Matt Healey continues the series with a former player, physio and manager at Edgar Street.
Jamie Pitman was born in Trowbridge on the 6th January 1976. He started his career at Swindon Town and made three Football League appearances for the Robins. He joined Hereford United in February 1996. Pitman tells me how he arrived at Edgar Street .
“I was playing for Scarborough against Walsall in a reserve game and the Hereford Chief Scout Ron Jukes was watching, the next day Graham Turner contacted me and I signed for the club”
Pitman made his debut in a 1-0 home win against Chester City on the 20th February 1996. The Bulls were at the time languishing in mid table, but would then go on an incredible run and reach the 3rd Division Play Offs. “It was a great squad with plenty of experience, there were a couple of young whipper snappers in me and Murray Fishlock playing as wing backs and we had the likes of Dean Smith, Richard Wilkins and Steve White showing their class”
Hereford would meet Darlington in the Play Off Semi Final. The 1st leg at Edgar Street ended in a 2-1 defeat for Graham Turner’s side, it was up to Feethams for the 2nd tie “I remember we went there and stayed in a nice hotel for a pre match meal, we made our way back to the ground and as soon as we got in the changing room, somebody had broken in and put pictures of Steve White (Hereford top scorer) and ripped them through our clothes pegs. It was a hostile atmosphere and we lost that game 2-1”
Pitman would sign a new contract ahead of the 1996/1997 but it was a season of immense disapointment.
“I dislocated my shoulder early on and hardly played, it was frustrating watching from the sidelines, I was fit by the end of the season and was on the subs bench for the infamous game against Brighton”
Hereford were tragically relegated from the Football League on 3rd May 1997. In an end of season shootout. The final game of the season was against Brighton. To stay in the Football League Hereford needed to win. Brighton needed a win or a draw. The game ended 1-1.
Despite accruing 47 points, which would normally most seasons keep you up. It was sods law that in the 1996/1997 season the rules had changed.
Usually when a team is level on points, the usual system of goal difference would kick in, but that season it was changed to goals scored, and with Hereford scoring less than Brighton, and with both clubs level on 47 points, Hereford went down by just 3 goals. If it had been on goal difference then the Bulls would have survived.
“Brighton had just gone a fantastic run and caught up with us. I cannot describe the devastation in the changing room, it was bad enough for the players, but it must have been ten times worse for the fans, you keep thinking what if, what if, what if, but we were relegated and had to deal with it”
Pitman signed a new contract ahead of the 1997/1998 season in the GM Vauxhall Conference. He scored his first Hereford goal in a 2-1 home win against Farnborough on the 9th September 1997.
Hereford started poorly in the league and suffered a hangover from the previous relegation. Pitman was on the scoresheet in a 1-1 draw against Southport on the 18th October 1997.
“It was a good campaign for me personally, as I played most of the games, one of my favourite matches was the 2-1 win over Brighton in the FA Cup, we wanted to put one over them and I set up Neil Grayson for his 1st goal”
Hereford’s financial problems were beginning to bite and the players went weeks without being paid “It was tough, but we had a really good group of lads and we stuck together”
Pitman scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Morecambe on the 14th February 1998.
Hereford finished the season well and ended up in 6th position. In the modern era it would have meant a Play Off place, but back then only one team went up and Halifax Town ran away with it. Pitman would leave Hereford that summer and joined Yeovil Town.
“I just felt I needed a change, looking back it wasn’t necessarily the right move to have made, but I felt I needed to kick on. I didn’t handle my departure well either. I also managed to break my leg in my 1st game at the new club”
Pitman later joined Woking and scored the winning goal to knock Hereford out of the FA Cup in a 4th round qualifying tie on the 28th October 2000. “The most wettest day ever, I remember Hereford fans ringing me on my phone and giving me stick after the game. Later on Graham told me that the goal nearly put the club out of business, the finances were that bad and they desperately needed a cup run”
Pitman returned to Hereford in the summer of 2002.
