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Hereford 2-2 Brackley Town (National League North)

It’s all getting heated on Twitter… I’ve found myself agreeing to some comments made yesterday by Roy Keane that Andy Robertson is ‘a baby’ after an alleged elbow to the face from an official during Liverpool’s entertaining 2-2 draw with Arsenal. There’s a million Scots & Scousers defending him over my tweet… I concur it’s a bit ‘pot-kettle’ from Roy but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong… Robertson is a cracking player but like Keane, a wind-up merchant and when someone bites back, he’s quickest to run to the teacher to plead his innocence, which really annoys me, the little baby.

Today it’s raining, well it would be wouldn’t it, as it’s a Bank Holiday Monday and usually the case, I’ve pre-booked in to do a game having spent the majority of the Easter weekend walking the dog, from Rushcliffe Park to the fields of West Leake, I’ve had views of Ratcliffe Power Station in my sleep.

We’ve only made it as far as the end of the road today, but Bruce wants to head back, it’s 10am and I’m already whipping off my soaked Napapijri trackie to put on my tweed flat cap and Barber jacket, I’m off to a place I’ve always wanted to go to following the timeless viewings of a certain Ronnie Radford goal. Rural England’s deepest renowned proper old non-league football venue, Edgar Street, home of Hereford FC… A place where I need to look the part and fit in with the locals.

The home of cider, beef and agriculture, Hereford is the middle of nowhere, hence why I’ve never previously been, but today I’m setting off at 11am for a National League North game between a struggling team who’s not won in six, play against a playoff parked outfit in Brackley Town, who themselves have not won in eight, recently sacking their Manager, former Birmingham City defender Roger Johnson, as club captain Gareth Dean takes over as what I presume is temporary charge until the end of the season.

It's dark and grey as I leave Nottingham programming the sat nav for a two-and-a-half-hour journey, but as I hit the M1 and M42 it’s brightening up before another spurt of showers, not a lot on the road bar traffic cones and 50mph signs as roadworks litter the outer Birmingham bypass.

I’m onto the M5 before coming off at junction 7 by now in sunlight, hitting the A4440 as I spot the stunning Worcester Cathedral in the distance to my right, to the left the equally beautiful Malvern Hills which I’m driving towards at speed, I’m down the A449 a stunning road that sways and swings up and down tarmac glistening below blue skies that make the green grass of the everlasting rolling fields look so bright.

Into the final valley which leads you in town it’s getting on for 1:30pm as the skies darken again, those spots appearing on my windscreen as I pass a few nice-looking houses on the Aylestone Hill before turning right by the train station which looks more like a grand Victorian School Building, set way back as I finally pull off the otherwise bland Hereford City Link Road into Merton Meadow Car Park paying £4.70 for 4 hours on my Just Park app.

The Venue

You can see the floodlights across the way, dated, proper oldskool like the set you used to get in 1970’s Subbuteo, big metal pylons above the grey roofed venue under the grey skies above the grey stoned surface.

A couple of Brackley players are at the pay and display putting their pounds in the meter, no special preference for them it seems, I’m walking towards the back of the Merton Stand past Radford’s Bar as I ask a steward on the players and officials entrance “where can I get my pass”… He points me to the main reception where a guy on the Hospitality Desk provides me a ticket saying “I’ve ran out of lanyards”… He’s just had his cataract operation on Wednesday, I ask if it went well, he replied “well I can see”.

He points me back to the players entrance where I walk in and am guided by a friendly fella to my seat, he takes me through a small reception up into the stand, “down the steps, up the steps and up where the radio guys are” he tells me.

I stop off to take a quick snap, elevated on the front row above the dugouts, it’s a bit overwhelming for me, a football geek who remembers Hereford United of the early 90’s when they were in the football league, this place hasn’t changed since my childhood, exactly the same since receiving the magnificent first edition Aerofilms Guide to Football Grounds in 1993 for my fifteenth birthday.

The Len Weston Seating & Terrace is a double decker with seats in the upper tier and standing below, the stand opposite has a clock face in the middle, halfway, slightly sloping to the right corner as the green spanking looking pitch drains to the right.

In that right hand corner and behind the goal, a curved stand called the Meadow End, white terrace barriers under a black roof propped up by white posts, to my left another curved area, sadly not in use, the Blackfriars Stand has flags littering the terrace, there’s goals and football equipment shoved in there with a single tractor parked up.

I’m walking up to find my seat as a Radio guy points me to the Press Box, it’s a glass fronted box at the top of the stand, I open a flimsy wooden door and get an immediate smell of fust, it’s cold, paper thin windows with a long MDF desk with BT phone ports dotted every metre. There’s a retro patterned carpet, worn down and filthy, a heater on the floor with wires hanging from the ceiling, it’s a fantastic view onto the pitch beneath, the wind slams the door shut as I look up at a sign that says ‘Please turn the heater off on exit’.

I set myself up and write down the line ups in my little black book before heading out for a cup of tea. I’m back down the steps asking a steward for the toilets who points me to the left corner of the stand. I’m walking past a wooden door which says Hospitality, it smells of food, lovely, as I walk along the front of the stand and down some more steps behind the dis-used Blackfriars stand to a hidden corner where I spot a girl flipping burgers.

“You’re a bit hidden away here” I say… “I bloody hate it” she says… “I can’t see anything here”… I ask her for a tea and not usually a burger fan, I can’t resist as I’m in the home of beef.

Perched up against a ‘please do not enter’ sign by the stand on my left, I’m eating a cracking cheeseburger and sipping on a decent brew at a price of £6 cash looking at the corner flag with a panoramic view of Edgar Steet as the players come out to warm up.

