Hemel Hempstead Town FC
Ground Number: 162
Saturday 23rd April 2011
Hemel Hempstead Town 1-0 Evesham United
Southern League Premier Division
The club was formed in 1895 and was initially known as Apsley End. They've also been known as Apsley (1897 - 1955) and Hemel Hempstead (1971-1999 following a merger with Hemel Hempstead United) They started out as members of the West Herts League before becoming founder members of the Herts County Senior League in 1898 and would remain here until 1922 when they joined the Spartan League. A spell in the Spartan League followed and the club progressed through its divisions, thanks to a number of runners-up spots and a Division 1 win in 1933. In 1952, Hemel joined the Delphian League, the best finish being a runners-up spot in 1962. Two years later, they joined the Athenian League, the highlight of this spell was finishing 9th in the Premier Division in 1966. In 1977, they'd join the Isthmian League, starting out in Division 2. Hemel never set the world alight, their best finish being 4th in 1993 before eventually being relegated to Division 3 in 1997. They bounced back immediately, finishing as champions before being crowned as Division 2 champions two years later. However, ground grading issues prevented them gaining promotion. With the necessary improvements made and restructuring, Hemel Hempstead Town would win promotion to the Southern Premier in 2004 and although they were relegated in their first season, they bounced back immediately, finishing 4th before beating Swindon Supermarine and Brackley Town in the playoffs. After losing to Gosport Borough in the 2013 Southern Premier playoffs, Hemel were champions the following year. Since then, they've plied their trade in the Conference South and thanks to a best-ever finish of 5th, are participating in the end of season playoffs for the first time.
In the FA Cup, Hemel's best progress has been the 1st Round, reached on two occasions. The latest came in 2014/15 where they beat Dunstable Town, Chippenham Town and Nuneaton Town before a 3-1 defeat to Bury. The FA Vase 5th Round was reached in 1982 before a 3-1 defeat at home to local rivals Cheshunt. As for the FA Trophy, the standout season was 2014/15 when Truro City, Sutton United & Concord Rangers were beaten before a 3-0 defeat to Torquay United. Local cup wins include the Herts Senior Cup six times, the Herts Charity Shield on six occasions and the Herts Charity Cup three times. Record appearance holder is John Wallace with an incredible 1,012 outings for the side whilst the record attendance of 3,500 came for a 1962 FA Amateur Cup game against Tooting & Mitcham United.
VISIT 1: HEMEL H 1-0 EVESHAM UNITED
The game itself was fairly average, your typical end of season counter where both teams had nothing to play for. Hemel included former Wycombe youth players Ryan Parsons and David Pearce in their side, while Evesham's most recognisable player was experienced defender Wayne Daniel. It was a real mid-table clash, Hemel sitting 15th on 41 points and Evesham three places and 7 points ahead of them. Evesham had won the reverse clash back in August, but Hemel got their revenge in on this occasion. In front of a crowd of 161, Marvin Williams 55th minute goal was enough to see off the visitors and win the game for the hosts.
VISIT 2: HEMEL 0-0 BRAINTREE (CONF SOUTH P/O 2/5/18)
Braintree Town won 3-2 on penalties
Hemel was one of the last grounds that I had been to before starting my blog and so with only a brief write up on it, it was a ground that I wanted to revisit. Despite it being fairly local, it had evaded me. I'd considered visiting for a youth team game, but was unable to confirm whether the games were on or not, so I gave it a miss. I first thought of this potential game a couple of weeks before it happened. I knew a few decent people from Braintree and was aware of their potential pairing with Hemel in the playoffs and it was by far my preferred choice for my revisit. Luckily results panned out as I wanted to them and the fixture schedulers were kind, putting the game on Wednesday rather than Tuesday where I'd be able to go further afield. The only annoying thing was the seemingly high £15 entry. I think that it should be £10 at this level, although to be fair I'd paid £14 at both Kidderminster and Darlington this season, so it wasn't too outrageous. Once I'd checked that my mate Dan was coming, I planned the game in, happy that it was fairly close to home so I could eat at home and the petrol costs would not be too much.
