Last weekend’s FA Cup Second Round fixtures saw the hopes of a famous cup run ended for seven of the ten remaining non-league teams. Oxford City, Maidstone United, Boreham Wood, Gateshead, Guiseley, Leatherhead, and Slough Town were all knocked out by their illustrious opponents, but three sides managed to secure a replay and get into the hat for the Third Round draw. Previously profiled AFC Fylde managed to hold previous winners Wigan Athletic, Woking snatched a late draw at home to Peterborough United, and Hereford FC secured the most impressive result of the round so far, with Devante Cole’s goal the only thing preventing them from knocking out League One Fleetwood Town. The Bulls will host the Cod Army at the storied Edgar Street in this week’s replay, in what some are already calling the ‘Surf & Turf Derby’. If they manage to pull off a shock their reward will be a home tie against Premier League Leicester City, and a chance to emulate their 1972 vintage.
“Radford…now Tudor’s gone down for Newcastle…Radford agAIN OH WHADDAGOAL! WHAT A GOAL! RADFORD THE SCORER! RONNIE RADFORD!”. It’s the most dreadful time of the year for fans of Newcastle United. Their defeat to fifth tier Hereford United in the early ’70s has become synonymous with the merest mention of the Third Round of the FA Cup, and Ronnie Radford’s 85th minute blooter at Hereford’s Edgar Street that took the tie to extra time has become ubiquitous with giant-killing. The Bulls were bested by West Ham in the following round, but in the intervening 42 years the FA Cup became a horn of plenty for Hereford as the side reached the fourth round eight times, getting revenge on West Ham in ’74 and knocking out Leeds United, Reading, and Fulham in various cup runs. During that period they also rose as high as the old Second Division in the leagues, albeit for one season in the mid-seventies, though by the end of the 2013/14 season they were scrapping around towards the bottom of the Conference League. Worse was to follow for Chairman David Keyte, as a month later the club were expelled from the Conference for financial irregularities and mounting debts. Manager Martin Foyle then resigned and started a winding-up petition against the club amidst a background of fan discontent. In December 2014, Hereford United FC were suspended from all footballing activity by the FA for failing to respond to to questions from an Independent Regulatory Commission. They were then wound up in the High Court.
From the ashes of Hereford United a new club was born. Hereford FC were founded a matter of weeks after United’s liquidation, and ahead of the 2015/16 season they entered the football league pyramid at the ninth tier, competing in the Midland Football League Premier Division. In their first competitive game, on the opening day of the season, over 4,000 spectators watched Hereford FC stroll to a 4-1 victory over Dunkirk, who’d clearly left their famed spirit at home. That attendance broke the MFL record, and encapsulated the fervour of fans looking forward to a bright future. The Bulls romped home with the league title in their first season, losing only four times and scoring an incredible 138 goals, including an 8-0 victory over Heanor Town at Edgar Street. This was followed by another incredible season last time out as back-to-back promotions were secured at a canter. Hereford lost only one game during their short stay in the Southern League Division One South & West, scoring four or more goals on nine occasions and, remarkably, playing in the games with the highest and lowest attendances – their rearranged match at Didcot Town was played behind closed doors after a pitch invasion had led to the first fixture being abandoned. Although a third successive league title may be a tall order, Hereford find themselves within touching distance of league leaders Kings Lynn Town with three games in hand, currently occupying a playoff spot in the Southern Premier Division and looking good for an astounding third successive promotion. The added bonus of a cup run provides an extra frisson away from the nuts and bolts of the seventh tier.
Having been ineligible to enter the FA Cup in their first two seasons, this year’s competition has given the Bulls their first opportunity to emulate the heroics of Hereford’s footballing forefathers, though they always knew it would be a slog to even make the First Round Proper. A cup campaign that began on the 2nd September with a resounding 8-0 victory at home to Godalming Town has seen Kempston Rovers, Hornchurch and Eastleigh dispatched before victory over National League AFC Telford United at Edgar Street set up a tie against Fleetwood Town – a relative big boy in FA Cup early round terms. Key to this run has been the solid defensive foundation built by manager Pete Beadle, with The Bulls conceding only twice in six games. Goalkeeper Martin Horsell, a product of the Plymouth Argyle academy, has kept thirteen clean sheets already this season, aided and abetted by the solid central defensive pairing of Jack Deaman – a summer signing from Gloucester City and former Telford defender – and Ryan Green, a stalwart of the Hereford United team who started his career with Wolves. The dynamic attacking midfielder Garyn Preen provides Hereford’s drive going forward, and Beadle has an embarrassment of riches up front. Keyon Reffell and Lance Smith have both chipped in with vital cup goals, but the seven goals scored by John Mills have been the real difference. Mills joined Hereford from Didcot Town ahead of their first season in the league pyramid, and a hat-trick on his debut set the tone for his time at Edgar Street. Despite looking like Sam Smith’s older brother, the 25 year old striker has plundered 127 league and cup goals so far for Hereford – an incredible tally, particularly considering Hereford FC have only played 149 games in their history.
Arguably, Hereford could have already secured their place in the third round, had Fleetwood not had the rub of the green in the first match. The Bulls travelled to the other Highbury in fine form, unbeaten in twelve and coming off the back of a month in which they had scored 29 and conceded 3 in seven games, whilst The Cod Army were without a win in four. Midfielder Calvin Dinsey’s curling effort gave Hereford the lead after 23 minutes, but Cole – son of Andy/Andrew – fortuitously restored parity six minutes later. Mills should have given the non-league side the lead just before half time, but the Fleetwood defence managed to scramble the ball away, and despite ceding the possession to their hosts throughout, Beadle’s side matched Uwe Rosler’s team blow for blow and deservedly took the game to a replay. It may be a big ask for Hereford to go again, particularly against a side that were unlucky to miss out on promotion to the Championship last season, but The Bulls have got every chance when Beadle’s about. The winners of the televised replay will have the chance to take on Leicester City – who won the Premier League in Hereford F.C’s first year in existence – and would offer an almighty windfall for a side two divisions below the National League, though the chance for Fleetwood fans to welcome Jamie Vardy back to Highbury also offers plenty of #narrative.
Elsewhere in the draw, away from the big league local derbies between Liverpool and Everton, Brighton and Crystal Palace, and Middlesbrough and Sunderland, Woking will be rewarded with a trip to Aston Villa if they can pull off a shock at Peterborough this week. Dave Challinor’s AFC Fylde can secure a visit to Bournemouth with a win against the odds at Wigan, League Two Newport County play host to Leeds United, last season’s National League Playoff winners Forest Green Rovers could be welcoming Alan Pardew’s dance moves should they defeat Exeter City, AFC Wimbledon will play at Wembley after being drawn away to Tottenham Hotspur, and Olly and Elliott Lee – sons of Newcastle legend Rob – will head to St James’ Park with Luton to take on Rafa Benitez’s side. Perhaps the most remarkable story of this year’s FA Cup is that Manchester United’s Third Round tie at home to Derby County will not be televised – the first time in thirteen years and 58 games that United haven’t been picked for transmission. If the Bulls can get past Fleetwood Town, there’ll be plenty of eyes glued to the box in Hereford come round three.