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The Lazarus Club: Hereford’s Rise From The Dead

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Hereford is a city with a proud, if not illustrious history. Formed in 1924, the original team named Hereford United F.C. spent 31 seasons in the Football League which peaked with a brief spell in the old Second Division and a famous 1972 giant killing of Newcastle United in the FA Cup. Hereford’s club motto is “Our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen, but in rising when we fall”, and never has that sentiment been more apt than today. The club was wound up in the High Court in December 2014 and thus ceased to exist. The HUST (Hereford United Supporters Trust) led by Jon Hale, immediately set about creating a phoenix club and secured a place in the ninth tier in addition to the use of the club’s historic Edgar Street stadium ahead of the 2015-16 season. Hereford came back from 3-0 to win 4-3 at the weekend in front of over 4,000 people, remarkably a higher attendance than six League One sides.

The club’s demise; which came to a head in December 2014, can be traced back to their fall out of the Football League in the 2011-12 season and beyond. Hereford United had amassed debts of £1.3 million under the stewardship of local owner David Keyte who in fact played for Hereford’s reserve team in the 1970’s. The club was then passed around between individuals who did not have the club’s best interests at heart. Keyte sold the club to London-based businessman Tommy Agombar for a reported £1, rejecting an offer from HUST in the process. Agombar failed the ‘fit and proper owners test’ due to his history of lorry theft and prison sentences. Andrew Lonsdale was the next man to become heavily involved with the club, a partner of Agombar’s with an equally checkered past.

Hereford fans and the supporters trust were unsurprisingly cautious and not all too quick to trust the dodgy pair and as such, HUST already had plans in place to form a new club should that possibility become a reality. There was little surprise when; in December of 2014, the club was wound up. By this stage, Hereford had already dropped out of the Conference due to the club’s failure to pay the bond required to remain in the division. This decision had angered fans and the club’s crowds had dropped as low as 200 for some games, with supporters boycotting matches in an attempt to voice their extreme disapproval.

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Phoenix clubs are nothing new. They have sadly become all too common in the English game and after the tales of Accrington to Aldershot, Wimbledon to Halifax and, even more recently, the likes of FC United of Manchester, Chester and Darlington, one may wonder why one should take any interest in Hereford’s sad demise. However, the level of community support, the passion for the game, and the sheer number of people backing the newly-formed Hereford FC; despite their lowly-status down in English football’s ninth tier, is outstanding. They had a crowd of 4,250 for their first ever game; a pre-season fixture against FC United of Manchester in which they won 1-0, and have recorded 4,000+ crowds in both home league games so far this season.

In a city of just shy of 60,000 inhabitants, Hereford’s crowds have generally been impressive given their lack of on-field success. In their ‘golden era’ during the mid 1970s; when the club reached the Second Division for the only time in their history, Edgar Street often saw crowds in excess of 10,000 people. A record attendance of 14,849 came against Newport County as the club averaged over 8,000 fans a game for consecutive seasons. between 2,000 and 4,000 consistently came through the turnstiles throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s, right up to their last couple of seasons when attendances plummeted as fans began to boycott games. The recent crowds of 4,000+ in the ninth tier; boosted by the club’s sale of more than 1,000 season tickets, is nothing short of remarkable.

The fact that crowds have almost doubled for the Whites’ games, despite them being five divisions lower than when those figures stood at around 2,000, is a glowing example of what fan involvement can do for a club. With HUST now having major influence and power at the club, Hereford can finally rest assured that those who make the decisions at the top of the club do have the club’s best interests at heart. They have had a large number of volunteers who have helped make the revival possible and fans have flocked back to Edgar Street in their thousands to watch their truly local club. Their opening attendances have been higher than that of League One sides Burton, Colchester, Bury, Scunthorpe, Fleetwood and Rochdale, and is over double the average achieved by many League One sides. The average attendance in Hereford’s current division; the Midland Football League Premier, is around 100, with some clubs averaging around 65. That means the Bulls are hitting around 40 times the league average. When the team lost 2-0 to Stourport Swifts in their first away game, there was a Stourport record attendance of 1,070. Strourport average 80 fans a game. That says it all really.

