Monday, 16 July 2012

Hitchin Town - Top Field



Hitchin Town FC 
Top Field 
Fishponds Road 
Hitchin 
Herts 
SG5 1NU 

 01642 459028 

Matchday Number: 205
Monday 16th July 2012
Hitchin Town 0-1 Luton Town
Pre Season Friendly


HITCHIN TOWN were founded in 1928, though there was another team in Hitchin active from 1865-1911. In their early years they played in the Spartan and Athenian Leagues, but took the step up to the Isthmian League in 1963. 6 years later they had their best ever finish when it was just a singular division when they finished runners up to Enfield. Since the expansion of the league they have spent time around it's top 2 divisions. Their best ever finish was 5th in the Premier, last achieved in 1994/95 when the league was at step 2 of the non league pyramid. In 2004/05 the Conference North & South were introduced and due to the Isthmian League switching it's boundaries eastward, Hitchin transferred to the Southern League. All but 2 season have been spent in it's top tier - between 2009 and 2011 they spent 2 years in Division 1 Central, finishing 2nd on both occasions. This meant playoffs and after losing out to Slough Town in the first season, they overcame them the following season, then going on to beat Daventry Town to seal promotion. Since returning they achieved their best ever finish of 9th last season. This season was going even better, with them sitting in the playoffs at time of kick off



In the FA Cup, the club have reached the 2nd Round of the FA Cup on 4 occasions. Most recently and one which I remember was in 1994/95. They started in the 1st Qualifying Round with a 2-1 win at Newmarket Town. coming back from a goal down to clinch victory. Faced with what looked like a fairly routine home game against Tiptree United in the next round, they were alarmed to find themselves 3-1 down with the final whistle in sight. However, 2 injury time goals, the second one set up former Wycombe left back Gavin Covington earned them a replay. They triumphed 4-2 and found themselves facing Cambridge City in the 3rd Qualifying Round. Another spectacular 3-3 draw meant a replay was once again needed with Hitchin emerging 3-2 victors. A tricky tie at Burton Albion saw them progress as they won 1-0 and set up a first round tie against football league side Hereford.




With the Bulls scraping round at the bottom of Division 3, a giantkilling was sensed and the nation suddenly heard of Hitchin Town. The tie would see them travel to Edgar Street. 2 goals from Shaun Marshall put them in dreamland with them being 2-1 up at the break, but Hereford got 2 goals of their own and a replay at Top Field was needed. Despite twice going behind, the non leaguers emerged 4-2 winners, hitting national headlines in the process.



The victory set up a game against my own team Wycombe Wanderers, and the scramble for tickets became desperate. Wycombe only got a small allocation of 500 and a ballot was introduced as even demand from season ticket holders outstripped supply. Those Chairboys not lucky enough to procure a ticket even travelled to Hitchin to get one in the home end. I myself was not there, but remember seeing highlights on Match Of The Day at my Nan's house in Folkestone, despite suffering a dodgy stomach. Despite Martin O'Neill's concern at the tricky tie, Wycombe ran out 5-0 winners with chain smoking forward Simon Garner showing why he was Blackburn Rovers' highest ever scorer by notching a hat trick.




Other cup successes have been in the FA Amateur Cup when the Semi Final was reached in 1963. That competition also saw the clubs record attendance of nearly 8000 when Wycombe Wanderers were the visitors back in the 1950's. The 5th Round of the FA Trophy was reached in 1999, with Hereford United again becoming giantkilling victims. Enfield & Weston Super Mare were also beaten before a defeat to Forest Green Rovers ended their Wembley hopes.

This history research was created with the help of the FCHD website, Wikipedia Game of The People Website & Hitchin Town official website. The match report was scanned in from the Bucks Free Press and the match photo was via user 'Newbury Wanderer' on Flickr.




VISIT 1: HITCHIN TOWN 0-1 LUTON TOWN (PSF 16/8/12)


I had been wanting to go to Hitchin's Top Field ground for a while, having had a quick look at it from the outside on the way to a Wycombe away game at Peterborough and it had seemed a really traditional ground. I had also heard good things about the club shop in the way of old programmes. So when the opportunity to visit in a pre season friendly came up, it was pencilled in immediately.

At the time of planning I had been expecting a warm summers evening, basking in the sunshine. But come the day of the game, nothing could be further from the truth. It had rained almost constantly for the previous month, completely washing out the summer. I had quite a few Luton supporting friends, but at on the day of the game, I only knew of one that was going, and a meet up was duly arranged.

I had spent the afternoon of the game, looking at getting a new laptop - a Macbook pro - on eBay and various other sites, but no one was replying to any offers or questions as they were all at work or otherwise engaged. So I spent the last couple of hours before I left looking for stuff to kill time, chatting on Facebook and the like. Eventually the time came to leave, around 5.15 as I needed to get diesel on the way out, and wanted to get there in time to have a good look in the shop, get a good parking space and take some photos.

