Hereford FC will face Woking on the 27th March 2021 in the FA Trophy Semi Final.
Matt Healey takes a trip down memory lane by speaking to a couple of players who were involved during Hereford United’s previous FA Trophy Semi Final matches in 1971 and 2001.
The FA Trophy was staged for the first time during the 1969/1970 season. It was designed as an opportunity for non league teams to get the opportunity to play at Wembley Stadium.
In the 1970/1971 season Hereford had reached the semi finals of the competition. John Charles who was an absolute legend in the world of football (Former Leeds United and Juventus player) was the man in charge at Edgar Street and in the Quarter Finals a crowd of 9,412 packed into Edgar Street to see Hereford beat Macclesfield Town 2-0.
Back then the Semi Finals were a one legged affair and were played at a neutral venue. Hereford would face Hillingdon Borough at Leicester City’s then Filbert Street ground. Club historian Ron Parrott takes us back 50 years.
“As a football-mad youngster, I was never amongst the ranks of the Spurs, Liverpool, Leeds and dare I say it, Manchester United fans. As far as I was concerned, there was and always will be, only one United – my beloved Hereford United.
To me, Wembley was a dream that was reserved for the rich clubs of this world and then, as a lad of 19, the FA Trophy was born and with it, a realistic chance for Hereford to reach the twin towers of Wembley. Defeat at Barnet ended the first season’s dream but in 1970 with John Charles at the helm, United had a side to be feared and wins over Gloucester City, Bury Town, Banbury United and Northern League giants Macclesfield in the quarter-finals, set up a semi-final at Leicester City’s Filbert Street with fellow Southern-leaguers Hillingdon Borough.
Parrott continued “We had played Hillingdon twice in the League that season and had already put 10 goals past them!! A 4-2 victory away from home was followed by a magnificent 6-3 home win, thanks to an Alan Rodgerson hat-trick. Surely Wembley was now a reality. I remember the drive to Leicester as if it was yesterday, it seemed as if the whole of Hereford was on the road that day. We were full of confidence. We couldn’t see Hillingdon scoring against Fred Potter, Mick McLaughlin, Roger Griffiths, Alan Jones and Co., after all, they only had one striker and Roger Smee had signed for Hereford just before Christmas”
Ricky George is best remembered for scoring the winning goal for Hereford United against Newcastle United in a famous 2-1 FA Cup 3rd round replay win on the 5th February 1972, but 12 months earlier he had just signed for Hereford.
George tells me how the signing happened “My mate Billy Meadows was playing for Hereford and told me that John Charles was interested in signing me. It was an enormous compliment to hear that, they assumed I was cup tied in the FA Trophy, but in fact a few months earlier I didn’t play in Barnet’s loss to Kidderminster Harriers in the First Round. I had a bout of tonsillitis and missed out, as soon as I told Billy the news that I could play and was eligible to play for Hereford in the FA Trophy, John Charles snapped me up pretty quickly.”
George continues “We were the red-hot favorites to win, Hereford had beaten Hillingdon twice that season and we took a fantastic amount of supporters to the game, we had the nucleus of the side that would win promotion the following year,” said George.
“The likes of Ken Mallender and Ronnie Radford hadn’t joined yet, but we had Fred Potter in goal, plus Mick McLaughlin, Dudley Tyler and Alan Jones all playing. The script was written for us to win and for the Wembley Final to be John Charles’s swansong, he was in his late 30’s and still playing, he was such a powerful force in our side.”
However, Hillingdon didn’t read the script and defeated the Bulls 2-0.
“It turned out to be the biggest anti-climax ever, we were 1-0 down and I missed a great chance to equalise,” explained George.
“It was poor miss. I should have scored. To this day I still think about it, we ended up losing 2-0 and I was devastated. I trudged off the field next to John Charles and I told him how sorry I was. It showed the class of the man when he said in his welsh accent, ‘Oh don’t worry I’ve seen Omar Sivori miss easier chances’ (Sivori was Charles strike partner at Juventus). He was such a great man and he must have been hurting badly. I was absolutely devastated and here he was trying to make me feel better.”
Ron Parrott recalls the devastation “The game was a nightmare that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. United just simply could not get going and were outplayed in all departments and ironically, it was their poaching of Roger Smee that proved to be their downfall. Left short of firepower, the Londoners had converted defenders Bishop and Reeve into strikers and Bishop it was that gave the underdogs the lead after 28 minutes when he intercepted an awful back pass from Brian Potts. I remember feeling unperturbed at this setback, we were a far superior side and would soon strike back”
Parrott continues “How wrong I was! Hillingdon more than held their own and the few chances that came United’s way were thrown away. I remember in particular one glaring open goal miss by Ricky George and several other close calls. It wasn’t until the last quarter of an hour that the awful reality hit home. Was the unthinkable going to happen? Were we really not going to Wembley? I couldn’t take it all in, we couldn’t lose, we’d scored 10 against them already, surely we could manage just one more! Sure enough there was one more goal but inevitably, it was at the wrong end. With only three minutes remaining, converted defender Reeve slotted home his side’s second and it was all over, the Wembley dream was no more”
The dressing room was a sorry sight and Ricky George told me how it affected a legendary member of the squad.