Fuelled and filled I’m back up to the Press Box and in the comfort of my spot, by now I’m joined by a Data Scout from Statpack who I’ve met on my travels before, he’s from Leicester but regularly attends Brackley games, we’re joined by the Hereford media guy, he states “we’ve not played bad this season, most games have been tight where a silly mistake has cost us”.

The Game

The stand slowly begins to fill but behind the glass it’s quiet and serene as the two teams come out, Hereford in that famous black and white with Banbury in hi vis top to toe.

The away side are immediately on the front foot, spurred on by their player manager Dean who’s decided not to pick himself today, he’s given the captaincy to left back Glenn Walker who at 35 is pushing up the wing with real good quality, he’s delivered a ball into the box which is missed by everyone bar Callum Stead who drills home at the back post left footed.

You wouldn’t know it but Brackley are playing into the wind, it’s blowing a gale as I ask “Is it usually this bad” to the reply “not normally”… Hereford however get some luck as a ball rolling out of play down slope, is kept in by Miles Storey who cheekily nicks it off the shepherding defender to provide Ryan Lloyd an empty net to place into.

Within a couple of minutes Lloyd thinks he’s made it two as Amadi-Holloway crosses into him to nod home but the official’s flag is immediately raised. Cheering supporters soon sit down.

The Score

Brackley’s keeper Danny Lewis is struggling to kick it out of his half, the wind a real nemesis for the away side as Hereford attack again with Storey finding Evans on the overlap who crosses low to Lloyd who finds the net again, this time his goal stands as the Bulls take a half time lead.

It could have been more, Hereford hitting a post before the break as the clubs photographer joins us at half time, he can’t believe his eyes “two goals in one half” he screams as he provides the media man with images of Lloyd celebrating to put his side ahead.

I’m intrigued to see how Hereford play the conditions in the second half as it's their turn against the wind and it’s soon apparent not that well, they immediately encourage Brackley to attack and after a barrage of corners it’s 2-2 within ten minutes of the restart, Adam Rooney nodding down to substitute Sam Smart who poaches from close range, a lovely set up by Irish journeyman Rooney who’s otherwise quiet on the afternoon.

That at least encourages Hereford to play with more attacking threat again, they believe they have the chance to win it late on when Pearson raises his arm inside the box to leave the Referee one option, he calls penalty and books two Brackley players for protesting but after a word with the linesman, retracts his decision, Hereford fans aggrieved with the officials as the remaining ten minutes threaten to boil over, but the two teams end gridlocked after an entertaining match – both continue their winless stretch, but a point keeps Brackley in the playoff race and eases relegation woes for Hereford slightly, with three matches of their season to play.

The Stars

There wasn’t a huge amount of quality on show but one player who impressed was Brackley midfielder Shepherd Murombedzi who kept things ticking neatly, hardly giving a pass away, often needing no more than a touch it was very rare he played the ball forward, but on a day where too many players lacked providing the simple option, he did it better than anyone, off the ball very astute, strong physically he broke up play and gave it simple, my man of the match by head and shoulders, which incidentally would be a perfect sponsor for his long dreadlocked hair.

Other Brackley players catching the eye was left back Glenn Walker who linked up well with his winger, number ten Wes York, who didn’t have the best of games, often falling over his feet taking a touch or three too much, but you feel he’s a player on his day, a go to who can make things happen in the final third, likewise Callum Stead in attack, who took his goal really well.

For Hereford, whilst two goal hero Lloyd was stand out, I liked the initial openings from their young midfielder Kane Thompson-Sommers who unfortunately drifted slightly out of the game, Harry Pinchard was a player who picked up the ball in little pockets, pivotal in the Bulls attacking play, whilst Aaron Amadi-Holloway looked a decent focal point in attack, Miles Storey to his right an intelligent footballer, the Hereford media guy telling me “he’s a good player who can’t score”.

The Verdict

Hereford is one of those places where if you’re a non-league/lower league football fan, you need to go visit, in fact, if you are a lower league fan and haven’t yet visited Edgar Street, then I question you are what you say you are... Real non leaguers will have been here at least once.

Thankfully, I’m finally in the cult, making the cut, it feels that this place, a Mecca of soughts, not even a proper football town on the grand scheme, but one that stinks of nostalgia, one that when you see the stadium for the first time, you can only say “fuck me, I’ve made it”.

Some people want to climb Everest, some want to bungee jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, others prefer the Maldives or New Zealand for bucket list travels… Whilst I just wanted to go to Hereford.

Ticked off it felt every bit as good as it should have done, from the beef burger that’s still repeating on me as I write this, to the fust I can still smell from the press box lingering on the back of my note pad, the old ground is a must for any football fan to visit, the place should be listed to the same levels of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the only way perhaps, we can step in to stop it one day falling apart.

The Teams

Hereford: Dale Eve, Jared Hodgkiss, Jack Evans, Luke Haines (Jethro Hanson 69), Zak Lilly, Kane Thompson-Sommers, Ryan Lloyd, Harry Pinchard (Dan Jarvis 78), Miles Storey, Aaron Amadi-Holloway, Orrin Pendley.

Brackley Town: Danny Lewis, George Carline, Glenn Walker (Ricardo Calder 80), Shepherd Murombedzi, Jordan Cullinane-Liburd, Matthew Preston, Cosmas Matwasa (Sam Smart 40), Alfie Bates, Adam Rooney (Adi Yussuff 86), Wes York, Callum Stead.

3:00pm Kick Off. Monday 10th April 2023, Edgar Street, Hereford (att 1,374)

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