Typically for me, I left around 20 minutes late, this due to some last minute activity on my laptop sale. I had finally secured what I wanted at a good price. But I would have to go to Huddersfield to collect it. A long way, but it meant I could tick off Alfreton Town's ground for their friendly against Barnsley. And it was still a good deal with the petrol money taken into consideration. So after getting Petrol, it was about 5.50 before I was fully on my way. Annoyingly I encountered a delay almost straight away, a large section of road was coned off for no reason at all, with no sign of workmen either. It was a 5 minute delay waiting at a set of traffic lights, but luckily was not a sign of things to come. The M25 was as smooth as clockwork, and although the M1 was a bit slow, it didn't affect the journey time that much.




I arrived at Hitchin just after 7, and took some pictures of the outside of the ground. I went in and bought a programme for £1 (despite cover price being £1.50) and also a Brian Clough book for 50p and a teamsheet for 10p. No pennant this time, £8.50 was too expensive for me, especially with my wall getting ever fuller. The club shop had a great selection of books and about 10 boxes of old programmes, none that I fancied though. After that I went and took some more pictures of the ground, a really nice and traditional stadium. I went back to the entrance to meet my mate Alex who I had previously only chatted to on Facebook. It was well worth it, he was a great lad and we had a good chat as we watched the game.




As for the game, it was no classic. But not too bad for a pre season friendly. The only goal of the game came halfway through the first half. Adam Watkins was left unmarked and he had an easy job to put it past the home keeper. There were plenty of chances for both sides, but no one else could find the the net. Most of the evening was spent singing anti Watford songs and some funny ditties about Elton John, which aren't really fit to be published here.




Now a lot of people have it in for Luton, and given their past, you can see why. They had a horrible 'plastic pitch' back in the 80's which gave them a strong advantage to them at the time, but resulted to some nasty injuries to players. And then there was an away fans ban - you had to have a Luton Town Membership to attend games at one point in time. This was as a result of some trouble at a game versus Millwall back in the mid 80's where thousands of pounds of damage was caused by the South London mob. It would have been rolled out across the board for all clubs had then sports minister Colin Moynihan had his way, but luckily it was discontinued after a fairly short time and never seen again. And then of course is the less than pleasant experience of watching a match at Kennilworth Road. Set in one of the worst parts of town, the ground has horrible legroom even for a shortarse like me. Several attempts have been made to move Luton to a new stadium, but a less than co-operative local council and severe financial constraints put paid to that idea. And finally, their fans have a reputation for not being very nice to put it mildly. But I think this last point is unfair. I have loads of Luton mates that are all great, and I chatted to quite a few Luton fans tonight who were top class and wished Wycombe well for the season. And I have never encountered any of their so called 'bad fans'

The journey home was a lot easier, taking under 50 minutes. I got in and started making plans for the following day, it was starting to be a busy week off work for me.



VISIT 2: HITCHIN T 4-2 PETERBOROUGH SP (FA CUP 14/9/15)

As with the last time I visited here, it was the start of my week off. Originally I was planning to stay up north and go to AFC Fylde but in the end I decided to base myself at home to save money on an admittedly cheap area for hotels in Blackpool. The main reason was because I would have little to do during the day without my home comforts. However I was determined to see as much football as possible and with the nearest 'new' ground for me being at Daisy Hill near Bolton I decided to do a revisit to a ground that is my personal favourite. Hitchin had drawn 1-1 in the original tie at Peterborough on Saturday, with the home keeper in inspired form to take the game to a replay.




On the day of the game I was enjoying my day off work, but was waiting for the FA Cup draw to come out. The FA were not giving out any clues and being very secretive with when it was going to be done. Eventually around 12.30 it was completed and I spied 25 potential groundhops in the next round. The winners of tonight's game faced a trip to Kirkley & Pakefield, a ground which I have yet to visit. However that one is a long shot, and my game of choice will almost certainly be Paulton Rovers v Aylesbury as my hopping friend Anwar is an Aylesbury fan. However, they will need to progress against Chesham United in a replay tomorrow night and if that doesn't come off then Hook Norton Town v Weston Super Mare is currently favourite. 




I spent the afternoon of the blog researching Hitchin's history for this blog, which involved quite a bit of digging. I had a small job to do and these 2 things together took up most of my afternoon. I had dinner and left home around 5.50. Looking at the opponents, it was Peterborough Sports' first season for a long while in the FA Cup and they had got this far by beating Eynesbury Rovers and Newmarket Town, being the away side in both cases.