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Of course, one would expect a former league club to dwarf the attendances of historical non-league stalwarts, but to this extent, it is still a rarity. FC United of Manchester were rightly commended for their impressive average attendance of 2,155 in the Conference North last season, but for Hereford to almost double those figures three divisions lower down, is really quite exceptional. As things stand, should Hereford maintain their current levels of support, they would likely have the highest average attendances outside the Football League, and would be vying with the likes of Tranmere Rovers, Grimsby Town and Wrexham for that title.

The newly-formed Hereford FC have started their first ever season with mixed form. They have won two and lost two of their first four games and as such lie in tenth place. The club will be hoping that the remarkable turnaround in their seven-goal thriller at the weekend will set the tone for an impending rise up the table. With the backing from the stands that the club has, they should have no problem making a swift return up through the leagues. Unlike the likes of Portsmouth, Wimbledon and Chester, Hereford are not owned by a fan majority. Edgar Street needed over £200,000 worth of repairs and in securing benefactors to complete that work, they sacrificed majority ownership. That being said, the benefactors are said to be long-term Hereford United supporters and as such, HUST had little doubts over allowing them such control at the club. Hereford’s next encounters include the likes of Coleshill Town, Westfields and Shepshed Dynamo. It is worth keeping one eye on The Bulls over the next few years and their attempts to return to the Football League.


Featured image: All rights reserved by Mark Lee

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FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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FA Cup

Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Swansea City – Tammy Abraham didn’t take first-team opportunity

Jake Jackman

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Swansea

Swansea City were held in the FA Cup away to Championship club Sheffield Wednesday. The Swans have been drawn to face lower league opposition in every round of the competition so far and this occasion saw Carlos Carvalhal return to his former club. It was a huge day for him and he will be slightly disappointed by the performance that he witnessed.

Although the Premier League side selected a talented team, it was an even contest and both teams had chances to score. Neither team deserved to go through on this viewing and they will have to meet again at the Liberty Stadium in just over a week’s time.

It will be interesting to see who will await the winners of this tie in the next round and that could dictate whether Swansea take the replay seriously or not. Here are three talking points from Hillsborough:

Tammy Abraham didn’t take his opportunity

It was a frustrating day for Tammy Abraham as he had few chances to impress in the final third and he was taken off midway in the second half. That will be a disappointment for the forward as this was an opportunity to earn more game-time in the Premier League and his contribution on Saturday is unlikely to bring that.

During the match, he failed to have a single attempt on goal, while his pass success was at a poor 58%. The service he received was non-existent as shown in the second half when Luciano Narsingh refused to play the striker in.

Abraham did nice work to release the winger and spin in behind his marker, but the return ball didn’t arrive. The striker was visibly annoyed that the ball wasn’t given back.

Jordan Ayew was the man that replaced Abraham and he offered more when he was on the pitch. He was willing to drop deep to be given possession, while he got two attempts in on goal during his short time on the pitch.

His distribution was more effective, as displayed by his two key passes. The former Aston Villa man is the player that should lead the line for the relegation-threatened club.

Adam Reach stood out in midfield

This has been a season to forget for Sheffield Wednesday as they are a considerable distance off promotion, despite being one of the best Championship teams in recent seasons.

The match against Swansea provided the players with an opportunity to prove they can compete with Premier League opposition and Adam Reach was one of the standout performers.

The 25-year-old showed glimpses of both attacking and defensive quality, which shows he can contribute in both halves of the pitch. He will be the first to admit his final ball could have been better, but he regularly got in positions to cause problems for the away side. During the match, he attempted three shots and completed 86% of his passes.

Meanwhile, he worked hard out of possession and didn’t allow Swansea to dominate the midfield battle. Reach won four tackles and made a further two interceptions. He was relentless in work rate and his energy rubbed off on the rest of the team. The midfielder will be a player to keep an eye on in the replay.

