Matt Healey continues the series.
Tamika Mkandawire was born in Malawi on the 28th May 1983. When he was a young boy his family moved to England. He started out as a trainee at West Brom and ended up signing a professional contract at the Hawthorns.
He first came to Hereford on loan in 2003. He made his debut in a 1-0 win at Woking on the 4th October 2003 “I was about 20/21 and just wanted to play first team football. I was doing well for West Brom in the reserves but needed competitive action. I needed football where 3 points were on the line. I needed to develop my career. I knew Richard O’Kelly from my time at West Brom and my agent at the time was the late Cyrille Regis who had played for Graham Turner at Wolves”
Mkandawire found the Nationwide Conference better than he expected “It was different to reserve team football, the fans made a big difference at Hereford, it was a much faster and physical league than what I expected. I settled in quickly”
Mkandawire initially came in on two month loan spell and returned again for a month between February and March 2004. He played in the famous 9-0 win away at Dagenham and Redbridge.
During the summer of 2004 he would be released by West Brom and he signed a full time contract with the Bulls. “Ideally I wanted to stay in the Football League, but I also wanted to enjoy my football. I knew if I played well for Hereford my chance would come at a higher level. The likes of Rob Purdie, Daniel Carey-Bertram and Danny Williams were still at the club and I got on really well with them”
The previous season Hereford had suffered Play Off disappointment against Aldershot and during the 2004/2005 campaign it happened again against Stevenage “They were a physical side, Dino Maamria scored the winner in the tie at Edgar Street, we always played football the right way, but probably lacked that bit of experience”
Mkandawire signed a new deal ahead of the 2005/2006 season. I asked him how he got on with Graham Turner. “He was a good man, he gave me a fantastic opportunity at Hereford, he was always encouraging me and was an excellent man manager”
Hereford didn’t start that well and despite bringing in the experience of Guy Ipoua and Jon Brady, the Bulls were mid table in October “What helped us was Andy Williams coming into the side, he was a young kid and being a local lad the fans really got behind him. Despite not having the best of starts we didn’t panic and ended up having a really good 2nd half of the season. I think we only lost once from December onwards”
Hereford would play Morecambe in the Play Off Semi Finals “I was extremely nervous against them. I knew we were better than Grays and Halifax, but Morecambe had the likes of Jim Bentley and Michael Twiss. Without sounding arrogant I knew that if we could get past Morecambe then we would win promotion. It was a tough couple of games, but we did enough to get through”
Mkandawire scored the opening goal in a 3-2 win in the 2nd leg.
Hereford faced Halifax in the Play Off Final on the 20th May 2006 the game was played at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester.
“I was relaxed going into the game. I just knew that if we played to our ability then we much better than Halifax. It was a tense game for us, but a fantastic watch for the neutral, it had plenty of goals and we were the deserved winners”
Hereford showed their superior fitness in Extra Time against Morecambe and Halifax.
Mkandawire pays tribute to the fitness coach Tony Ford. “You could see Halifax flagging in those 30 minutes. Fordy was an absolute legend and his weight training sessions paid dividends for us”
Mkandawire skippered the Bulls that afternoon in Leicester and lifted the trophy, a lovely moment for Hereford fans was that club captain Tony James was also involved in the celebrations “Tony had been struggling with an injury that season, he had been with the club for eight years and was an integral part of the team. I made sure he lifted the trophy with me and got the credit he deserved”
Hereford would start the 2006/2007 season as a Football League club. I asked Mkandawire how he found the step up “Every time I’ve gone up a level the strikers were better, they were always bigger and faster. We started the season well and beat Stockport County 2-0 and I scored the 2nd goal”
Hereford consolidated in League Two. “We had a small squad, looking back we probably should have made more signings in the January transfer window. Steve Guinan and Ben Smith came back, but we probably needed a couple more players”
Mkanawire added “We had a good run when John Eustace and Neil MacKenzie came in on loan, but the last couple of months we hit some bad form, we tired towards the end of the season as we were a small squad, but we had stayed up and that was the main thing”
Mkandawire would leave that summer. On the expiry of his contract he joined League One side Leyton Orient. “I had a great time at Hereford, but I wanted to play as high as I could. It was a new challenge for me at Leyton Orient and after leaving them I played for Millwall in the Championship”
Mkandawire would link up with Graham Turner and John Trewick again in 2013 when he joined Shrewsbury Town “It was different as I was now classed as a senior player. I struggled with injury and we sadly got relegated”
After leaving Shropshire, a fantastic opportunity arose for Mkandawire. He tells me more.
“Cyrille Regis was still my agent and he knew the ex Luton Town player Ricky Hill. Ricky had played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and was still involved at the club. I put myself on the PFA list of released players and a chap called Stuart Campbell was at Tampa and he knew of me when he played for Bristol Rovers so I went over there. It was great for me as the warm and humid climate helped my injuries. The weather helped my joints and muscles. It was more of a family game over in America and the weather was so glorious over there”
Mkandawire retired from the game three years ago “I am involved in the fitness industry and now live in California. I help to train NFL athletes. I still look out for Hereford’s results. Josh Gowling was with me at West Brom. It’s brilliant seeing a mixed race manager doing so well. I know Steve Burr too as he picked me for England C during my days at Edgar Street”
Mkandawire added “It’s good to see that Daniel Carey-Bertram is the fitness coach so I still have a link with the new club. I will do my best to watch the FA Trophy final, there’s bound to be a stream I can watch it on. It’s fantastic to see the success that Hereford FC has had and hopefully they can get back in the Football League at some point”
Photos supplied by Ellie Woolstenholmes and MH Archive