Saturday 11 April 2015

Beware Of The Hedgehog - Hitchin Town FC Vs Cambridge City FC, Evo-Stik Southern Premier League, Top Field (06/04/15)

25 minutes from Finsbury Park station, north of London and a trip through Hertfordshire countryside is Hitchin, the home of Hitchin Town FC and the match of choice on this Easter Bank Holiday Monday. Spring has officially sprung, with blue skies, mild and a complete turnaround from the usual weather that has accompanied us on our travels so far this year. The idea of an Easter Monday jaunt out of London was very appealing.

The ground, Top Field, is only about 15–20minutes walk from the station, and on route about half way, like a stop for a stagecoach, was the Victoria pub which came highly recommended, thank you @ltfcstew  

The perfect weather for a spot of lunch and a pint in the pub garden, but also for a match, so off we set again along the short walk to the ground.

Top Field was not instantly apparent from the road, only after glimpsing through a hedge and seeing the large green and yellow sign, “HITCHIN TOWN FOOTBALL CLUB” did we know we had arrived. Below the sign was the Canary club, and outside a reasonable crowd, were milling around a few tables, getting the most of the sun, and getting in a pre-match drink. “Jackie and Ian welcome you to the Canary club” hangs on the wall as you enter the club house, serving drinks, with a pool table and the walls adorned with clubs shirts and other memorabilia. If you do make a visit to the Top Field and the Canary Club make sure to get you drink in a plastic cup, but as we have learnt, you are treated like an adult at this level of football and you will be able to take your drink into the ground.

Our pit stop at the pub meant we arrived at the ground with only about 10 minutes to spare, so plastic cups in hand we paid the man on the turnstile £10 each, and made our way in. What greets you on the other side is what I would describe as a chocolate box ground. Imagine the archetypal ground of days gone by and that is Top Field to a tee. Let me be clear, this is in no way a criticism or me being condescending, if anything it’s an endorsement and delight at visiting a ground like this.

Surrounded by tall bare trees, new build houses and a Shell Garage, the main stand is single story, with green corrugated metal and red, green and yellow plastic seats, the rest is a real mixture. At one end is a large all standing, uncovered concrete terrace, with green and yellow railings in the clubs colours. It’s like a part of the Kop, has been air lifted and dropped in the middle of Hertfordshire, they have forgotten the roof, and it’s not really in keeping with the rest of the ground.

The other two sides of the ground are surrounded by a mixture of covered and uncovered all wooden terraces, unlike anything we have seen before, and they are already considerably occupied, as we enter the ground, and the football time warp continues as an old woman sits on the terrace with an old handheld FM radio to her ear listening to music.

The programs, my own little football obsession, are sold by a man with glasses, in a club fleece out of a converted shed, near the main entrance to the ground. £2 later, I have another one for the collection.

We take our seats on the covered terrace behind the dug outs. The best views have been taken by the people in the know, who stand and line the back of the terrace, giving them the best view of the pitch, the dug outs, with pitch roofs, obscure our view a little, but it’s not a huge issue, and will be more than worth it once the home manager takes up position.

Some of the substitutes sign autographs for kids in front of us, as the teams emerge from the centre of the main stand, Hitchin Town FC (HT) in green and yellow, and their opponents for today, in what has been described to me as a “localish” derby, Cambridge City FC (CC), play in all sky blue, and their keeper is in a smashing shade of pink. They all shake hands, huddle and get the game underway.

The first half had little in the way of any drama or incident, and HT go in front after a very scrappy and shaky start for both sides. A nice through ball from the right, is latched on to by the HT attacker and he scores easily passing the CC keeper, 1–0 after 8 minutes.

The CC fans, had taken up position on the giant concrete steps, had hung their flags, and were less than delighted with the referee, or his staff from the get go, or for any part of the game in fact, and were more than happy to share their opinions. At one point one of them bellowed out, after his apparent objection to his decision making, “Pull your finger out your back side lino!”

