Matt Healey continues the series.
Born in Hereford on the 12th August 1977. Hibbard originally joined Hereford as a youth trainee. “Being born in August meant I was the youngest in my year group, so we delayed it by a season, and I didnt sign youth forms until 1994”
Hibbard spent two years at Edgar Street as a youth trainee, and can be seen in this footage from October 1995 cleaning the players boots after the fire at the Sportsman’s Club.
In May 1996. Hibbard had completed his two year YTS apprenticeship, and would now have the anxious wait to see if he would be offered a professional contract.
“There had been Chinese whispers that I would be offered a full time deal, but I still wasn’t sure. Graham Turner (Hereford Manager) called us all in one by one. He did it in alphabetical order. Garry Cook was first, and was offered a deal, then it was Sean Davies who wasn’t, I was up next, and was offered a contract. I felt awful for Sean, we had known each other since school football, but thats the nature of the game, and we had two years to show the management what we could do”
Hibbard would start the 1996/1997 season as a 1st year professional at Hereford United. The previous season the club had reached the 3rd Division Play Offs and even with the departure of top scorer Steve White to Cardiff City, optimism was high that Hereford would have a successful season.
I asked him how his first pre season was. “It was very hard, plenty of running around Credenhill, and Haugh Woods, we would do these 1000 yard runs up hills. I got to the top and nearly fainted on one occasion. It was hot and I was exhausted”
Hereford would start the 1996/1997 badly, and were bottom of the league in September. The pre-season optimism had been extinguished, and the crowd was back to the 2,000 hardcore.
Hibbard would make his debut in a 3-0 win over Rochdale on September 21st 1996. “I played against Stoke City in a reserve game the previous Wednesday as left back and did well. I had a feeling I may play as Murray Fishlock the regular left back was injured, I was delighted when I saw my name on the teamsheet. I was a local lad, and so excited. The senior players told me to do the simple things during the game and just build into it. At the end it was brilliant to see the dressing room so happy after the match”
Three days later Hibbard was lining up against Premier League Middlesborough in the Coca Cola Cup. Hereford had lost the 1st leg 7-0 at the Riverside, the tie was over, but a decent crowd of 4,522 attended the 2nd leg.
The likes of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson weren’t in the line up that evening, but it was still a top flight side playing at Edgar Street, and they included the Brazilian player Branco in the starting 11 that night. Only three years earlier in 1994 he had lifted the World Cup for Brazil.
The Middlesborough manager was Bryan Robson. “He was my absolute idol when growing up” said Hibbard. Hereford would lose the game 3-0, and lost 10-0 on aggregate.
Hibbard would then score his first league goal on the 1st October 1996 in a 3-2 win over Scunthorpe United. “I was trying to get into the far post as much as I could. Gareth Stoker had put a cross in. I dived in and via a deflection I scored”
He stayed in the starting eleven as Hereford drew 2-2 with Scarborough four days later.
Manager Graham Turner then bought in experienced defenders Trevor Matthewson and Nicky Law, which meant Hibbard dropped to the subs bench.
“It was very frustrating, but I was young and needed to bide my time. When Murray Fishlock returned to the side it got even harder. Murray was that good a player it would always be difficult to replace him”
Hibbard returned to the 1st team in a 1-0 FA Cup 1st round defeat against Gillingham, and a 2-1 league reverse against Chester City at Edgar Street on the 30th November 1996.
Despite plenty of unused appearances on the subs bench, (and back then only three could be named). Hibbard didn’t appear again for Hereford until the 21st March and a 1-0 Friday night defeat at Doncaster Rovers.
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.
Sadly the events of the 3rd May 1997 had a massive impact on Hibbard’s footballing career.
“The Brighton game we started so well, but when they equalised it drained us. It was the worst day of my footballing career, grown men were crying that day”
Hereford were relegated to the GM Vauxhall Conference, Hibbard was released at the end of the season “It was down to budget cuts. I was called into the office by Graham Turner, and let go. He did say if I wasn’t fixed up with another club to get back in contact, but I wanted to get first team experience”
Hibbard would join Worcester City in the Dr Martens League and had a great first season. “The following campaign I injured my knee in pre-season and was out for 12 months. I played at Wellington to get my fitness back, and then signed for Phil Mullen at Evesham”
HIbbard was attempting to rebuild his football career, but fate took a hold “My wife was pregnant, and then I decided to focus on family life. Sean Edwards had just taken over at Westfields, and he asked if I would play locally for them. I spent around 10-12 years there. I was delighted to help them”
Hibbard had played for a range of local Herefordshire sides during his career, and had retired from football, but in early 2020 he decided to make a comeback.
“I had played in a charity game and Lads Club manager Danny Moon said to me I could still do it, so signed for them, mainly as a voice on the pitch, and to help the younger lads, my first game was against Malvern and we beat them away 2-1, then three days later we played Hereford FC in the HFA Cup, we were 2-0 down, at half time my legs were like jelly, but we came back and won 3-2”
The current Aston Villa Manager Dean Smith was a Hereford United player during Hibbard’s time at Edgar Street, I asked him how he got on with him.
“With certain players you can tell if they would go onto management, and we could see Dean would be destined for great things, I stayed at his house once for a Christmas party that we had in Birmingham, he knew where to go, he’s done so well at Villa, I’m delighted for him”
At 43 Hibbard is still playing locally for Lads Club, and is currently working full time for the Post Office.