Hereford United v Kidderminster Harriers
Edgar Street / Conference Premier / 26th December 2012
Boxing Day and football are as much a festive combination as sprouts and turkey are on your Christmas dinner. The fixture computer had dictated that Swansea were to travel to Berkshire for their Premier League fixture against Reading on this year’s Boxing Day; I’d never been to the Madjeski Stadium, so all seemed good to me. Reading it was. Unfortunately, on further investigation I learnt that trains were not running on Boxing Day and so the plan was quashed. I mourned the loss of my festive football fixture and began to make other plans (watch the Swans game on the internet, see a local band in Bedlinog rugby club, crawl around the local drinking establishments). Then in the middle of the Christmas Day edition of Downton Abbey, my Dad asked who was playing on Boxing Day. He then uttered the phrase “If there’s a game nearby, I’ll drive us there if you pay for the tickets.” Nice one Dad. In minutes I was perusing the Football League, Conference, Non-League and Welsh Premier fixture list. One game instantly jumped out at me. Hereford v Kidderminster. A bit of a local derby as well. Dad seemed enthused by the fixture and it was decided that we would creep just over the Welsh border to the city of Hereford for our Boxing Day football.
Also making their Lost Boyos debuts on a “Lost in…” trip were the #lostboyos t shirts. My brother had sent his usual Christmas package over from South Korea and this year I was treated to an Asian football bonanza as my fellow Lost Boyo had bought me a Cerezo Osaka scarf and an Army United shirt (Thai football team, who he’d seen play on his football adventure to Bangkok) from his travels around Asia. Accompanying my new shirt and scarf was my very own #lostboyos tshirt complete with my Twitter name (@mophead_88 for those that might have missed it) on the back. My Dad also received his very own piece of Lost Boyos merchandise with his own #lostboyos shirt with “Dad 1” on the back. Both t-shirts were adorned for our trip to Hereford.
On Boxing Day morning we still had some Christmas errands to complete with a trip up to my brother’s to deliver presents for him, my sister in law and my nephew and niece. There was talk of a heavy Boxing Day downpour and with Hereford housed in an ageing ground, there was a threat of match postponement if the heavens decided to batter the west of England hard enough. We made it to to my brother’s home in Aberdare under grey skies, dropped our gifts off and then hit the road to Hereford. Grey skies and drizzle accompanied us as we made our way along the Head of the Valleys road, so I made sure that I was following @HerefordUnited1 on Twitter for pitch updates. Fortunately, the omnious clouds cleared off and the tweets coming from Hereford made it clear that there was little chance of the match being abandoned. Game on! One hour after leaving Aberdare, we were rolling into Hereford town centre in search of a parking space. We parked up in the centre and decided to go for a wander around the town centre and maybe even take in a bit of culture at Hereford’s famous cathedral. However, any bid to become culture vultures was cancelled as another heavy downpour hit the city; the only reasonable thing to do was to take shelter in the nearest pub and this was how we came to find ourselves sitting in The Imperial. The Imperial was your standard city centre, Wetherspoons-style pub (a ‘Smiths and Jones Pub’ apparently) and although pleasant enough, there was nothing really special to write about it apart from the fact that the food looked and smelled nice. We finished our pint and headed back to the car, via the Cornish Pasty Shop, so we could park a bit closer to Hereford’s ground.
We were soon driving down the same road I had been down on numerous occasions that goes straight past Hereford’s Edgar Street home, but we were ignoring the ground for now and instead went in search of some free parking and a nearby pub. We soon found our desired free parking down a side street just opposite the ground and less than a five minute walk down from Edgar Street we found the Heart of Oak pub. The pub was a large pub you typically find lurking near retail parks and there was a good mix of Hereford and Kidderminster fans (although the fans of the Harriers seemed to slightly outnumber the home fans in the pub). We watched the Nott’m Forest v Leeds game on one of the TVs scattered around the pub and I noted that there was a sginificant amount of players on display on the TV that I really disliked: I sneered at the sight of a game ensemble consisting of McCormack, Brown, Cox, Kenny, Hutton, Diouf, Halford – of course I lauded the Swansea demi-god that is Alan Tate though. After the game had finished (Forest won 4-2 if you care) and I had finished spitting my distaste at my Football’s Most Hated list, we headed off to Edgar Street.
