A cock and bull story

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The Independent Online
It was a familiar scene, Teddy Sheringham fighting his way through the crowd, signing autographs, posing for photographs, smiling as he headed for the sanctuary of Tottenham's coach.

If the scene was familiar, the scenery was not. This was the spartan foyer of Edgar Street, humble home of Third Division Hereford United. It was an hour after the clubs had drawn 1-1 in Saturday's FA Cup third round, and more than 100 people were crammed into a room no bigger than a household lounge. Most of them appeared to be Tottenham fans...with Hereford accents.

Oh, the loneliness of a small-town club. In this age of glossy football magazines, sports supplements and Sky TV, supporters can follow the over- hyped Carling darlings more easily than their local team. They rarely get to see them in the flesh, but it is a Premiership shirt they wear in the playground or the pub, not an Endsleigh one.

Whether this is regarded as pathetic or understandable it has serious consequences for a club such as Hereford. While the top clubs find it increasingly difficult to provide enough seats for their supporters there is plenty of space on most terraces in the lower divisions. Thus, when the miracle happens and Hereford draw Tottenham in the Cup, hard decisions have to be taken. Does the club take the money? Or take the gamble? For Gravesend, with an inadequate ground and negligible chance of winning, it was an easy decision. At Hereford the equation was less clear cut.

Peter Hill, the extrovert chairman, said: "Playing here we earn about pounds 30,000. Playing at White Hart Lane would have been worth about pounds 150,000. We wondered about changing but Graham Turner [the manager] felt we needed to give the club some impetus, to give something to the fans and recreate the atmosphere that used to be here.

"It was a massive gamble, but it has paid off. Now we can get the transfer embargo lifted to help Graham strengthen the squad. We are solvent, but only just. You cannot get by on 2,000 fans a week."

Those regulars were swelled by 5,000 fairweather supporters (though the weather was anything but fair), 1,500 travelling fans, a prize Hereford bull and several hundred local Spurs fans in various stages of football schizophrenia. Their view was best summed up by a 40-ish woman standing in the foyer. Having cooed "We love you, Teddy" at Sheringham and posed for a picture with him she added: "you were lucky". She wore a Hereford scarf around her neck, and her love for Spurs on her sleeve.

Sheringham agreed Spurs had been fortunate. His captain, Gary Mabbutt, concluded: "We are just pleased to be in the draw."

Before the game Mabbutt said the tie filled him with dread. Recalling Hereford's famous 1972 win over Newcastle, he said: "My recurring nightmare is to be in a Ronnie Radford situation. The Newcastle players must despair, every time the Cup comes around they turn on the television and there they are, watching him score. I do not want to be seeing it happen to me on Match of the Day in 25 years' time."

It could have done. Mabbutt was one of the few Spurs players to give his all in the driving rain and mud while only Darren Caskey, who had the added incentive of playing for his place, could feel happy with his performance. Hereford had 11 heroes, none better than the former Wolves midfielder Keith Downing, who drove them forward, and the right-winger Tony Pounder, who reprised the dying art of dribbling to give Justin Edinburgh a fearful chasing.

Spurs had arrived swaggering with confidence after last week's 4-1 drubbing of Manchester United. Despite absorbing some early pressure from Hereford's 71-year-old striking pair, Dean White and Nicky Cross, they created the better chances and should have scored before Ronnie Rosenthal cleverly diverted Caskey's wayward shot past Chris MacKenzie. It gave Spurs the edge but, after half-time, the game changed.

"We had gone quiet," said Dean Smith, Hereford's captain and, at pounds 75,000, both the club's record signing and the only current player they had paid for (except they are yet to pay Walsall for him, hence the transfer embargo). "The gaffer [Turner] said if you are going to go out, don't go out with a whimper, give it your best shot."

They did and, 16 minutes of pressure later Smith was stepping up to take a penalty, won by Pounder from Rosenthal's reckless challenge. It was not the best penalty ever, possibly the worst. Only the roof of the Meadow End stand prevented it nestling in the poplar trees behind.

Hereford could have buckled but, two minutes later, Pounder won another corner and, when Downing swung it across, John Brough headed it in. Now Spurs' character was questioned. It passed the test and only MacKenzie's reflex save prevented a Sheringham winner.

"I have been to these places and if you do not match them for 'battle' they will cause you problems," said Gerry Francis, the Tottenham manager. "For 25 minutes in the second half they out-battled us. What pleased me is that, when they equalised, unlike at Coventry [where Spurs lost a 2- 0 lead in the Coca-Cola Cup], we came back strongly."

Hereford will probably lose at White Hart Lane on Wednesday week but nothing is certain. Unlike Spurs, however, they are advancing on Wembley on two fronts. Tomorrow Hereford meet Northampton in the Auto Windscreens Shield. Having upset some regulars by doubling prices for Saturday, Hereford have reduced them, but there will not be 9,000 there. Endless seasons in the wrong half of the bottom division have taken their toll on the spirit of Ronnie Radford.

Goals: Rosenthal (31) 0-1; Brough (63) 1-1.

Hereford United (3-5-2): MacKenzie; Brough, D Smith, Lyne; Pounder, Evans, Wilkins, Downing, Fishlock; White, Cross. Substitutes not used: Steele, Stoker, C Smith (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Nethercott, Mabbutt, Edinburgh; Fox (Dozzell, 61), Caskey, Campbell, Rosenthal; Sheringham, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Slade, Day (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Hereford: Downing. Tottenham: Nethercott, Edinburgh.

Man of the match: Downing.

Attendance: 8,806.

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