The Dark Days – Then and Now

Some rare scenes of hooliganism and anti-social behaviour outside Edgar Street were widely reported on Saturday, before and after the match against Stockport County. However, just to put this into context we have delved into the Talking Bull archives and re-produce here a fanzine article entitled: “The Dark Days – Then and Now”. 

NOW

Edgar Street buzzes excitedly on a Saturday, basking in Hereford FC’s success. People of all ages, genders and ethnicity feel so comfortable that the question of safety never arises. Even Welsh folk, content bows and arrows are restricted to the cathedral surrounds, are laidback. Visitors, still comparatively scarce, are affable and treated with respect and dignity. Everyone pulling together for the common good. Ours is an inclusive club.

There is aggression in the city, lots of it. Controlled, organised aggression in Hereford nowadays is a discreet, behind closed doors efficient industry. Or “Guns fir Hire” as one national newspaper headline suggested. The UK’s biggest cluster of private security firms take care of “business” in many world hotspots. Their low-key professionals seek no headlines or have no followers to impress.

THEN

The early to mid-1970’s was another fine period to be visiting the Street. The experience of watching Hereford United regularly winning, elevating themselves to the nose-bleeding Football League heights of the second tier was exhilarating.

Attendances rose to spectacular levels but nearly all attendees were male. Families were rarely seen because matches were regularly tarnished by anti-social behaviour.  Literally at times, there was a pain in the butt or elsewhere for the unwary. We were a small club in the Big Boys League and various club gangs thought they could run amuck in a sleepy country city. In truth, often they could.

The local Police found 500 or 600 visitors arriving on a single train hard work. Furthermore, supporters of big outfits often reacted badly to losing to little old Hereford. Wearily, the city often counted the cost on a Monday morning.

Vigilance was regularly needed around the stadium. Outside what is now the Family Stand, my mate was viciously kicked in the face, merely because he bent to tie a shoelace, by a lone Millwall supporter. The Londoner shouted something profane and strolled off in his Doc Marten boots. Andrew was left shocked with blood dripping from his chin.  I tried to persuade him to get help from the Red Cross but for some reason decided he wanted to go to the bus station instead. I should have accompanied him, but I was young and selfish.

After their League defeat in 1976, hordes of Cardiff City supporters in full skinhead gear left the Blackfriars early. Their side was being well-beaten. They lined up around the Meadow End exit to push, jostle and generally provoke a reaction from the departing home supporters. One stole my scarf. I just walked away quickly as the garment wasn’t worth the bruises. Let them have their petty “victory.”

These felt the worst incidents as they impacted on me personally. I observed many other depressing incidents of violence. Unfortunates led away with blood streaming who would probably never visit the ground again.

Getting inside Edgar Street quickly make sense but even when surrounded by your own in the Meadow End, there were unpleasantries. During this pay on the door era, “taking the opposition end” was considered the height of hooligan success. All too often, there was a roar at the back of the terrace behind me as a group of visitors made themselves known. Cue widespread panic and home supporters scattering in all directions. Most encounters have faded now from my memory, but I did recall one large invasion by so-called Swindon supporters. They discreetly entered our home terrace in small groups. Each group made themselves known separately during the first half, causing regular disruption. I particularly recall spotting the supporter next to me wearing a Swindon badge and discreetly nudging my chums. The presence of Match of the Day cameras acted as an unwelcome incentive.

Other visitors battled with Police and stewards at the Blackfriars. Cardiff, it was always Cardiff. Hull City followers were particularly unruly during one visit when lots of palletts were mysteriously involved. Inevitably, Chelsea and Wolves too though they only visited once.

These were not the “good old days” more so the depressing reality counting the broken windows and damaged cars. Wondering how many Herefordians would be lost to the club after witnessing such incidents.

The world of the Hereford professional fighter met the nihilistic world of the hooligan head on just once. With the infamous Wolverhampton Wanderers rolling up for a League game in 1976, somebody at HUFC pressed the nuclear option button and invited SAS troops to act as stewards.

With hindsight, this was a naive call. Stewarding and silent assassinations by garrotting have few shared skills. Their briefing was simply to “stand no messing” which left much room for manoeuvre. But after a day when drunk Staffordshire louts had rampaged through the Butter Market mid-morning and chased young girls on Castle Green, poetic justice felt right on a very bad day on and off the field. Hereford lost 6-1 with pitch invasions following several opposition goals. Some pitch invaders were removed upside down while another individual who unwisely abused the stewards was removed from the crowd over a crush barrier by his hair. A single soldier steward intervened when 6 visitors were about to set up a lone Hereford supporter. The Dingles backed away hastily. Well, there were only 6 of them. The SAS were never officially called up again after the Staffordshire club complained.

Let those who are without sin cast the first stone. There is a small element of people who follow Hereford teams over the decades who have often shall we say, not acted with maturity. Thanks to alert stewarding and CCTV, incidents at Edgar Street are extremely rare. Sporadic incidents on the road concern everybody. It’s a worrying undercurrent that Hereford can do without.

All that said, 2019 Hereford FC is a happier, healthier place than Hereford United 1976.

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