prices were dropped by one third. Their Academy can call on a remarkable 17 UEFA A or B qualified coaches. That’s basically one coach per 250 people in the town. Set up a rotation scheme and the whole population can be trained every week. A new stand is underway, a new clubhouse, a new pitch etc, etc. The Moors are progressing on a structure made of straw, not bricks. No way is that club breaking even.
I believe they will reach the National League, but then what against far bigger clubs with a sugar daddy of their own. Will their new-found supporters stick with them when the going gets tough? Probably not.
Anyway, here and now we are hosting a club who are in for a near 500-mile round trip. They stayed overnight last season so will certainly do the same on the opening weekend. I remember talking to one of their squad after the home game – trying to talk while straining my neck to see him at the same time. He gloomily talked about a 5-hour coach journey, arriving at Spennymoor around 11pm Saturday and then having to drive home. Long old day. Despite their affluence, the club remains part-time.
The start of the new season also means a new Talking Bull. There are very few print fanzines left in the Midlands so it’s pleasing that the good folk of Edgar Street can still get their alternative reading. We’ve replaced Ground Guides with a flurry of new talent with ideas of their own. We are mindful that HUST has a lot of money to raise before March 2020, and so we are committing whatever profit to go to HUST. Support your fanzine, support your club.
By Simon Wright