The ground is easily spotted in the city of Hereford, chielfy because of the huge, imperious floodlights that tower over the ground. It’s safe to say that the exterior of Edgar Street is horrible with it resembling a crumbling, grey prison more than a football ground, with the floodlights looking like threatening watchtowers. However, I’d been down the main road past Edgar Street on numerous occasions and I had always been intrigued by the uglylooking ground – today was the day to see if Edgar Street was more charming within it’s wall; after all, it’s what is on the inside that counts.
Edgar Street has been the home of Hereford United since 1924 and it’s adjacent to the city’s famous cattle market is what gives the club their nickname: The Bulls. Unsurprisingly, the name of the ground derives from the street it sits on, which is perhaps now better known as the A49, although, admittedly, this A-road would make for a less catchy name for a football stadium.The ground’s full name is actually the Edgar Street Athletic Ground because of the running track that once used to encircle the ground. This perhaps explains one of the ground’s coolest idiosyncracies: the curved stand behind the one goal. You can clearly make out the curve of the stand and the area where the running track must have been. There is also another flat, curved area in front of the away end behind the opposite goal. My favourite feature of Edgar Street is the fact that all four stands are completely individual and all have their own distinctive characteristics. The aforementioned ‘curved stand’ behind the goal, Meadow End, is a standing terrace where the club’s more vocal support perch in their numbers; the opposite stand behind the further goal, which houses the away fans, is also a covered standing area. The only all seater stand in the ground is The Merton End, which includes 1,400 seats, the changing rooms and the usual array of directors, board, press and hospitality boxes. The fourth stand is the Len Weston Stand, the horrible grey looking stand that runs next to the A49. The stand has the unusual setup of being a two tiered sturcture with the bottom tier being another standing terrace and the upper tier being an overlapping seated stand. The bottom tier of the Len Weston Stand (or the Cargill Stand as the sponsor-brandished exterior claimed) was to be where my Dad and I would enjoy today’s Blue Square Premier fixture – the Conference in old money.
We headed to the turnstiles of the stand and were informed that we’d have to pay £16 to enter – a bit steep I thought, but I guess no steeper price than most Conference clubs these days. The turnstiles themselves were some of the oldest and narrowest I’ve seen, although the old lady overseeing our turnstiles was very nice and smiley and hoped that we’d enjoy today’s game. Walking into Edgar Street is like walking into a bygone era of football – I can’t imagine that the ground has changed very much since the days of Ronnie Radford’s 30 yard wonder goal against Newcastle in 1972, perhaps the most famous FA Cup goal ever (regularly and wrongly heralded as the winning goal in that famous 1972 tie, but in fact it was the equaliser that took the game to extra-time and led to Hereford’s Ricky George scoring the winning goal to complete one of the most famous giantkillings in the cup’s long history). The ground’s aged appearance gives the ground an immense feeling of history which is always a great thing when visitng a ground. Back to the present: time for that pie.
I seem to live by the stereotype that the best pies can only be found ‘up north’ so I had very little expectations for Hereford’s pie offering. The menu was far from extensive either with a choice of Chicken or Steak Pie, both priced £2.50. What was to follow was to be one of the highlights of the day: the Steak pie (that both my Dad and I had plumped for) was truly superb. For our £2.50 we got a sizable helping, beautiful fluffy pastry and delicious gravy – my only slight criticism was that there could have been more steak filling, but this is me being very, very picky. One of the best pies I have had at football in a long while. Well done to Hereford. Whilst we are talking of refreshments, I did notice that in the Meadow End the food booth is built into the back of the stand, meaning you can buy your food and watch the game at the same time – good times. However, not so good was the fact that I couldn’t get a beer during the game (although I did notice Radfords bar in the opposite stand, which I’m sure I could have worked my way around to if I tried hard enough).
It was soon time for kick off, but not before my Dad beckoned/whistled at Edgar the Bull to come over and pose for a photo. Top bovine! Hereford, in their white kit, and Kidderminster, in their yellow away kit, were soon lining up out on a very decent looking pitch considering the weather, so fairplay to the ground staff at Hereford. Although my praise of the pitch ends there as minutes into the game I began to notice the huge gradient down the pitch, with play leaning towards the opposite stand to us. Also one of Edgar Street’s goaline had a massive hump in the middle of it, but not large enough to rival the goaline hump at Atherton Colleries’ ground.
