Matt Healey continues the series.
Rob Elmes was born in Poole on the 29th March 1970.
He was playing for Halesowen in the Dr Martens League when Hereford United came calling in the summer of 1999. Elmes told me how his Edgar Street career begun.
“I played centre half for most of my career, but towards the end of the 1998/1999 season I switched to playing up front. I was partnered with Steve Piearce and he was red hot scoring goals. It was the perfect partnership. I was the big target man and Steve would get onto the end of my flicks. We scored plenty of goals between us and we caught the eye of Hereford United Chief Scout Ron Jukes”
Elmes continued “I was 29 and had the biggest non league team in the region asking me to sign for them. A couple of years earlier Hereford were in the Football League and I was delighted to join the club. I remember meeting Graham Turner for the first time and we agreed a one year deal, he told me that Ron Jukes were his eyes and ears and I was signed on his recommendation”
Piearce would join Hereford as well. The previous season Hereford had raided John Snape and Stuart Evans from Halesowen and with finances at Hereford always being precarious. Manager Graham Turner would supplement the full time squad with a number of part time players.
Elmes had a brilliant start to his Hereford career and had scored six league goals by early September. “I scored against Wolves in a pre season friendly and that helped my confidence. I knew my limitations. I couldn’t run past three players and score a 25 yarder, but with Gavin Williams and Paul Parry on the flanks crossing balls into the box. I knew I could get my head on to most of them”
With Steve Piearce out injured, it was Paul Fewings who Elmes struck up a partnership with. “Paul was an ex Football League player with Hull City and had dropped into non league. We gelled and scored plenty of goals. Me and John Snape were part time and training at Oldbury in the week. We would meet the team on matchdays. My day job was as a teacher in a school and my headmaster gave me plenty of time off. He was great as he realised the publicity I bought the school by playing Football”
Elmes would receive plenty of media attention ahead of Hereford’s 2nd round FA Cup tie with Hartlepool that was screened live on Sky Sports.
“The whole build up was amazing, we took a couple of coaches of children from my school to the game. I scored the winning goal, probably the most scruffiest goal I scored in my career as the ball came off my ear, but it made the club a lot of money as we were in dire straits financially”
Hereford would play Premier League Leicester City in the 3rd round “The Leicester players were on another level. In the conference I could make it difficult for opposition defenders, but I was literally bouncing off the Leicester defenders. The likes of Gerry Taggart, Frank Sinclair and Steve Walsh were from the land of the giants. It was a tough old game, but Paul Parry hit the post late on for us and we deserved the 0-0 draw”
It was on to Filbert Street for the replay on the 22nd December 1999 “Leicester paid us a lot more respect in the replay, they made a few changes, but I remember Robbie Savage trying to wind us up at Edgar Street. He was asking us how much we earnt, I replied by asking him how many A Levels he had?, that shut him up. He was a lot more respectful in the replay, the Leicester team was full of internationals and we took the lead with a Paul Fewings goal, we were holding our own but they equalised near the end and finished us off in Extra Time, the Hereford fans were brilliant that night”
Elmes would finish the 1999/2000 hitting the net 14 times.
The start of the 2000/2001 campaign saw Elmes struggle for goals, but he scored in a 3-0 win away at Kingstonian on the 3rd October 2000. The game is remembered for a 22 man brawl “The was a big melee and the teacher in me tried to get everyone to break it up, sometimes it needs something like that to get the players fired up, I scored with a header a few minutes later and I then started to score regularly. I think I ended up with 18 goals that season”
Elmes scored the winning goal to knock Burton out of the FA Trophy Quarter Finals on the 10th March 2001.”Nigel Clough had put together a decent team at Burton and they were doing well in the league below us. It was a brilliant cross from Matt Clarke to set me up. Scott Cooksey saved a penalty too”
It would be Forest Green that Hereford would face in the Semi Finals.
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 2001 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”
The 2001/2002 campaign would be Elmes’s least succesful but he still scored ten goals “I’m proud I got into double figures every year I was at the club, out of all my goals at least 35 were headers. We had players who would deliver fantastic crosses into the box. I mentioned Gavin Williams and Paul Parry earlier, but Ian Rodgerson was brilliant at deadball situations”
Phil Robinson had taken over as manager when Graham Turrner stepped aside in October 2001 “Phil was a good guy, he was a great colleague and it was a difficult time for the club as his hands were tied with the finances”
Elmes got on the scoresheet in Hereford’s 4-3 away at Boston which was shown on TV. “Another great cross from Ian Rodgerson, I was able to get my head on to the end of it, we did the same a few days later when I scored my last goal for Hereford against Chester in the FA Trophy”
Elmes would depart Hereford at the end of the 2001/2002 season. “The club needed a clear out and got rid of a lot of the deadwood. It needed to be done as the following year they freshened up the squad and that was the start of the journey to get back into the Football League. My time at Hereford was absolutely the best years of my career and I speak to the likes of John Snape and Matt Clarke about it and we all agree that it was fantastic. I knew my limitations and I realised I wasn’t going to be a Football League player. I had a career as a teacher and football paid me pocket money. When Hereford finally made it into the Football League I called Graham Turner to congratulate him, he was a winner who put his heart and soul into the club and it was the least he deserved to see the club back in the Football League”
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”
I asked him if he is still teaching “Yes, I am the head of sixth form at a school in the Cotswolds. I still get people asking me about my time at Hereford United now, I’m looking forward to coming back to Edgar Street next season and hopefully reporting on some games with Keith Hall at BBC Hereford and Worcester”
*Photos supplied by Ron Parrott, MH Archive and Bulls News