“I have so much respect for Graham Turner and I felt bad about how I left the club earlier and that I was sorry for my behaviour. I wrote Graham a letter saying that I wanted to come back. I was still living in Hereford and working as a fitness instructor for Halo. I said I didn’t want to be travelling round the country when I could easily return to Edgar Street. Graham got in contact with me and I ended up re-signing for the club”
Pitman had a great start to his return and had scored four goals by early September “It was funny that as I don’t think I scored again, for the first few weeks on Sky Sports news I was one of the top scorers in the league”
Pitman’s former Yeovil Town colleague Ben Smith had also signed for Hereford “As soon as Ben joined us he became a different character, he was a fantastic player and he played the best football of his career at Edgar Street. I was playing for Hereford part time, but working in a gym I was the fittest I had ever been”
Hereford finished 6th in the 2002/2003 season and you had the feeling that the Bulls would be pushing for automatic promotion next time around.
“Graham had changed as a manager and with Richard O’Kelly doing the coaching it all fitted into place, we played some of the best football I had seen. I remember when we beat Dagenham 9-0. I think it was Tony James on the coach back saying we would win every game until the end of the season which we did”
Hereford missed out on automatic promotion by one point. Chester City had pipped the Bulls. It would be a two legged semi final against Aldershot for the chance to meet Shrewsbury or Barnet in the final at the Britannia Stadium. The 1st leg at the Recreation Ground ended 1-1.
“We dominated both games if I’m being honest, Andy Tretton got sent off at Edgar Street but we were still the better side, it went to penalties and we lost, we were such a close knit group and it was devastating, we always socialised together, its no coincidence that the players who stayed struggled at the start of the following season, myself included. We were the best team in the league. I know Chester pipped us, but we lost a player of the class of Paul Parry who moved to Cardiff City in the January and we didn’t win for a few games, that’s what cost us, it took us a few weeks to get going again after Parry left”
I asked Pitman what was worse, being relegated from the Football League, or being knocked out in the Play Offs. “That’s a tough question, I would probably say being knocked out in the Play Offs. I was more involved in the Play Off team and we were such a good squad and deserved to go up. It was heartbreaking to go out in that fashion”
That summer would see a mass exodus from Edgar Street. Steve Guinan would join Cheltenham, Michael Rose went to Yeovil. Matt Baker linked up with Wrexham. Ben Smith signed for Shrewsbury and popular coach Richard O’Kelly departed to Bournemouth. Pitman remained at the club for the 2004/2005 season.
“I was in an out of the team, I missed Richard O’Kelly who left to join Bournemouth, we had such a great relationship, we had a good group of players, but weren’t streetwise enough, we lost to Stevenage in the Play Offs this time”
Graham Westley team of giants defeated the Bulls 2-1 on aggregate “They did a job on us and we had to go again next season”
Hereford had played some excellent football, but also seemed to struggle against the more physical teams. Graham Turner thought this too and added plenty of experience that summer. Alex Jeannin, Jon Brady, Wayne Brown, Guy Ipoua and Stacy Coldicott were all signed.
“All season Guy Ipoua would be telling us that we would win promotion, he had this aura about him. I was so relieved when we beat Morecambe in the Semi Finals, that was a huge relief. I thought I was cursed as I had lost the three previously that I was involved in at the club”
The Bulls would face Halifax at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester on the 20th May 2006. A place in the Football League was at stake.
“It was an end to end game. I was sat on the bench next to Craig Mawson. Adam Stansfield and Andy Williams did so much running up front. Guy Ipoua came on and made it 2-2 and Ryan Green won it for us in Extra Time. It was a fantastic day”
Pitman would leave Hereford that summer.
“I knew it was coming, I wasn’t involved as much, we had the likes of Craig Stanley and Andy Ferrell playing in midfield. Graham told me he was releasing me to my face and it got very emotional, he valued my loyalty to the club and I was in tears”
Pitman would sign for Forest Green, but in September 2008 he was back at Edgar Street, but this time as the new physiotherapist to replace Wayne Jones.
“It was completely out of the blue. Forest Green were doing well in the league, but I was struggling with injuries. Graham called me and within 24 hours I was back. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn from him and I couldn’t turn it down. I needed to think about the future now so retired from playing”
In May 2010 after 15 years at Edgar Street Turner would depart to become manager of Shrewsbury Town and he sold his shares to local man David Keyte. Former Barnsley manager Simon Davey was installed as the new boss, but after a terrible start Davey was sacked after 10 games and physio Jamie Pitman was installed as caretaker manager.
“Simon was a great guy, but it didn’t work for him. I got asked to take charge of the team for a game against Exeter City and it just carried on”
A famous 4-3 comeback win against Northampton Town meant that Pitman carried on in the role, but the board of directors wanted him to bring in some experience to assist him. Former Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence was appointed to mentor Pitman.
