Sunday, 4 February 2018

(Justice) By Default

Hertford Town  0  AFC Hornchurch  3

Isthmian League – Division One North

Imagine the scene, you’ve just finished runners up your league and despite your best efforts, it’s not enough to gain a promotion.

Then, out of the blue, the phone rings and it transpires that the team that finished above you have thrown the teddy out of the pram and have declined the move upwards, you have a decision to make.

The promotion place is yours, but, convinced you’re going nowhere you’ve already got plans in place for the new season. This is a great opportunity though, to return to the league you left ten years ago now, after previously having served 34 years of uninterrupted membership. Of course, you snap their hands off, but it presents itself with numerous challenges, not least the timescale to build a side that could compete a level above.

Welcome to Hertford Town Football Club, while never a top flight or indeed overly successful Isthmian League club, they bade farewell in 2006 and took a place in the Spartan South Midlands League. The harsher of the critics might argue that a town the size of Hertford, combined with its collection of wealthy residents, should really have got more silverware and be competing at a higher level than the history books report.

But, it was not to be, and when relegation came, it was time for a re-group and a chance to re-establish themselves and within time, return to the level that they had become accustomed to.

Unspoiled By Progress
After flirting with the top of the league for a couple of seasons, it suddenly got decidedly average. A series of mid-table and lower mid-table finishes did not suggest that this was a football club on the way back.

Then, somewhat unexpectedly in the 2016-17 season they built a side that was to ultimately finish in the runners up berth to near neighbours London Colney. Colney were on the way up, assuming that a Southern League place was theirs, however, once the constitutions were released it transpired that they had been allocated a place in the Isthmian League. They weren’t happy, and for reasons that I’m not aware of, that was enough to cause a mass exodus and ultimately the club chose to remain where they were. It could have been worse though, for a period it looked like the club may fold, but thankfully that never came to fruition. I’m not sure to this day why the placement into a different league was such an issue, but clearly something serious was underlying at the club.

Pitch Fine - For Now......
London Colney’s loss was Hertford Town’s gain, and this is where we are today. Having rallied around in the Summer as a club they were in a position to take up the unexpected promotion and also be able to compete. Hertford had an Isthmian League club back, they were back in their rightful place.

Journey wise it was simples, down the M1 to St Albans, take the road to Hatfield, shoot up the A1 to Welwyn Garden City and then head Eastbound into the County town of Hertfordshire. Hertingfordbury Park is a classic 1960’s non-league football ground, with a tall yet narrow main stand on the half way line, and a further covered terracing area behind the Southern goal, it almost smelt of history. The clubhouse sat aside the main stand and while not a modern building, it was homely and more importantly, friendly.

The Business Side Of Hertingfordbury Park
Pre-match I got chatting to an official of the club (Brian), he invited me into the boardroom and we talked about the fortunes of the club and how they had coped with the unexpected return to pastures old. What was nice, was the fact that Brian and his colleagues were genuinely interested and pleased that someone had travelled from the Midlands to visit them.

It never stopped raining, from the point I left home, despite the forecast suggesting otherwise. The pitch was fine, but heavy in places and had the rain been any heavier we might have a had a few problems.

AFC Hornchurch sat top of the league and had an impressive and vocal following with them, while at the same time the hard core of the Hertford support were also in fine form, which meant the game was played with the backdrop of a tremendous atmosphere, especially the in the second half when both sets of fans stood behind the goal and battled it out in the singing stakes.

On the pitch, AFC Hornchurch demonstrated exactly why they sit top of the league. They took an early lead thanks to a fine finish from Theo Fairweather-Johnson, only for the same player to make it 2-0 at the break thanks to a well placed header.

Hertford dug in and had plenty of possession but the well organised and experienced visitors were happy to let them do this, yet at the same time, once they tried to penetrate into the danger areas they were quick to either win back possession or clear the danger. Having seen Hornchurch at Haringey less than a month ago, I once again witnessed their game management abilities which I genuinely believe will see them win the league.

A Beauty.....
George Purcell put a second half penalty into the back of the net with ease and the points were secure, once again Hertford had plenty of the ball but the organisation of the visitors meant chances were at an absolute premium. It was another classic away from home performance from the Urchins, on what became a very difficult playing surface.

Hertford Town remain mid-table, but that’s mid-table in a league they quite rightly consider to be their natural home. 251 spectators watched the game on a pretty grim day weather wise. Potentially what could the club become? Top flight of the Isthmian League is not beyond the realms, but locally the competition for players is fierce.

Having experienced an afternoon at Hertingfordbury Park, the club will only be an asset at whatever level they perform, after ‘that’ phone call, the curve is an upward one, where the story goes next is something of an unknown, but it will be worth keeping an eye on….

Pure Non-League

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