|Source: BBC Sport website|
The match that took place was high on endeavour, but arguably low on true moments of quality. However, this was perhaps unexpected given the tangible feeling of tension prevalent around all corners of the ground; there was a lot riding on this game (there were only three after it) for both sides, and fans of both persuasions were desperate for the three points. As it happened, Delroy Facey (a journeyman who had played for Bolton & West Brom in years gone by but now looked about a stone or two too big for the professional game) used his physicality to good purpose by heading home Ben Purkiss's cross to give Hereford an initially deserved lead. Barnet regrouped, and replied when substitute striker Ben May (on loan from Stevenage) fired home later in the 1st Half. Both teams, at different stages, threatened to take all three points; Barnet had a very good handball shout (visible to us behind the Hereford goal but not to the referee, who was the other side) turned down, while at the other end The Bulls' Yoann Arquin had a great chance cleared brilliantly off the line by The Bees' Clovis Kamdjo. Alas, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, an overall fair reflection on the game but one which pleased neither side entirely, though Barnet (who were three points clear of Hereford - with a less favourable goal difference - and occupying the safe 22nd position) left the slightly more satisfied of the two.
As it happened, the result was not enough to save their manager, Lawrie Sanchez, who was sacked a few days later. However, the team claimed two wins from their remaining three games, seeing them narrowly escape Hereford's clutches (who managed seven points from nine against arguably tougher opposition) to safety on the final day of the league season (Macclesfield went down with a game left) - the third season in a row that they had secured safety on the final day. At the time, I was delighted by the news. During my year in North London, I'd taken the little club to my heart somewhat, following their progress closely and attending matches wherever possible (not often during a gruelling Masters degree year admittedly). I therefore saw the looming prospect of relegation from their shoes. Loss of Football League status meant loss of youth funding, which was crucial to Barnet, who had invested quite heavily (certainly for a club of their size) in The Hive, an impressive sporting facility where youth teams and junior sides trained and developed. Moreover, the club had for years sought a move away from Underhill - their home ground between 1907 and 2013 - where they had to pay a lease to Barnet Borough Council to use the ground and the land around it, and therefore to keep some money for a potential move to a new ground (particularly if the terms of any (renewed) lease became too prohibitive and made the need for a move more urgent, as was becoming the case around this time). Relegation would have constrained their ability to do this and would potentially have left them them facing an uphill challenge of finding a venue for home games, while remaining financially sustainable.
In the end, Barnet's luck ran out when they were relegated on the final day of the following season! However, that extra year in the Football League helped them make contingency plans for their home games (they expanded their facility at The Hive to host games as a medium-term option); and it seems that their financial position is not too precarious at this stage (touch wood!). Yet fast-forward two full seasons on from 2011/12 and the perils of loss of Football League status have bit very hard at both Hereford and Macclesfield. The Moss Rose side from Cheshire flirted with danger often behind the scenes last season, and were only cleared to start the 2014/15 season in the Conference Premier when major shareholder Amar Alkhadi found the money late in the day to pay an outstanding tax bill, as well as outstanding staff wages (including playing staff). At Hereford, the situation has been even worse. They thought they had pulled off a rescue of Jimmy Glass & Carlisle-esque proportions on the final day of last season, when they clambered above Chester FC to the safe position of 20th in the table. However, long-running financial problems failed to go away and, despite much leniency from the Conference, they were eventually expelled from the league in early June after failing to secure their financial future (Chester were reprieved as a consequence). Since being accepted in the Southern League (two divisions below the Conference Premier), their new owner has failed an FA 'fit-and-proper persons' test and they have continued to battle separate winding-up orders from former manager Martin Foyle and HM Revenue & Customs over unpaid debts. The orders have been repeatedly adjourned, most recently until September 1st. Until then, attempts to secure a Company Voluntary Arrangement for payment of the outstanding debts have been unsuccessful.
|Hereford United fans protest against those they hold|
responsible for the club's troubles. (C) Hereford Times
There are over 100 professional clubs in England today. That is a truly staggering achievement and one that is a real testament to the passion that the sport arouses in so many fans across the country. However, it is also far more than any other comparable league in Europe (most of whom tend to have 2, at most 3, professional divisions rather than almost five!). Although the news would be hugely sad for its loyal supporters, and provide a sad epilogue to the club's finest hour - a 2-1 FA Cup 3rd Round Replay victory over Newcastle United in the 1971/72 season, footage of which is still shown on TV every year as the ultimate FA Cup upset (it inspired Djalili's fundraising gigs), maybe a club like Hereford United is truly unsustainable, at least in its current form. After the summer it has had, the many months of problems it has had, maybe the only way for a club in its location to be truly sustainable at a professional level is to be reborn completely from the ashes of the current club, with a new ownership reforming its practices completely as a result, to ensure it is able to cope with the unique challenges that it faces.
TEAMS & SUMMARY FROM APRIL 2012 (BARNET 1-1 HEREFORD):
BARNET (Manager: Lawrie Sanchez): Dean Brill; Sead Hajrovic (Ben May 25), Paul Downing, Michael Hector, Jordan Mustoe; Mark Hughes (c), Mark Byrne, Clovis Kamdjo, Sam Deering, Ricky Holmes; Izale McLeod
HEREFORD UNITED (Manager: Richard O'Donnell): Adam Bartlett; Ben Purkiss, Byron Anthony, Michael Townsend, James Chambers (James Baxendale 77); Nicky Featherstone, Kenny Lunt, Will Evans (Yoann Arquin 57), Sam Clucas; Tom Barkhuizen, Delroy Facey (c) (Nathan Elder 90)
GOALS: Facey 11; May 31
REFEREE: Christopher Sarginson