Hereford United – a club that became synonymous with ‘the magic of the FA Cup’, when in 1972, following a draw at St James’ Park, non-league Hereford pulled off the unthinkable at Edgar Street and beat the mighty Newcastle United after extra time, with Ricky George finding the net for the winner. Not that anyone remembers George’s goal. It was the late equaliser from Ronnie Radford and John Motson’s debut on commentary that lives on in the memory and it has been shown every year since, as minnows hope to dethrone the giants. A pitch invasion from thousands of young parka-wearing Herefordians following Radford’s rocket is an image that will live on in FA Cup folklore and perhaps it is this moment which led to the FA Cup and Hereford having a very special relationship.
Fast forward forty-five years and here we are. Following the winding-up of the club in December 2014, the phoenix club, Hereford FC, were formed and following two promotions and an FA Vase final, Hereford are back in the proper rounds of the cup that made us famous. Whilst Fleetwood are hardly Newcastle, Hereford are just one win away from the third round of the FA Cup and a potential tie against a Premier League side. What we have already accomplished this season in the cup has been excellent. Sure, with the utmost respect to Godalming, Kempston Rovers, Hornchurch, Eastleigh and Telford, none of these are renowned footballing powerhouses, but the journey has been remarkable for a side which still is merely a Southern Premier League team made up of part time players.
The journey began at home in August, against Godalming in an 8-0 canter, as this year we entered the competition at the first qualifying round. We then secured victory on a wet afternoon in Bedfordshire as we put Kempston Rovers to the sword in a 4-0 win. We had now reached the round where we succumbed to Tonbridge Angels last season, in our first opportunity to compete in the FA Cup since reforming. This time, we were drawn more favourably against Hornchurch at home. A two-nil victory for Hereford and we were just one round away from the first round proper. Premier League clubs and even a lot of Herefordians would argue that reaching the first round proper isn’t a big deal, but for a club like ours, who built our reputation on punching above our weight in the cup and even in defeat, we always gave the big boys a stern test. Hope was high of a lowly ranked team and the opportunity for a first round berth and a decent payday. Then, we drew Eastleigh of the Conference, or National League as it is now called. When the draw was made, this was possibly one of the worst draws we could have got. A long trip down to Hampshire, in a game we were expected to lose, with Hereford being 4/1 to win with the bookmakers and our FA Cup hopes would be over.
What came next was absolutely incredible. Over eight-hundred Hereford fans made the trip, including me and some friends, who travelled on buses, trains, taxi and foot for about five hours each way and for most of the game, it looked like we were the higher ranked side. To a man, the performance was magnificent as we ground out a 2-1 win after surviving fourteen minutes of added time due to an injury to our excellent winger Garyn Preen. The atmosphere inside our away end at the Silverlake Stadium was phenomenal all game and the players repaid the superb support and the players, fans and management really felt, well, United. After the euphoria of the Eastleigh game, which will always live in the mind of any Hereford supporter who was there that day or following the game back in Hereford and around the globe.
So, Monday night and the cup draw, live on the BBC. AFC Telford United at home. A Conference North side at home didn’t really get many people enthused at first, but come match day, Edgar Street was full. An amazing atmosphere at home is a rarity at Edgar Street these days, the lack of any away fans being a large contributor to this but Telford packed out their away end and whilst they were very quiet, it made a good change and everyone was really up for it. The pubs before the game were rammed and even at 2:40pm, the Meadow End was bouncing. Said bouncing never stopped as in the second half, our goalscoring maestro John Mills knocked in a rebound following a long range effort from Pablo Haysham. Cue absolute bedlam. Once again, we’d come up against a side from a higher division and Telford, who were in good form, had been seen off. Hereford were in the second round and at full time, not one person left the stadium as we stayed to applaud the efforts of the Whites. It felt very proper and it was a special day and as at Eastleigh, the pride in our team was evident.
So, another Monday evening and another cup draw. We were one of the last three balls to be drawn and we ended up with Fleetwood Town away. A side four divisions above us and going well, having had a very successful season last year and reaching the second round after seeing off Chorley. A game that wasn’t chosen for television coverage and a game that even the most optimistic Hereford fan would say it is likely we will lose, along with the fact of it being December and a long, long way from Hereford had me convinced that we wouldn’t be taking large hordes of fans up there.
Well, I was wrong, and now on December 2nd we face the long trek up north to see if the new dog can pull off old tricks and pull off another famous cup shock. Whatever the result, I and the hundreds who were queuing in the cold for tickets after last Saturday’s victory at home to Hitchin are immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. Hereford are back! Who says the FA Cup has lost all of its romance….