Manchester City played a do-or-die tie in Rome on Wednesday to put forth their name for a place in the Champions League last-16. Meanwhile, in Herefordshire, a once-proud, traditional football club hit rock bottom, where the phrase ‘do-or-die’ is cynically no laughing matter.
Hereford United were handed a ban from ‘all footballing activities’ by the ever so reliant Football Association. Although it has quickly been retracted, it simply fuelled the fire on a dismal year for the non-league side.
It’s disgustingly sad when a club who have such a rich, fulfilling history hit rock bottom. Over the last year, Hereford have been in desperate need of huge cash sums to pay off large debts. The fact that ‘large’ to Hereford United equates to two weeks pay for Wayne Rooney or Yaya Toure is truly soul wrenching.
Values seem to have evaporated from British football as Hereford join Darlington, Wimbledon, Scarborough and Chester among others who have fallen to the financial sword. The FA announced that United were banned from ‘all football activities’, in addition to a sequence of catastrophic events that has seen Hereford fall to the seventh tier of English football, due to financial difficulties. They managed to escape relegation in the Conference earlier this year, but due to FA regulations they were demoted two tiers to the Southern League Premier Division in place of Chester and Dartford, who filled two of the four relegation positions legitimately – only to be reinstated due to the unfortunate circumstances revolving around Hereford. Another club – in huge financial difficulty themselves – Salisbury City joined them.
Numerous teams in all divisions throughout England and Scotland are suffering the consequences of unfit owners – some fit that bill more than others – but Hereford top the list, with their majority shareholder Alan McCarthy being deemed unfit and charged with acting as an officer for Hereford devoid of the FA’s confirmation. He was tested under the FA’s infamous ‘fit and proper’ law and was given until December 4 to fulfil these requirements to satisfy an Independent Commission. To no surprise, he failed to meet this deadline and was handed a four-day extension to submit acceptable documentation to this commission. Once again, he and the shareholders of Hereford fell short of the FA’s regulations and have been suspended indefinitely until such regulations are complied with. McCarthy’s suspension also resulted in Hereford being banned from football, albeit for a couple of days, and despite there being football to focus on this weekend, the club face a day in court on Monday – to oppose a winding-up petition issued against them by former manager Martin Foyle.
Football today would not be as it is without clubs like United, yet many sides are plunged in to extinction thanks to crooks and unstable owners, who see these clubs – that are the lifeblood of towns and surrounding areas – as nothing but cash cows. It is becoming increasingly difficult for clubs in the lower leagues to cope with the financial demands of today’s game, yet very little is ever made of the teams that collapse.
Hereford have never been a club who have dominated the leagues and have never achieved any over-whelming success, but that doesn’t change the fact that the club means so much to so many.
Aside from the negative spotlight, one of the most memorable moments in the club’s history materialised in the only competition which still holds the only natural magic left in the English game – the FA Cup. 1972 encompassed a memorable 2-1 victory over Newcastle United, which sent Hereford into the fourth round – a match that has been engraved in local folklore ever since, and will never be forgotten, no matter the outcome of Hereford’s current debacle.
You can take a team and its players, but you can never take the club and its memories, or the supporters who live and breathe the legacy of the side.
One potential ray of light that has illuminated these overwhelming dark days comes in the form of Herefordshire Council attempting to repossess Edgar Street – Hereford’s ninety year old ground. A stadium with post-world war style architecture and terraces that are rich with nostalgia – a rare element of traditional football only seen within the lower leagues today. The repossession attempts are a consequence of Hereford ‘shareholders’ attempting to bluff their way out of paying rent on the ground and nearby land, but their actions are rightly returning to haunt them as the case continues. Fans will argue the council doesn’t have any genuine interest in the club, but regardless of the council’s intentions, this news is a subtle step in the right direction if it benefits Hereford – a big if.
So what’s next for Hereford? It’s tough to accept such an idea, but Bulls fans have unofficially mentioned fabricating a ‘phoenix club’, similar to AFC Wimbledon, who have enjoyed vast success in their new life after Wimbledon FC was disfigured into MK Dons back in 2004. Considering the future doesn’t look bright under yet more shareholders that, like many others within football, couldn’t run a bath, let alone a football club, a phoenix club could provide a clean slate, while keeping the memories of Hereford intact.
It is evident that a once solid League One outfit have been run into the ground for personal gain, without a care in the world for the supports. It seems that all morals have flown out of the window. However, Bulls chairman Andy Lonsdale told BBC Hereford and Worcester that he’s set to take over as a majority shareholder and provide a cash injection that could solve the huge financial worries that have tallied up to a reported figure of £1.3 million.
However, as the horrific situation pans-out at Edgar Street, we at RetainPossession.com hope Hereford fans get their once-proud club back into their caring hands, or generate a phoenix club that can put the ‘football’ back into the football club. No supporters should have to tolerate this utter incompetence and we hope someone arrives at the club who wants to put the club’s success before their own personal gain. Sadly, such people are few and far between.
Put football first.