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By Federico Manasse (@FedericoManasse)
There are certain moments in life that bring one to question the fundamental motivations behind their decisions, like a lonely Sunday afternoon spent at home, wondering if everything you ever did made any sense. Well, for me, one of those moments occurred during a balmy Saturday afternoon, in Edgar Street, Hereford.
Did it make any logical sense for ME to be watching Non-League football in the middle of the English Midlands? It probably didn’t. But a few seconds later, as I dug into my chicken burger, it occurred to me that the most romantic of actions are the spontaneous ones, the ones that make no sense whatsoever. Perhaps, I was doing one of the most romantic things in my life.
Nodding to myself I accepted this verdict, sat back and enjoyed the game. But before talking about said game, let’s jump back a couple days. Midweek, at school, I’m waiting in line by the post room. Suddenly, I overhear a conversation about a team that has won 27 matches in a row. The team is not Juventus, nor Barcelona, but Hereford United FC. Competing in the prestigious Midlands Football League, Hereford was effectively enjoying a ridiculous winning streak, which had been picked up even by the BBC. The next weekend, I heard, the Bulls would be hosting their direct contender for the league title, Alvechurch. The venue was the afore-mentioned Edgar Street, capable of hosting as much as 5,000 fans and just one hour away by train.
I didn’t really have to think twice to know exactly where I was going to end up the next Saturday. The lure of a small but special stadium and of the 9th tier of English football was simply too strong to resist. I was quick to find two likeminded mates and it was decided: we’d be off to see Hereford win their 28th match in a row.
Above, ‘Welcome to Edgar Street’
Just one year before that day at the post room, Hereford had been in dire straits with the FA’s High Court. Failing to recover from their spiraling debts and financial irregularities, the club had been expelled from the Conference League first and from the Southern League Premier Division a few months later. Even then, Hereford’s descending parabola continued, culminating with the team’s temporary suspension from any footballing activity. Finally, Hereford, once a Second Division side, found themselves at the rock bottom of English football, ready to re-start from absolute scratch. Upon finding out, I was even more compelled to make the trip to Edgar Street. For the fans, I imagined, this unbeaten run wasn’t just a good laugh; it was representative of their team’s efforts to rise from their own ashes, like a Phoenix.
And that is how, buzzing with excitement, we ended up in the Len Weston Stand of Edgar Street, the three of us, together with 4000 other fans. The atmosphere was way above my expectations of a non-league game; it was livelier than some Serie A games I’ve been to. On our left, the Meadow End was providing endless chants and on the pitch the boys were warming up – everything was ready for kick-off.
The first few touches of the game were a delight and provided the last blow to my heart – I was categorically falling in love. Two passes round the back, ball to centre-back Ryan Green (we’ll talk about this fellow later) and a long, unreachable, ball to striker Mike ‘beastie’ Symons. Though reminiscent of the Mountain from the TV Show Game of Thrones, Symons failed to reach the ball, which bounced off the pitch. Screw the Tiki-taka, screw the false nine and screw short corners – what the hell is all that about? Long balls to Mike Symons were all I ever wanted to see for the rest of my footballing days.
Above, Hereford’s Meadow End, flaring it up
A few moments later came the first thrill of the game, which I was lucky enough to record on camera. It was a corner kick for Hereford, right in front of the Meadow End. In came running Ryan Green, a former Welsh International who looks like a bodybuilder on his way to Ibiza, more than a football player. Regardless of his looks, ‘Greeno’ delivered a thundering header to put Hereford 1-0 up. Absolute scenes.
— Fede Manasse (@FedericoManasse) 27 gennaio 2017
Needless to say, I ended up adoring each and every player, all so near to me that I felt as if we were playing together. In midfield, former West Brom academy man Aaron Birch organized the team’s ball distribution better than Sergio Busquets. John Mills, up front, threw me back to my childhood San Siro days, in celebration of Filippo Inzaghi. And how on earth was Mustapha Bundu not playing in the Premier League, we wondered. Effortlessly swiveling and twisting in between the helpless Alvechurch players, ‘Mus’ became our personal favorite. I realize I’m exaggerating, but don’t expect a romantic to think rationally.
Nonetheless, the ending was somewhat bittersweet. The second half began with an Alvechurch equalizer, followed by a countless amount of chances for the Bulls, who failed to capitalize. This was followed by an epic scuffle, as tensions rose, which saw Ryan Green running in to sort things out, cheered on by the fans: “Greeno! Greeno!” On the edge of our seats, my mates and I got a tickling feeling, an intuition, that we’d broken Hereford’s magical spell. And, inevitably, we were right: the game stalled at 1-1. Hereford, though still unbeaten, terminated their historical winning streak.
And this, is how I ended up at a Non-League game in the Midlands.