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Friday, April 01, 2005

FA Vase

Hertford Town 2 Long Melford 3 aet

It’s very difficult to write objectively about a club that I know so well, but I obviously follow Hertford until they’re knocked out of the Vase, so here goes.
As you enter the ground, there’s a good sized stand ahead of you and this, along with a completely covered end, gives adequate shelter against the elements and boy was it needed at this game. Hertford’s clubhouse burnt down about 10 years ago, but a new building housing a bar and pool table has been built, an absolute necessity at a football club. The most unique feature is a five-a-side pitch with 2 goals alongside the clubhouse. This is perfect for kids to use whilst their parents watch the game and more importantly, it doesn’t irritate anyone.
I read other people’s accounts of ground hopping with great interest. What gets me, is how they visit obscure little grounds on a Tuesday night and claim that there were 3 or 4 other hoppers there. Why then, do I never see any at Hertford? I man the tannoy, so meet a lot of people, but last season was only aware of 1 hopper. Hertford is a 20 minute walk from two stations, perfect then for ground hopping by public transport. The ground is a little way out of the town and down a track off West Street. There are 2 sorts of coach drivers from visiting teams. Those who like to play it safe and park on the street and those who like to live on the edge and tackle the track. At least half a dozen have never been seen again!!
Have you noticed how Saturdays follow a pattern? It’s grey with a few blue patches when you wake up. The wife drags you round John Lewis for 2 hours, even though you only need a couple of pints of milk and some cheese that they don’t even sell. By this time, the blue sky has gone. It starts drizzling about 13:30 and by kick-off it’s belting down. On this particular Saturday, the weather was simply atrocious.
When the draw was made, I had to look Long Melford up on a map. I’d heard of them, but had no idea where they were based. For those ignorant like me, it’s just above Sudbury in Suffolk.
"You should have seen the pitch on Thurdsday" the chairman’s wife said to me on my arrival. It’s fair to say that Long Melford weren’t impressed with the pitch. The problem is that the ground lies next to a river and floods very easily. A lot of work has been done on it and it does drain well, in fact last season, not a single first team game was postponed. But it does gather surface water quickly. However, the pitch was definitely playable and the game went ahead.
You know you’re in trouble when one of your best midfielders wins the raffle, it means he’s not on the pitch! When two of his midfield colleagues are sitting next to him drinking lager, you realise that you’re going to be short in that particular area.
After a slow start, with both teams looking bedraggled and thoroughly miserable, Hertford took the lead on 20 minutes. Prolific striker Kevin Cooper hooking in a shot that had rebounded from the crossbar. Kevin Cooper along with Andy Gray, must be the most common name in football, they seem to crop up all over the place!
Long Melford made a substitution at half time and this played immediate dividends when he scored within 5 minutes, volleying home a cross from 10 yards. Hertford had the best of possession, frequently getting in behind the defence, but they couldn’t create any clear cut chances. So, as the rain became truly torrential, extra time arrived, neither team looked impressed! It made a change to have extra time at a club near my home. Normally, I’m in the middle of Suffolk and end up having 3 minutes to cover a 10 minute walk to the station, only getting there in the nick of time by sprinting down the road and diving through the closing train doors (Yes, Lowestoft, I am talking about you!)
All the action came in the second period. Long Melford, against the run of play, scored twice in two minutes following a quick break and a defensive howler. There was still time for Hertford to win a dubious penalty for handball. The keeper went the right way and seemed to have saved this, but the ball emerged from under his body and trickled over the line.
This however, proved to be just about the last kick of the game. Fair play to Long Melford who took their chances well
. Disappointing to see my team out of the Vase, but on the bright side, I should have the opportunity to visit several other grounds in the forthcoming rounds.

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