On the day of the game, I woke after only a few hours sleep due to a late night from football and an early 4am start at work. It was an average day and so I finished at 12.15 and went home for a sleep. For the second Wednesday afternoon in a row, I had a longer nap than usual and woke at 5.15. After a quick bath, change of clothes and dinner, I left home at 6.25. It was a reasonable journey and I got to Hemel at 7.05. Knowing it would be busy, I parked up in a side road ten minutes from the ground. After walking to the ground and paying £15 to get in, I was surprised to have a bag search and be patted down by stewards. Not usually something I expect at this level, but I felt better when a free programme and teamsheet was given to me. I was pleased to see Dan and we had a good chat whilst walking around the ground. They’d added some terracing and seated one of the ends since my last visit as well as moving the club shop. Around 15 minutes from kick off, I went and got a decent space along the side, knowing that the ground was filling up quickly. I caught up online while waiting for kick off as well as adding to this blog. The atmosphere was building nicely and there was a name apiece that I recognised from the teams. For Hemel, it was former Wycombe youth teamer Scott Shulton whilst Braintree had Mahrez Bettache, an unsuccessful trialist who had played for us in a pre-season friendly at Staines a few years back.
The game started pretty evenly but soon enough Hemel were in the ascendancy with them looking better at holding the ball up in the final third. Marc Okoye was especially was especially impressive in defence for Braintree and was the difference between them keeping a clean sheet and conceding, the score being level at the break. The second half was much the same story, although Braintree were much improved. Anyone hoping for a repeat of the enthralling 4-3 scoreline when these sides did battle back in the normal season, but the 1,165 present had seen a highly competitive game, albeit one with a lack of clear-cut chances. Into extra time and Braintree had their best chance of the game so far, drawing a great save from home keeper Laurie Walker. Generally, though, they were wasteful, despite looking the brighter side in extra time. And so it went to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out and that had its fair share of drama. The first two kicks for each side were successfully converted, but then much to the delight of the Braintree fans, their former midfielder Scott Shulton missed Hemel’s third. The shootout was then interrupted by a moronic pitch invader who the stewards grappled with and took a while to clear. This appeared to unsettle Diaz Wright who hit the bar for Braintree. David Mayo screwed his penalty wide for Hemel before Dan Thompson converted for Braintree. Sanchez Watt couldn’t do the same for Hemel and so Braintree now face Dartford on Sunday in the semi-final.
It was now 10.40 and with it being so late, all of the road closures had started. There was a delay on the M25, but I was still back home by 11.20, going to bed 20 minutes later. I later learned that there has been fighting in the end where the penalties were being taken, which was very sad to see. It was probably the reason for the heavy steward presence which would have put a dent in Hemel's takings for the night. I think that if you can't stand next to an opposing fan without starting a fight then you are sub-human scum and shouldn't be allowed the privilege of going to a football match as it spoils it for the vast majority of decent people. I met plenty of fans from both sides and they were all decent. More doubt it was day trippers who come out for big games looking for trouble. There was also a smoke bomb and although I love that sort of thing and would like to see it more, the authorities have made it patently clear that it is banned and fans have to respect it, however wrong they think it is.
VAUXHALL ROAD is a smart ground with cover on all 4 sides. There is a seated area on either side, the biggest of these holds 250 whilst the smaller, older one holds around 50. There is also a terrace at either end, these hold 900 under cover between them. The rest of the ground is open and has an overall capacity of 3150. Facilities at the ground include a bar and a tea bar, these were OK but nothing special. There are a couple of pubs nearby, or the town, which includes a Wetherspoons, is about half an hour walk away. There's a decent club shop, as well as club souvenirs, there is a decent range of old programmes.
My 2018 visit saw a few changes - the seats in the smaller stand had been renewed, one of the terraces behind the goal had been seated, there was some new terracing, the club shop had moved, a scoreboard had been added and there was a new tea bar.
SCORES ON THE DOORS
1: Ground facilities & condition (for the level)
Has improved to become one of the better grounds in the Conference South, whilst still retaining character (7)
2: Area around the ground (parking, food/drink, public transport)
Plenty of street parking, about a mile or so from town, but places nearby (6)
3: Welcome / Club Friendliness
Made to feel welcome (7)
4: Value for money
£15 was a bit steep, even with 'free' programme (5)
5: Social Media & Website
Regular updates on Twitter, informative website (8)
Both issues had lots to read and were well presented, second was free (8)
7: Game entertainment
Neither clash was epic, but not bad either (6)
8: Tea Bar
Looked fairly standard (6)
9: Bar / Clubhouse
A standard range of drinks, unsure of prices. Looked a bit dated, but had TV (6)
10: Club Shop
Lots of choices, old programmes too (7)
TOTAL SCORE FROM A POSSIBLE 100: 66
AVERAGE SCORE: 6.6