The journey over to Hitchin was pretty good, with the only delay coming when I joined the M1 where traffic was slow but at least it was moving. I there around 7PM, having listened to BBC 3 Counties Sports show on the way, which to be honest wasn't great. They seemed to be more interested in talking about aftershave and TV adverts and although they mentioned the draw for the next round it wasn't very professional with them interrupting each other.


I paid £10 at the gate for entry before visiting the club shop. I bought a team sheet for 20p, plus a pen for 80p. I also got myself a drawstring bag to replace the Blyth Spartans one that I normally use as it's getting a bit tatty. The guy who sold it to me didn't exactly fill me with confidence about it's durability saying 'Don't put anything too heavy in it - I put a flask in it, and smash!, it went straight through the bottom' After getting some pictures of the ground, I took my place on the far side, standing near the halfway line.
 

The game started with the home side well on top, but gradually Peterborough Sports worked their way into the match. And it was they who opened the scoring on 15 minutes with an absolute screamer from 25 yards. Jordan Macleod's stunning strike flew into the top right hand corner and was the first shot of any quality, as up until then, the attacking play had been pretty scrappy. Being the home and higher placed side Hitchin put pressure on their opponents. They had already come close with a free kick just over the bar and they got their equaliser on 24 minutes when Robbie Burns bundled in from close range. On the half hour mark former Wycombe keeper Charlie Horlock made a great save to tip a Peterborough Sports free kick over the bar. He was left red faced 8 minutes later as he fumbled a simple cross and Avelino Viera took advantage to put the visitors 2-1 ahead. A minute from half time it was back to level pegging as Kane Smith's shot from the edge of the area went through a crowd of players and into the bottom left hand corner.

At half time I moved to the other side and sat in the stand. I was joined by fellow hopper and Middlesbrough fan Lee and we had a good chat while we watched the second half unfold. As with the first, Hitchin were well on top but the visitors were weathering the storm. The hosts came close to scoring on 56 minutes when they shot narrowly over the bar and were even more unlucky on 75 when they hit the bar and the ball bounced on the line before being cleared. Peterborough Sports were given hope around 10 minutes from time when Will Wright was sent off for the hosts after he prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity with a foul, This led to them having a bit of a chance and it looked to have evened up a game that they had not really been in for large hunks of the second half. Hitchin had a golden opportunity to win it on 87 minutes but Kane Smith hit the post when clear with only the keeper to beat.


Into extra time it went then and it was getting quite tense with the more partizan fans of either side snapping at the referee as the prospect of penalties loomed. In the end they were not needed, even though the tiring visitors might have wanted them. Hitchin continued to dominate and they won it with 2 extra time goals. They had alread come close minutes earlier with a shot that went narrowly over the angle of post and bar but on 108 minutes they took the lead for the first time on the night. It was Johnny McNamara's curling shot into the top right hand corner that set them on course to win. There was little sign of an equaliser and 3 minutes from time the impressive Kane Smith rounded the keeper to make it 4-2 and confirm Hitchin's trip to Kirkley & Pakefield in the next round.

Peterborough Sports players looked dejected but they had played their part in a great FA Cup tie and had enjoyed an excellent first season in the competition. To put it in context it was the equivalent of Morecambe taking West Ham to a replay in a latter round of the FA Cup, and with the Premiership side taking it seriously too. I'd enjoyed my night out and went home in a happy mood. It was a good trip home, taking less than 50 minutes, with me getting back at 23.10. 


TOP FIELD is a cracking little football ground, steeped in tradition and unique - quite unlike any other ground I have visited. Along one side is a largish stand, holding around 500 people. Then to the left of that, is a large uncovered terrace, one of the bigger ones in non league football. These 2 stands alone make it well worth a visit, but the other 2 sides are even more interesting and unique. They are wooden terracing (or they could be used as benches should people wish to sit) They are pretty steep in height and so offer a good view, and a lot of them are covered too to protect from the elements. Luckily, not a drop of rain tonight, despite being wet all day.

In addition to that, there is a good tea bar, which sadly had sold out of chips by the time I had the chance to sample them, but the sausage baguette was nice that I had. And as mentioned before, the club shop was pretty good too. There is also a bar at the ground, not that I tried it, having had a heavy weekend on the sauce. There is also a local pub, and plenty of street parking too. The town centre is also walkable, should you have time on your hands and want a wider choice.

Sadly I read in the programme that Hitchin have plans for a new ground. It would be really sad to see this unique ground full of character be replaced by another identikit stadium, so get down to see a game while you can - you won't regret it. Thankfully since then the stadium has been 'saved' from demolition by failing supermarket chain Tesco thanks to hard work from their supporters who opposed the land owners - The Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust to sell up.














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