Football: Traditional values deserve better

No 216: Hereford United
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The Independent Online
Believe it or not, there are two clubs facing the threat of relegation from the Football League today.

By now, the world and his Jack Russell knows that Brighton are facing the drop, and for the last few weeks civilisation, at least that part of it between London and the South Coast, seems to have been in shock at the prospect.

Despite all the hullabaloo over Brighton, Hereford are also facing the drop and today's game with the Seagulls at Edgar Street will decide which of the two plunges over the precipice.

Unlike Brighton, Hereford have not had the huge amount of sympathetic media attention to whip up support, probably because it is not within commuting distance of London, it isn't supported by Des Lynam or any other celebrity, not even Tony Gubba, and it doesn't have the huge number of glory fans that the South Coast club has attracted in its 90 minutes of need.

As far as everyone outside Hereford is concerned, there are only two possible results today: Brighton go down or Brighton stay up.

Now Hereford may not be in the golden triangle of the South-east, or in a northern oasis like Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, but it is a good, solid, honest club, the meat and two veg of middle England football and the Third Division, and it deserves to survive in the League.

Hereford is a traditional family club where the fans don't riot, don't invade the pitch, don't get hauled away by the police or get banned, and don't court publicity. It is true that in times of adversity the odd fist is shaken in the direction of the directors, who, incidentally, still sit under the same corrugated roofs as the rest of us - no executive boxes here - but that is the limit of any antisocial behaviour.

Hereford is a club where jokes about linesmen leaving their spectacles at homes still raise a chuckle, where mints are exchanged between strangers, where the Cornish pasties are still served brittle-black at the edges from old-fashioned warming cabinets, and where burning-hot Oxo is the favourite half-time tipple.

Twenty-five years ago, when Hereford burst into the Football League and were then subsequently promoted within a season under Colin Addison, they brought a breath of fresh air to the stagnant old Fourth Division, which was then almost impossible to get into because outsiders had to be elected rather than promoted.

For people like Frank Miles, who was club chairman when United were elected, and Addison, now managing Merthyr Tydfil, and for today's fans like my son, Ben, the only student who commutes from Manchester to Hereford to watch decent football, the drop into the GM Vauxhall Conference would be a disaster and one from which the club might never recover.

The club's managing director, Robin Fry, has said the playing staff will remain full- time should the unthinkable happen today, in a bid to get back into the League at the first attempt. But with little spare money around and with crowds even in the League running at around a lowly 3,000, the prospects in the Conference would not be good.

For 25 years Hereford have been a more useful member of the League than clubs that have bumped around the bottom for the best part of a century and rarely achieved anything. True, the trophy cupboard at Edgar Street is a little light and we have had a few near misses in the relegation zone over the last few years, but last season, don't forget, we were in the play-offs for promotion from the Third Division.

Clubs like Hereford are what football should be all about: places where you can watch 90 minutes of football for a fair price on terraces where supporters curse and moan about their team much of the time and then spend the remainder cheering them on.

There are no big businesses or millionaires vying for boardroom power at Hereford. We do not - thank God - have too many glory supporters and we certainly don't have much money.

When the game kicks off today, it will be almost as evenly balanced as it is possible to get. Both clubs have 46 points. Hereford have the worst home record, while the visitors Brighton hold the worst away record.

The stakes are high, but for the sake of small clubs with loyal, law- abiding fans, for clubs who are not fashionable or rich, and for clubs who never get mentioned on Match of the Day, Hereford should and must win.

But if Hereford go down today, the League will be a poorer place.