Elmes eager to roam in Radford's famous footsteps

Schoolmaster recognises A-Level quality of Leicester but would love to add another chapter to Hereford's history book
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The Independent Online

The mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent used to transform himself in telephone boxes. Robin Elmes, head of German at a Catholic comprehensive school in Birmingham, does it in penalty boxes.

The mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent used to transform himself in telephone boxes. Robin Elmes, head of German at a Catholic comprehensive school in Birmingham, does it in penalty boxes.

Elmes, who will lead Hereford United's attack at home to Leicester City in the third round on Saturday, was already a super-hero with the students at Bishop Walsh School after heading the goal which knocked out Hartlepool. When the draw gave the Nationwide Conference club a home tie against a Premiership team studded with internationals, everyone wanted a tug of his cape.

As he arrived at school the next morning, the secretary handed him a note which read: "Central TV 10.20, Midlands BBC 10.45, Sky Sports 11.00." In the staff-room he discovered that tabloids and broadsheets alike made him man of the match against Hartlepool. In class, too, the plaudits flowed, many pupils having watched live television coverage of the match.

He might have been carried away by it all but for one budding Jimmy Hill, who announced bluntly: "The ball went in off yer ear, Sir."

Elmes admits he has scored better goals but none more precious. For hard-up Hereford it has generated a sell-out crowd of 8,800 plus TV revenue and commercial spin-offs. On a personal level it has produced a Jim'll Fix It-style opportunity, at 29, to compare himself with a current England striker, Emile Heskey, and to pit his wits against defenders such as Matt Elliott and Frank Sinclair.

When they were in France at the World Cup finals last year, with Scotland and Jamaica respectively, Elmes was switching between two Dr Martens League clubs, Bromsgrove Rovers and Halesowen Town. He was then a centre-back, as he was throughout his degree course at Keele University, and with his first club, Boldmere St Michael's.

It was not until Christmas that Halesowen tried him up front, where he last played in the sixth form at Poole Grammar School. Although he scored regularly, what impressed Hereford's chairman-manager, Graham Turner, was Elmes' partnership with a forward called Steve Piearce. Turner, who turned Steve Bull from an under-achieving West Brom reserve into Wolves' record marksman, snapped them both up last summer.

"At my age I thought it could be my last chance to play at that level, which is as high as it gets for someone in my job," Elmes says. "Steve went full-time but unfortunately he has been injured most of the time. For me, it's been the best move I've made in football."

Professional players tend to be disdainful of erudite colleagues; an A-Level is often enough to attract monikers like "Brains", "Prof" or worse. Revealing that he is known as "Elmo", Elmes says: "I seem to remember that was the nickname of the fat, balding barman in Brush Strokes, but I like to think it comes from my surname."

Any doubts his new colleagues may have harboured about his pedigree were dispelled when he hit Hereford's winner in a friendly against Wolves on his debut. After missing a week of pre-season training - "In my job I can't pick and choose when I go on holiday" - he eventually came off the bench and had already scored seven goals for the Bulls before Hartlepool's visit.

"I was wary beforehand because we were live on Sky. I kept thinking that if I had an absolute nightmare, or got sent off, I'd be slaughtered on the Monday. I was also very conscious of the need to avoid swearing. As a teacher you have to set standards and practise what you preach.

"When I was playing for Boldmere I got fouled really viciously and the referee did nothing. I swore and was sent off. As I trudged off I saw some kids from school, so I called over, 'Do as I say, not as I do'. On my birthday I received several red cards.

"As it turned out, I was caught on camera spitting on the ground against Hartlepool. My mother-in-law spotted it, which has had me excommunicated from my wife's side of the family."

All will be forgiven, one suspects, before Leicester hit Edgar Street. Quite apart from relatives, the number of Elmes' colleagues with tickets for the tie will far exceed the spaces in the school mini-bus which sufficed in the previous round.

His preparations have not been ideal. With Hereford's only other part-timer, the electrician John Snape, he trains two nights a week with Oldbury United. Most evenings are spent marking (though not the kind to which Elliott will doubtless subject him).

"I try to get it all done at school by six o'clock, but I'm also head of year, so I've a lot of responsibility. Fortunately I don't need much time off because the Conference regionalise midweek games. The head, Mike Moran, is very supportive and I try to reciprocate with extra-curricular things like helping with the football and cricket teams."

Leicester promise to be a searching examination; mocks, finals and an Ofsted inspection rolled into 90 minutes. However, Elmes recalls how his boyhood favourites, Bournemouth, beat Manchester United when they were Cup-holders, and takes heart from the way Stevenage and Rushden & Diamonds held Newcastle and Leeds respectively in recent seasons.

Then there is Hereford's own Cup tradition. Ronnie Radford must wish he was on a royalty for every time his brutal winner against Newcastle is replayed. While Elmes claims he never nets from such range, he likes the idea of popping in a goal that will have people reminiscing 25 years from now.

"We have to have an exceptional day and Leicester a terrible one. I've watched them on Match of the Day and it was frightening. They're all genuine, hard-working British pros with no prima donnas who won't fancy a muddy pitch on a cold winter's day. They've also got pockets of real class but I'm confident it won't be boys against men."

A draw would delight Hereford, not to mention their bank manager. But maybe, just maybe, Sir's ear for goals will spring the last great giant-killing of the century.

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