Pitman bought out the best in Mathieu Manset and Stuart Fleetwood who went on a fantastic goal scoring run.
“We reached the 4th round of the FA Cup and played Sheffield Wednesday. Manset had been sold to Reading a week or so earlier, but if he was still with us I think we would have gone there and won. I could write a book about that era. Lennie Lawrence had been helping me out. He was a proper mentor and so supportive, but he left to join Crystal Palace, then Dave Kevan came in, but he went to join Stoke, we also had three points deducted as well for an administrative error. We were up against it, but I remember when the points were deducted we went and beat Chesterfield who were flying, we beat them 3-0, we stayed up and I was so relieved. I think we only lost 6 out of the last 23 and put a run together to ensure our survival”
Pitman signed a two year contract as manager ahead of the 2011/2012 season. He was also awarded a testimonial game against then Premier League Bolton Wanderers, but looking back things weren’t what they seem.
“Looking back I should have just left at the end of the season, the budget was slashed and I tarnished my legacy by what later happened, but back then you think you can take on the world, we had a smaller squad and had to go with a lot of loan players, there were things going on behind the scenes and some players on lots of money that was costing the club an absolute fortune”
Gary Peters came into the club to assist Pitman in October 2011. Hereford were bottom of the league “I didn’t get on with Gary. I respect what he achieved as a manager but we had two contrasting styles, over a period of time it was getting worse and worse and the players were getting frustrated. I thought about it a lot. I called the Chairman (David Keyte) and told him we couldn’t go on like this, the players were struggling with Gary’s methods”
Gary Peters was a member of the original Wimbledon Crazy Gang from the 1980’s. He had also worked under John Beck at Cambridge United. Beck had taken Cambridge from the old 4th Division to nearly making the inaugural Premier League season in 1992. This was achieved by a certain style of football which you needed a certain type of player to execute
Hereford faced Dagenham and Redbridge on the 14th January 2012. “I stood up at the dinner table and told the players we were going back to my way of doing things, we took the players to a pub and they visibly relaxed. I told them that I was sorry that I let them down, we went and won 1-0 and the mood had lifted amongst the squad”
Peters wasn’t happy “We spoke and he told me he didn’t agree with my methods, but I told him that I wanted to do things my way, he then took a step away from the club and did a bit of scouting. He would come to the occasional game”
Hereford faced Gillingham on the 29th February and lost 5-4. A change was needed. Many expected Gary Peters to take the reigns, but Richard O’Kelly returned.
“I was asking the board to bring Richard in, he had so much knowledge and plenty of experience. I needed help and was ready to step aside as the club wasn’t bigger than me and I just wanted Hereford to stay up, we nearly did it, we had a shaky start, but left it a little bit too late”
O’Kelly returned and Pitman became a coach. Despite winning the last two games against promotion contenders Crawley and Torquay. Hereford were relegated.
O’Kelly and Pitman would leave the club that summer. O’Kelly would join Walsall as Assistant to Dean Smith whilst Pitman departed with his coaches Richard Sneekes and Russell Hoult. Hereford appointed Martin Foyle as the new manager.
“The whole experience affected me. I made some silly mistakes. I said some silly things and the pressure was getting on top of me. I came across as arrogant in interviews. I think it was when we lost 6-1 to Gillingham I gave Keith Hall at BBC Hereford and Worcester one word answers. Living in Hereford was hard. I would go to work and then come home and avoid people. There is so much about it all that I can’t reveal, but I will write a book one day. Looking back I was the manager and I should have handled it better”
Pitman had a brief spell working for Swindon Town, but is back now in Hereford. “I run a business called Paces which goes into the local community and delivers sessions to grassroots football. We are in our 4th year now”
Hereford FC face Hornchurch on the 22nd May in the FA Trophy final, nearly fifteen years after Hereford United returned to the Football League.
“Josh Gowling was at Hereford when I was physio and James McQuilkin played for me and did well. I look back and what Graham Turner achieved was incredible. When he left the club was always going to struggle. It was like when Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, they were big boots to fill, but it’s great to see Hereford FC doing so well and I hope they can get into the Football League in the not to distant future”
Photos supplied by Ron Parrott, MH Archive, Bulls News, Andy Compton, Hereford Journal