My Kidderminster supporting pal, Steve, had told me to keep an eye out for the Harriers’ striker Jamile Matt, who had been scoring for fun in recent weeks; by the 7th minute Matt was bundling home a scrappy piece of play from a corner over the humped goaline to make it 1-0 to Kidderminster, perhaps against the early run of play. The 750+ Kidderminster fans went mental and it took a long time for the stewards to get them all back behind the “crash barrier” (there had been repeated announcements before and during the game about not going beyond the “crash barrier”). The Hereford fans surrounding us on our terrace began to bemoan their team and exclaims of “Here we go again” were a common sound from the strange accents (a strange sounding mix of West Country/Welsh/Brum) around us. The general groaning and moaning before the game from the home support implied to us that Hereford had been playing particularly torrid recently and not too expect too much from them today, but in fact they were to play some decent football during the first half, as were Kidderminster. It was a credit to both sides that they continued to play passing football on such a wet surface.
With the game only seconds old, my Dad pointed out Hereford’s number 4 and said “he looks a good player”. I gave him a bemused look as he had formed his opinion with barely a minute gone, but it was soon clear that Bob Harrison was spot on – Hereford’s number 4 playing at centre mid was quite a player. He was very tall and slim, but poweful, a great first touch and very tidy in possession. I soon learned his name to be Harry Pell. With Pell, an ex-Charlton Athletic youngster, still only being 21, he may be one to watch out for.
Hereford had two great chances during the half with a first time shot being saved at point blank by the Kidderminster keeper and similar point blank save to deny a mishit clearance from his own centre back that went flying towards his own goal. We also had to witness Hereford’s goalkeeper, James Bittner, endure a few stitches in his head on the pitch following a clash from a corner. Despite some decent chances, Hereford found themselves 1-0 down at half-time.
I seemed to have talked incessantly about the fact that “it rained” then it “stopped rainining” and then “it rained heavily”, but this is the last time I’ll mention rain – it rained during half-time and for the opening 15 minutes of the second half…a lot. The second half was a much scrappier affair, maybe because of the weather conditions. Hereford’s two centre backs began repeatedly hoofing the ball up to their two strikers: the lumbering Kyle Perry, on loan from Nuneaton, and the hard working and busy Brian Smikle to little avail. However, it has to be said that Kidderminster defended excellently for the duration of the 90 and I was particularly impressed with Josh Gowling, a clever centre back with hair Benoit Assou-Ekotto would be proud of. The closing minutes would see Smikle have a powerful volleyed effort courageously blocked in the box and Hereford’s winger Sam Clucas named Man of the Match; personally, I would have given it to Gowling, but Clucas’ trickery had certainly caused Kidderminster problems throughout the game, especially during the second half. The game finished 1-0 to Kidderminster and the away team’s excellent run of 8 games undefeated (7 straight wins) continued.
We exited Edgar Street, got back at the car within minutes following our shrewd parking earlier and we were soon back on the very empty roads heading out of Hereford and back into Wales.
We had decided to make one last call on the way home. En route to Hereford, my Dad had mentioned a pub just over the Welsh border called the Skirrid Inn. He had described it in such wonderful detail that we decided to call in for a pint on the way home. The pub, situated in the village of Llanfihangel Crucorney, reputes to be the oldest in Wales (records go back as far as 1100) and is infamous for being a courthouse that executed over 180 of it’s inmates by hanging in the inn itself. Legend even states that Owain Glyndwr rallied his troops against Henry IV at the pub itself in the early 15th century. Anyway, enough of the history lesson – the pub is well worth a visit if you are heading between Wales and Hereford, even if the pub is difficult to spot. The pub does have a very haunting feel to it and there is plenty of documentation about the pub’s interesting history garnishing the walls. You even get greeted at the door by the harrowing “Hanging Judge”. The visit to the pub was a great way to finish a great day of Boxing Day football.
Highlights: old ground with lots of character (particualry the four unique stands), the standing terraces, loved the giant floodlights excellent pies, good first half of football and generally a decent game, visit to the Skirrid Inn on the way home.
Low Points: the ground looks quite horrible from the outside, lots of rain, poor second half, pillars obstructing view of play in our stand at times (although we could easily have moved to another place), couldn’t get a alcoholic drink during the game