Fan's Eye View: Bumping along the bottom: No 51 Hereford United

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The Independent Online
EVERYONE must have seen that goal. It's replayed every time Grandstand runs through the 'Magic of the Cup'. I can see it now. Ron Radford wins the ball in midfield. He plays it forward, and much to his surprise, gets it straight back. It's teed up on a clod of mud and Radford hoofs it 35 yards into the top corner of the Newcastle net, to be engulfed in hordes of youths in army surplus clothing. (This event is now enshrined in local lore as the 'invasion of the parkas'). Hereford go on to win 2-1 and one of the great FA Cup giant-killing acts goes into the record books.

I remember as if it was yesterday. Trouble is, I wasn't there. Having bunked off A-level maths and queued for three-and-a-half hours to get a ticket, I sold the damn thing because the game was rearranged, and clashed with, of all things, my university interview at Sheffield. This has been one of the few enduring regrets of my life, as the game was postponed again, to a day when I could have gone. Naturally, my pal wasn't going to sell the ticket back, so I missed the game.

I missed the fourth-round match at West Ham, too, due to a combination of traffic on the North Circular and the match not being all ticket. By sticking my head out of the roof of the coach, I saw the ball above the stand once. Apart from that we had to settle for listening to the 3-1 defeat on the radio in the pub.

On Sunday we start a new Cup run away to Cambridge City. That one 21 years ago powered the bid for League status. The club was at that time in the old Southern League Premier Division, and were voted into the Football League for the 1972-73 season. Barrow were the unfortunate departees. Hereford's League career started with the chairman talking about the First Division within 10 years. Wimbledon were to achieve this subsequently, but it wasn't to be for Hereford, although things started well. The first season saw us up to the Third Division as runners up, three years later up to the Second as champions, under the managership of John Sillett.

These dizzy heights were obviously too much. Relegation from Second to Third was followed, as night follows day, by relegation to the Fourth , where we've languished ever since. The agonies of re-election have been survived three times, and financial ruin just about staved off, and here we are 'bumping along the bottom' of our own footballing recession.

Crowds have, not surprisingly, dwindled. I remember 8,000 to 10,000 regularly packing into the 'compact' ground. These days it's a rare event to get more than 3,000.

One thing about watching lower division football is that you see promising youngsters on the way up, and seasoned old pros on the way down. In the latter category we have had the great John Charles, Terry Paine, Ian Bowyer and the current player/manager Greg Downs in a Hereford shirt. Those who have gone on to bigger and better things include Kevin Sheedy and QPR's Darren Peacock.

But for real celebrity, who can compare with the messianic figure of David Icke who kept goal for United in the Seventies? Most fans feel you have to be slightly mad to watch Hereford, but Icke is living proof that it helps to be one can short of a six-pack to play for them, too.

Seventeenth place in the bottom division has become a hard habit to break in recent years, but each new season begins with renewed optimism. One or two signings, a bit more luck . . . you persuade yourself that it might just click this season. However, it looks like being another long, hard struggle again this season, battling on with limited resources and dwindling crowds, along with most of the other clubs in the division.

Glory, even in its fleeting moments, is what sport is all about. That's why things like Ron Radford's goal are still talked about 20 years later. What we need is something to take the place of that memory, some glory for today. It's hope of that which sustains us, keeps us going back, in common with supporters everywhere.