Big things beckon as 'Berko' bask in belated glory

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The Independent Online

It is very likely that, without knowing it, you will fleetingly have glimpsed "Broadwater". Today, it is a field of dreams.

It is very likely that, without knowing it, you will fleetingly have glimpsed "Broadwater". Today, it is a field of dreams.

Take the train from London Euston to the North-West and, five or six high-speed minutes after you've pulled out of Watford, you'll rattle through the latest in an unremarkable line of commuter stations; look left at the very end of the platform and there, behind a row of leafless trees, is the humble home of Berkhamsted Town FC, among whose vice-presidents I proudly count myself.

What you see, at 100mph, is what you get. Ryman League, Second Division. One small, red-brick stand; corrugated iron roofing over a three-step terrace behind each goal - and then onto the bowling green and the tennis club which are the more natural habitat of the predominantly professional folk who meet on the 07.24 each weekday morning.

Football and its major venue are "squeezed" in here, behind a smartish high street of cafés and estate agents; into the tiniest conceivable corridor between the railway line and the picturesque canal. The manager (about whom more in a moment) told me that a player arriving in town to sign for the club during the summer had to ask six locals before finding anyone who even knew that there was a football ground, let alone where it was.

But wait. There is life. "Berko" (as we know ourselves) - relegated a couple of years ago, apparently heading nowhere but into disinterested nothingness, never having made a significant impact beyond the boundaries of Hertfordshire - have reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase. It's just fantastic. Berkhamsted Town - never before beyond the last 32 - are a two-legged tie away from a "major" final at Villa Park.

Ours is not the sort of place where people dance in the street. But, if it was, we would!

Last time I got to a home game, just before Christmas, the attendance fell just short of three figures (including the 15 Banstead Athletic fans). On Tuesday night, they had a committee meeting to decide whether the authorities will allow an increase in the 1,400 capacity.

One by one, we're jumping on the bandwagon and we're loving it. But you feel happiest for the little band of uncomplaining, volunteer folk who've always been there - the dwindling crew who've kept alive the team, long before there was a dream.

My mate Roger moved to Berkhamsted as a one-year-old. Fifty-five years later, the tens of thousands of raffle tickets he's sold, the scores of fund-raising events he's organised, the coats of paint he's applied to the club-house all suddenly seem to have a meaning. 40 years ago, he played for the youth team; right now, he feels young enough to lace up the old boots again.

Roger was one of 60-odd Berko-boys who boarded the bus to Brigg for last Saturday's dramatic quarter-final. Back home from Humberside to Hertfordshire - the trip was so good they didn't want to get off.

Behind the Broadwater revolution is a smashing young guy in his first management post for whose identity I refer you to the Rothmans Football Yearbook 1984-85, page 160 - Everton's playing staff. Beginning to read halfway through the defenders' section, how's about this for a list of players? Mountfield, Ratcliffe, Stevens, Bateman, Heath, Reid, Richardson, Sheedy, Steven.

Spot the odd one out? Steve Bateman is our hero. Berkhamsted-born, he was lured to Goodison as a teenager, spent the Cup-winning year of '84 at the heart of the reserves' defence and, while the others on that list gelled into the team of their day, Steve was invited by Howard Kendall to earn his living elsewhere. Ask him how close he was to "making it" and he'll tell you "at least a couple of major injuries, Derek Mountfield and Kevin Ratcliffe and, even then, Ian Marshall was coming through".

So, shunning the insecurity of a lower-league existence, Steve accumulated a drawer full of semi-pro medals at Harrow Borough, Chesham, Slough Town and Hendon before being offered the chance to revive his bedraggled home-town club. Not that his time on Merseyside was wasted. Oh no! He met and married a girl whose brother played for St Helens. Who did Berkhamsted draw in the last 16 of the Vase? St Helens, of course. Ready-made scout; top-rate information; against-the-odds win. Name on the trophy?

So, Steve and his level-headed, "pinch-me-I'm dreaming" chairman, now wait for the outcome of tomorrow's quarter-final replay between Markse and Bedlington Terriers; they're discussing a budget for scouting the opponents; they're a living a dream and, gradually, Berkhamsted - our polite, lace-curtained, well-to-do corner of suburbia - is joining in.

Football. Wonderful, eh?

Peter Drury is an ITV sports commentator

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