Alfie Mawson had to miss the match through injury

The Swansea City defender was pencilled in to start in the match, but he was injured in the warm up and had to be replaced in the starting eleven by Kyle Naughton.

This was a major blow for the team as Mawson is a born leader at the back and offers composure to the back-line. He was later pictured wearing a knee brace and holding crutches, in what was a worrying sight.

The last thing Swansea need is a serious injury, especially to one of the team’s most important players. Towards the end of the game, the cameras showed that he was moving his leg more freely, but it is a concern nonetheless.

Naughton came in and did well, with one excellent challenge saving a goal in the first-half. The entire Swansea defence played well, with Kyle Bartley standing out as a Premier League centre-half.

The former Leeds United loanee won five aerial duels and made four ball recoveries. He could be required to step up if Mawson has to miss some of the run-in.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention

Jake Jackman

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Chelsea

Chelsea continued their upturn in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. The Blues were overwhelming favourites for the tie, but they had to get the job done and they did so effectively, scoring four times in the first-half.

They would have had one eye on the Champions League tie against Barcelona that is upcoming and that led to Antonio Conte making several changes.

The Italian decided to rest key players such as Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was the right decision as they progressed with comfort. Here are three talking points from the match:

Olivier Giroud is off the mark

One huge positive to come out of the game for the hosts was Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club. He signed in January to provide competition for Alvaro Morata and his performances have been encouraging since signing, but to hit the back of the net takes the pressure off the Frenchman.

The signing carried relatively little risk for Chelsea as the striker has lots of experience in England and his consistency is already shining through in a Blues’ shirt.

Early into the game, he had a great opportunity to open his account, but he blazed a volley over the bar. It was a difficult chance as the ball was lifted over the defence to play him in, but a striker of his calibre should have done better.

Three goals were scored and he didn’t score one of them. If he had finished the match without scoring, it would have been talked about and that is why his goal just before half-time will relieve the pressure from him.

The rest of his game was excellent as he got two assists and linked up the play well from the front-line. Although he was brought in to be the back-up striker, Conte may give him the start against Barcelona as he is the player in form.

Hull City showed fight in the second half

The contest was over by the time the players stepped back out for the second-half, but Hull City showed fight and commitment to keep the score down to 4-0.

Nigel Adkins knows the importance of every mental victory when battling against relegation and to draw the second half can provide the players with confidence ahead of a return to league action.

Their performance was markedly improved as they created good opportunities and came close to scoring from the penalty spot. David Meyler stepped up and saw his penalty saved, but that didn’t see the players lose focus as they continued to create opportunities. During the match, they had 10 shots to Chelsea’s 14, which shows that they were far from embarrassed. They just didn’t have the quality in the final third that their Premier League opposition did possess.

It would be a huge blow for Hull City to suffer back-to-back relegations and their manager will be aware of that. This match against Chelsea was a good occasion, but it was far from a priority and their defeat won’t live too long in the memory.

They are currently 21st in the Championship and only above the bottom three by one point. Their far superior goal difference provides encouragement, but they must show this level of commitment until the end of the season if they are to avoid the drop.

Willian proved his quality before the return of the Champions League

Rotation can cause problems in the FA Cup, but in this case, it provided an opportunity to those that are on the fringes of the first-team to play themselves into contention for the Champions League.

Willian is an interesting case as he does feature prominently, but he isn’t a guaranteed first-team starter, as Pedro often gets the nod to start ahead of him.

Willian was excellent against Hull City and certainly gave his manager some food for thought ahead of the match with Barcelona. He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made three key passes as he terrorised the opposition defence. On the day, he scored twice, but he easily could have got a hat-trick.

Antonio Conte will be aware that his team’s big weakness is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard. The return of Cesc Fabregas goes some way to providing some support to the Belgian, but if Chelsea can get Willian playing to this level consistently, that would be a positive. He is more dynamic than Pedro and offers more flair to the attack. This performance could see him start against Barcelona.

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