“That was the only time I saw Billy Meadows cry, he was distraught, he really wanted to play at Wembley and the second season in a row he had been knocked out in the semi-finals, we both never made it to the twin towers in our careers,” added George. “It wasn’t a great time for me as I felt the Hereford fans thought signing me was a mistake, the season finished and I think we were in the top four, but it’s a bit of a blur to be honest as I was gutted to miss out on playing at Wembley.”
Fast forward 30 years and the 2000/2001 Hereford United team reached the semi finals again.
A Rob Elmes header in a 1-0 Quarter Final win against Burton Albion meant the Bulls would face fellow conference side Forest Green over two legs.
Elmes had joined Hereford United in 1999 from Halesowen and was the top scorer during the 2000/2001 season.
Elmes remembers both semi final matches well “The 1st leg at Forest Green was a horrible day weather wise, the wind was fierce and it was lashing down with rain”
Elmes continued “I put us into the lead in the 1st half. The 2nd half the wind was against us and they equalised, probably against the run of play I put us 2-1 ahead with a volley. I didn’t score many of those, but it was a great cross from Ian Rodgerson which Tony James flicked on, but then we conceded a soft penalty and the game ended 2-2”
I think most Hereford fans were happy with the draw at Forest Green and with away goals not counting it was effectively a one off game to reach the final at Villa Park. Forest Green had three ex Premier League in their squad. Stuart Slater, Tony Daley and Frankie Bennett. The trio hadn’t exactly sent the league alight and Forest Green were struggling towards the bottom of the table, but they were big game players who could turn it on when needed.
The 2nd leg was played at Edgar Street on the 7th April 2021 and Hereford were favorites to win the tie. Elmes remembers the build up “We knew we were a match for anyone, we had a good team, Scott Cooksey in goal, Matt Clarke as full back, Ian Wright and Tony James the centre halfs and Gavin Williams and Paul Parry on the wings, Edgar Street was full and the crowd really got behind us at the start”
Forest Green won the toss and changed ends, The Bulls would be shooting towards the Meadow End in the 1st half. Hereford started well against the unfancied visitors. Steve Perrin in the Forest Green goal made a number of fine saves and it seemed only a matter of time before the deadlock was going to be broken. Unfortunately it was the visitors that broke it. Against the run of play Frankie Bennett smashed the ball home from a Stuart Slater cross and three minutes later Alex Meechan made it 2-0.
The tie was effectively over early in the 2nd half when Chris Burns slotted home from close range. Ian Wright pulled one back, but former Hereford player, the heavily maligned Adrian Foster made it 4-1 and the Bulls were dumped out of the competition.
I ask Elmes why Hereford capitulated on the day “We started sluggishly and just couldn’t get going, it was another wet day and the pitch was muddy, the two quick goals knocked the stuffing out of us and in doing so killed the crowd. The Hereford fans were like the 12th man, but we let them down. To this day it remains the biggest regret of my career. We were all majorly disappointment in the changing room after the game, we could hear the angry Hereford fans outside. Graham Turner wasn’t exactly throwing cups of tea around, but he was angry with us and rightly so”
Elmes still has a great affection for Hereford, “I went to the FA Vase final against Morpeth five years ago, myself, Matt Clarke and Matt Gardiner went down on the train and we sat with the Hereford fans, despite the result it was a great day out and it was good to see the club start the journey back after being reformed”
Hereford FC will face Woking at Edgar Street on the 27th March 2021. Football has changed a lot the past 50 years, back in 1971 only one substitute could be named, the Bulls and the Cards will have the choice of seven at the weekend, the rules this year mean that the semi final will be played as a one off match and not two legs. A penalty shootout will occur if the scores are level after 90 minutes instead of the normal 210 minutes.
Both Hereford and Woking have different build ups leading up to the Semi Final. Hereford will have had four weeks without competitive action. Woking will have played seven games since Hereford beat Aldershot in the Quarter Finals. Hereford won’t have the advantage of a home crowd, but I presume due to Covid that Woking will have to travel west on the morning and miss out on the luxury of an overnight stay. It’s tantalizingly poised and whatever happens in this strange and weird expunged season Josh Gowling’s team have done wonderfully well to get this far.
Hereford United and Woking played each other regularly during the Conference days of 1997-2006 and 2012-2014, but this will be the first time Hereford FC have faced Woking and also the first time that Hereford FC have reached an FA Trophy Semi Final.
Woking are the league above and Hereford FC will be the underdogs. It is a credit to Hereford FC and also Hornchurch (who are in the other semi final against Notts County) to have reached this far in what was a stop/start season before it all ended up being expunged.
I wrap up the article by asking Ricky George what message he has for the Hereford players ahead of the Woking game.
“Tony Gough always used to say at every giantkillers reunion that we will always be a part of Hereford, but Hereford will always be a part of us. I just want to say to the current Hereford players, that even though Edgar Street will be empty on the day, all of the city will be with you. Do it for the fans. Hereford is a great place, with great people and they are the best supporters in the world.”
*Pictures supplied by Ron Parrott, Hereford Journal and the MH Archive