Hereford v Morpeth

Hereford FC v Morpeth Town

 

Ronaldo was at Wembley on Sunday. No, not that preening Portuguese. But a ton of beef and a champion in his own right, and to give him his full name, Hawkesbury Ronaldo. The Hereford bull was paraded around the pitch at Wembley before the match between Hereford FC and Morpeth Town in the FA Vase final.

 

If you thought Leicester City’s winning the Premier League was the stuff of football dreams, a similar story was unfolding at the club in the town where I grew up and started watching football seriously.

Only seven years ago Hereford United even played in the same division as Leicester City. Go back even further and they were part of F.A. cup legend, when Ronnie Radford’s 30-yard rocket toppled first division Newcastle United in an Edgar Street replay and West Ham were grateful to escape from Hereford with a 0-0 draw.

But Hereford have had a history of financial difficulties in recent decades as they bounced from Conference into the Football League and then back down again. Matters came to a head when the club were taken over by a group of London businessmen who many thought had designs on the Edgar Street site as real estate rather than a viable football club. In June 2014 United were expelled from the Conference over unpaid debts , and in December 2014 were wound up at the High Court in London when director Andrew Lonsdale failed to produce a required £1million  proof of funding – claiming he was stuck in traffic!

 

But the club has risen from the ashes of financial oblivion with a new name – Hereford FC- and a new identity. After all the turmoil a fresh start beckoned in the summer of 2015. The supporters club set about starting a new club and, with the backing of four local benefactors, they registered to play in the Midlands League, the ninth tier of the English game.

Their first season as phoenix club has been a remarkable tale of redemption and success. A squad had to be put together from scratch, but they won their league with 108 points and with the Herefordshire County Cup and Midland Football League Cup already in the display cabinet, the quadruple was on at Wembley.

 

Hereford were due to bring not only a one-ton bull but 20,000 supporters to the national stadium. From a low of around 100 spectators under the previous, despised owners, home attendances have risen to an average of nearly 3,000 this season. The attendance at the Vase semi-final against Salisbury in March was 4,683 – an increase of 300 on when Leicester were the 3-1 victors in League One back in 2009.

Which must beg the question, where have all those 20,000 fans come from. Many,no doubt, like me (who went en famille) part of the Hereford Diaspora.

The Southern League awaits next term, so they will be competing, not for the FA Vase, but the FA trophy, the final of which was played at the same venue later in the day.

 

 

 

Sunday May 22,2016

F.A.Vase Final

Hereford FC (1) v Morpeth Town (4)

@ Wembley Stadium : k.o. 12.15

 

The match could not have started better for Hereford. Rob Purdie opened the scoring with a fine 25-yard strike after 78 seconds for the Midland League champions. It looked good for the team who went into the final on the back of a 22-match winning run. They could even have been three or four goals to the good, such was their dominance for the first half hour, but found Karl Dryden in the Morpeth goal a formidable barrier.

Enter Morpeth defender Chris Swailes to write another chapter in football’s fairytale season. At the age of 45, and two years after heart surgery, the defender became the oldest man to score at the new Wembley. Hereford’s goalkeeper misjudged a corner, and allowed the former Ipswich Town player to bundle the ball home in the 34th minute for an equaliser. Hereford heads fell, and when Luke Carr put Morpeth in front after only 42 seconds of the second period, from Sean Taylor’s cross, it was clearly game over.

The Midlanders ran out of steam and ideas. Taylor added a third in the 59th minute before substitute Shaun Bell scored a fourth in stoppage time to rub salt into the wound. Northern League Morpeth Town deservedly lifted the FA Vase for the first time in their history.

Perhaps Hereford should have tried to get their Ronaldo on to the pitch.

 

 

 

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Pro 12 – Stop Whinging

I was interested to hear Former Welsh captain Martyn Williams speak out about the Champions Cup qualification rules. Williams’ gripe was that Cardiff had finished seventh in the Pro12, but lost out to Zebre as these has to be one team from each of the Pro12 countries, irrespective of their final league standing.

I savoured the delicious irony. Williams is on the money when he says the top seven should qualify, irrespective of which nation they’re from. But not many Celts were saying this in the days of the Heineken Cup with its convoluted and loaded qualification rules!

The Celtic nations fought tooth and nail for two years to keep their virtually automatic places, and were only dragged into line when the clubs being discriminated against – the French and the English – finally stood up to their bullying.

The fact is that the Italian clubs weaken the European Champions Cup by their very presence. Every other team must pray that they’ll get the Italians in their pool.

Even after two seasons of the new competition, the Pro12 hasn’t yet embraced the idea that leagues should be genuine meritocracies, where the best teams come out on top, and earn the biggest rewards.

Pro12 organisers should be beating a path to the Swiss door of European Professional Club Rugby, saying that they got it wrong when the Champions Cup was set up, and now want their top seven clubs to qualify by right.

 

 

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Relegation has to be sacrosanct

For London Irish the time is nigh. The theme of whether relegation is a positive or not has been raised far less than usual this season, one suspects in part because goings on at the other end of the table have been more interesting than usual.

Yet the irritation at the way the potential promoted club has to undergo a strict and lengthy facility audit at the same time as all the other Premiership clubs are busying themselves with squad-strengthening is still evident.

Of the four clubs taking part in the championship play-offs only Bedford are not interested in redeveloping or upgrading their Goldington Road ground. There are some sound developmental arguments for the audit, but this should be performed at the start of the year, not at the business end of the season, thus at least allowing a fairer playing field for the new elite team, rather than from a sometime indiscriminate moment in June when all the available playing talent has already been snapped up.

 

It is going to be difficult next season for most of the clubs in the Championship, but rather than going on about the drawbacks of a system that allows those outside the elite to dream, should not attention be paid to investing some of the extra money pouring into the top flight  into making the Championship fit for the purpose of a principle that is enshrined in the agreement between Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union. A new improved financial deal between the two parties will shortly be unveiled but more needs to be done to boost the Championship, many of whose clubs are right up against it financially.

 

One look at the faces of the London Irish players at the final whistle against Harlequins on Saturday was reason enough to tell you why promotion and relegation is a good thing; shattered, distraught, spent. Those raw, pained emotions of course are why we all keep coming back. It is not cruel or ghoulish to want to bear witness to such trials and tribulations. It is the essence of sport- that emotion-shredding ride along the spectrum that runs from glory to despair, from joy to sorrow, from triumph to failure. If you dismantle one by ring-fencing the Premiership, then you dilute the other one two.  The sense of desolation felt by the Exiles on Saturday evening is the mirror image of jubilation that will be the preserve of one of the high-flying Premiership elite at Twickenham at the end of this month. Do away with one and you compromise the other.

 

The sanctity of promotion and relegation must be upheld. That is not to say that the concept ought not to be under constant review. It is only right  that the play-off system in the Championship be scrutinised, There are commercial imperatives in play, both in the Championship and the Premiership, but play-offs in the elite league have validity because sides are weakened, and the integrity of the competition distorted, because so many players are absent during the international windows.

There is no such justification in the Championship. First-past-the-post is the only way to do that bit of business.

 

 

 

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk