Football: Farmer, game keeper and Fox hunter

Alex Hayes meets the guardian of Hereford's Cup dreams determined to make light of Leicester
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The Independent Online
THIS FA CUP weekend promises to be a busy time for the Jones family. Most of the attention will centre on Paul, the Southampton and Wales goalkeeper, when the Saints march up to Ipswich on the Monday. Before that, on the Saturday, the limelight will be on his elder brother Mark, who will be guarding Hereford United's net in their match against Leicester City. Should they both play, the Jones boys will make history, by becoming the first brothers to play in goal in the same round of the FA Cup.

Mark Jones started his football career at 18 when he was enlisted by his local village side, Hadnal. "I didn't like the idea of running around much, so I went in goal," says the 35-year-old, who is three years older than his more illustrious brother. "Paul was in the same team, but he played centre-half. He was already a good keeper, but I took senior priority in those days. He was not going to get me out.

"We've kept an eye on each other's performances since and we ring each other up from time to time," Mark continues. "But when we meet up, we tend to avoid the subject. It's a bit boring, to tell you the truth."

There was plenty of excitement when Mark and his team-mates gathered in a pub just around the corner from Hereford's Edgar Street ground, for the third-round draw. "We would have preferred Newcastle, Arsenal or Liverpool, to be honest," says Jones senior. "But Leicester are a Premiership side, so it's a good tie for us. Ever since the draw was made, the town has been buzzing. All the tickets have been sold now and everyone is really looking forward to the game."

While the Foxes will hardly be shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing a non-League team, they will be acutely aware of Hereford's long history of giant-killing in the Cup. Their most prized scalp remains that of Newcastle United, famously beaten 2-1 in 1972.

According to their manager, however, the Bulls should have savoured more recent joy. "Had there been any justice four years ago in our match against Spurs, we'd have won," says Graham Turner, once of Aston Villa and Wolves. "The game should have been one of the great days in the club's proud Cup tradition."

That match ended 1-1 and, although the Londoners eventually ran out comfortable 5-1 winners in the replay at White Hart Lane, Hereford's reputation as a team for the big occasions was cemented.

So, are Leicester beatable? "Martin O'Neill has got them well organised and they've got a big lad up front... what's his name? Heskey, is it?" asks Jones. "It's going to be difficult but we've got a chance, especially at home. It's only a slim one, but it's a chance."

The previous two rounds provided their own surprises. Progress from the first round was courtesy of a 1-0 win against York, "a real battle" according to Jones. Then came the 1-0 victory over Hartlepool, when a 55th-minute header by their striker Robin Elmes propelled the Conference side into the last 64 of the Cup.

"At the beginning of the season, the gaffer said we wanted to get promotion, and that the FA Cup was just a bonus. But now we're getting really excited about it and we feel confident."

To maximise their team's chances, six fans will carry out the Bulls' FA Cup ritual before the game. They will surround and worship a swede (the root vegetable, not Stefan Schwarz) in the centre circle, before chasing it and kicking it into the Meadow End goal. "Don't ask me why," pleads Jones. "All I know is that it's been around for ages [1958 to be precise] and it's worked so far."

It says much about football these days that a relatively modest club like Hereford should be made up primarily of full-time professionals with just a handful of part-timers.

Jones, a dairy farmer by trade, is one of the three "amateurs" in the team, who at present lie in the top half of the Conference. "I work on the farm every day, and that keeps me relatively fit," he says. "Otherwise, I come in once a week for a training session. The manager has been great about it. His show of confidence helped me settle, and now that I've played in the last 20 games or so, I'm more comfortable with the lads and our style of play."

Who better, then, to guide us through Hereford's herd of black and white bulls than Mark Jones MC? Introducing...

Chris Lane: Scouser, right-back. Typical Liverpudlian, a true character. Released by Everton as a trainee and joined us last season. Still only 19, he's a great prospect but a complete loony. Good lad to have around -bubbly in the dressing-room.

Paul Sturgess: Known as Stavros because of his olive skin. Signed this season from Brighton. Real Cockney lad, who loves to get forward. He's got a sweet left foot. And he's English to boot.

John Snape: One of the part-timers, a Brummie electrician. He's our Paul Ince - a good battler in midfield. Not sure about his skills as a sparky. Last week he couldn't even repair the extension lead for the stereo.

Ian Wright: Big fella. He's our defensive rock; the Tony Adams of the side. He's captain, too. Great in the air, he leads by example. Was our top scorer with 13 goals last season.

Tony James: Wrighty's centre-half partner, TJ's not the tallest of lads, but he's incredibly good in the air. Quietly spoken Welsh lad. He gets a bit of stick about his relations with sheep. Not from me, mind. I'm Welsh too.

Gavin Williams: Another Welsh boy. Great player, the David Beckham of the team. Can play anywhere in midfield or on the wings. He's our best crosser of the ball. Also likes running and dribbling past players.

Paul Parry: One of the club's trainees, he had a bad dose of glandular fever at the start of the season, but he's over that now and he's making telling contributions on the left of midfield. Sets up a lot of the goals. A bit lazy tracking back, though.

Mark Taylor: Bags of experience. Played in the Premiership for Sheffield Wednesday and knows what it's all about. He's not arrogant either. He's come down to a lower level but doesn't bully his way around. His wife went into labour the morning of the Hartlepool match, but she kindly held on until the Monday so Markie could play.

Robin Elmes: Mr Smoothie. German teacher from Sutton Coldfield. He's a tremendous asset. Scored the winning goal in the last round against Hartlepool. Some of the lads tease him by shouting in German, but he just answers them back. They never have a clue what he's saying.

Paul Fewings: Pretty face. He's the good-looking one of the team. Don't tell him, though. Girls always look for him after games. Works well with Robin.

Leroy May: Super sub. Everyone knows about him being a male stripper, don't they. You can imagine the banter. Tall lad up front. This guy's the Full Monty: he can score and tackle too.

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