The home manager, rooted to his position on the edge of his box, in tracksuit, blue socks and boots, was giving play by play instruction to the team, and turning to the bench every so often to mutter under his breath, if perhaps his well made and loudly delivered plans, had not been executed to his liking. He had the feel of someone ready to rip off his, tracksuit, sub himself on and, show them how it’s done. His constant encouragement to the home number 9, “Digger”, unfortunately did not result in any more goals for HT, and CC where unable to score either, so the half finished 1–0.

As everyone made their way to either the Canary club for a drink or the food stand for some chips or a cup of tea, and as the fans behind each goal performed what is quickly becoming my favourite quirk of “non League” football, and swapped ends, I made my way to the club office, a green and yellow porta cabin, with a plaque on the door saying “Beware of the hedgehog”.

The club office was, part book shop, with bulging shelves of football related books, and programs from all over the country for sale. The men staffing it were more than happy to indulge my lack of knowledge of the club, and gave me a quick rundown of the clubs history and of football in Hitchin. The club and area are currently celebrating 150 years of football in Hitchin, with Hitchin FC, one of the first clubs in the town, had entered the first FA Cup, back in 1865.

HT as they are today, were formed in 1928, and have played at Top Field ever since, and one of the history buffs, laughed “that things have not changed much since”. The walls of the office had pictures, shirts, pennants and highlights of the clubs history, like a poster of a summer tour to Holland in 1962/63. They both pointed to a picture of the 1960–61 HT team, and said it was perhaps their finest ever , making it to the FA Amateur Cup, what we would now call the FA Trophy, semi finals.

For the second half, we take up a new position near the CC fans, behind the goal they are attacking, and the game gets underway, with a bonfire in a neighbouring garden filling the air with the smell of smoke and a slight haze in the air. It’s not long until HT are 2–0 up, a free kick on the left of the CC box, finds the HT player unmarked, and a free header to score their second of the day. CC really are offering very little going forward. Their attempt to rectify this, is to bring on a unit of a centre forward, whose name causes the stadium announcer untold problems.

When HT do get forward, the CC keeper pulls off some great saves, most notably a one handed scoop off the goal line, to even give CC a chance to stay in the game, but from their performance so far, and even with their fans shouting “attack, attack, attack”, they look very unlike scoring.

The HT keeper has so little to do in the 2nd half, that at one point he does kick ups from a pass back, much to the annoyance of the CC fans behind the goal, and much to their amusement, his next pass back and kick, is shanked up in the air, and results in laughter, cat calls and “Woooooo” from the CC following. Their opinion is that the referee is ignoring the HT time wasting, and thus lets him in for more and more grief.

In the last 5 minutes the game sparks in to life, and CC grab a goal back. A cross from the right is controlled by the CC player, with a combination of upper thigh and stomach, and his next touch is a soft looping shot, that goes in over the out stretched arm of the keeper, 2–1.

The remaining five or so minutes of the game it’s, all CC trying to get the equalizer. A good tempered game flares up in the final moments, after some heavy handed marking in the box at a free kick, results in a bit of argy bargee, which the referee quickly snuffs out. Its backs to the wall for HT, as CC all of a sudden look like they can grab a goal. A late shout for a penalty for CC is declined, and HT get the win, just!

Top Field empties relatively quick, perhaps people keen to get back to the Canary club for a few more drinks in the sun, until it disappears, until no one knows. We wander over to the main stand, and as the players walk off, a few local kids grab a few autographs from the players.

It’s been a lovely day in the sun, watching the football and enjoying a really great little ground. It really does have a fantastic feel about it, like a real piece of footballing history, full of character and certain kind of charm, something totally lacking in so many grounds.  With attendance of over 500 this is again a well supported community club, with lots of kids and families, and as the club shirt says “Football for the future”.

When looking at things to do in Hitchin, one naturally hops on Google, and inevitably ends up on Trip Advisor. There are 26 things listed on there for things to do in Hitchin, with the lido at the summit followed by a long list of pubs. After today’s experience, I would happily put Hitchin at number one.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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