Rough guide to
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Rough guide to... Hereford United
18 July 2006
Hereford United? Who might they be?
They're the Bulls, of course. Famous for cup runs and trying to get a cow into White Hart Lane; that was in '95–96 (the same season current manager Graham Turner took over), when they were a League side, so it was ever-so-slightly less impressive than their adventures in the FA Cup as non-Leaguers.
Formed in 1924, the Bulls were elected to the league at the end of the '71–72 season – a famous year for Hereford – and stayed in it for 25 years. They managed two promotions with a single season in the second tier (1976–77) followed by successive relegations back to the basement: the first of the footballing similarities between the Mariners and the Bulls.
They had to apply for re-election three times but survived until 1997, when they fell victim to Brighton's great escape. The two sides met on the last day of that season; they were level on points but Hereford had a better goal difference. The final result was 1-1 but Hereford were denied as at that time league superiority was decided by goals scored. The Bulls had not scored enough; that's gonna hurt.
Anyway, enough of the turgid life of the fourth division. We all know Hereford for one reason: they're the giant-killing, stocking-filling, Christmas-cracking fellas who turn up in December and January to put the sex scenes into the "great drama from the BBC". Here are some stats: their first League scalp came in 1950–51, when – you'll like this – they spanked Scunthorpe. In '53–54 Exeter got down for a paddling (the next game saw them travel to Wigan and play in front of a 24,526 crowd: still a record for two non-League clubs) and in '56–57 the whip came out for Aldershot. All of these were first round victories. The following season QPR were forced into the gimp mask and spanked, paddled, whipped and probably golden-showered 6-1. That's the way to mark your first victory in the second round. It's a record equalled but still standing as the most emphatic victory of non-League over League. They also entered the Welsh Cup that year and pulled Cardiff's pants down at Ninian Park, beating the Welsh side 2-0.
In the 1965–66 season Millwall became another notch on the Edgar Street bedpost, and in '71–72 Hereford famously invited Newcastle United back to their place and locked them in until satisfaction was achieved. A 2-2 draw at St James' Park was followed by a replay in the south-west, where the visitors were a goal to the good with only minutes to play when Ronnie Radford rogered the Magpies and hit that goal to force extra time. Ronnie was the climax and Ricky George was the cigarette in a 2-1 win.
This game also marked the debut of a certain Mr John Motson; bless him, he's an institution. So are prisons, psychiatric hospitals and the Radio One Breakfast Show.
There have been others since, notably Brighton in 1997–98 (ah, sweet revenge). In '99–00 they went through York City and Hartlepool to earn the right to take Premiership Leicester City to a lap dance, a replay and extra time. But it's Radford that we all remember. Oh, and '50–51 now.
...was the third consecutive time the Bulls finished second in the Conference. They had the best defence in the league but scored few goals. They may have finished second but Turner admitted: "I can recall saying, on a number of occasions, that our play was not as good as we had expected and what we were looking for – but that the bottom line was that we had scraped a 1-0 win or dragged ourselves back and got a draw. And those were the results that got us into the play-offs."
Sounds ominously familiar, but he turned it round for the play-off final, where they beat Halifax 3-2 after extra time. He didn't bottle it; he didn't stick a defender up front for 20 minutes and leave creative players on the bench and he didn't lose his only clue. Was it simply that he still cared? Let's not go back down that road. [It's a bit late now, y' bastard! – ed.] In the play-off final their keeper was knocked out cold but played on; they suffered six minutes of injury time and they won by one goal. They didn't have a dashingly handsome young man on Channel 5, though, did they? No.
Anticipate with relish
They've got a beer! Launched at the Beer on the Wye Real Ale Festival (beards available on the door), Bulls Up! is "a dark premium bitter, with a strength of 4.5% and the distinctive taste of Wye Valley's long line of speciality traditional beers." Can a beer be traditional if it's a speciality? Who knows, but the picture on the pump will be of the play-off winning team in mid-celebration – in bullish mood, one might say. Town had a speciality beer in '98 from Willy's. It had our own twin towers on the pump: a double image of the Dock Tower. I can't remember what it tasted like but I'm sure it was Wembley-tastic and not an attempt to cash in or use up spare stock.
They have a Cod Almighty-esque T-shirt. It's a bit pricey at 11 quid but it's blue with a yellow pentagon and claims Wayne Brown to be Superman. So we can expect the Osmond to be flying come October 8th. No exterior underpants though eh?
Hopefully Bulls fan Will Cheshire will come to Blundell Park to inject some sense into the St George-waving Grimbarians. Straight after Cardiff a friend told me he'd swap a double promotion for an England World Cup win. I scoffed, assuming him to be in a minority, but apparently not. So thank you Will for this gem – I couldn't have put it better myself: "United gaining promotion is much bigger than the possibility of England winning the World Cup. It's much closer to home and something of a community thing. But don't get me wrong – England winning would be good as well!" He said that while in Germany for the tournament.
Anticipate with dread
Sunday 8 October, 4pm. Sky will broadcast our clash with the Bulls. We're always rubbish on the telly. Remember Gally? OK, maybe not always, but most of the time. Hereford, however, seem to enjoy the spotlight. Sky showed them right-royally-shagging Dagenham and Redbridge 9-0 the other year. We're doomed.
The way forward
...is, as always, out of their current home. Character versus practicality. We've all fallen for the charms of a run-down ground. I was very taken with Oxford's Manor Ground, for instance, and the dubious plastic aesthetics of the new breed of KFC-esque stadia are at best on the bland side of generic. However, ask a Tahger if they'd still want their side kicking a ball against the back of Grandways and I'm sure plastic suddenly becomes fantastic. And Edgar Street is so ropey it's frayed.
We may be looking at plastic fantastic in Hereford, anyway, as the football club has been incorporated into plans to regenerate a whole area of the city centre (the Edgar Street area; well, duh!). They have two plans for perusal and approval: both include a new ground just across the road from the old one, keeping the football club firmly within the community. The old ground would become a 'leisure quarter' of the new facelifted city centre. Freaky Footy tells me that the new ground will be one the "new gateways and entrances to the city".
Last summer the club came out of its CVA (company voluntary arrangement), so for the first time in ten years Hereford were allowed to buy a player and this summer they are back in the Football League. They say they are here to stay, and it would seem they do gotta wear shades, so do have a cow, man.