by Richard Brook
Hereford United are one of the latest of a growing list of football clubs to find themselves facing financial crisis, and yet there has been barely a whisper of the news in the mainstream football media. Football is too caught up with the glittering glow of the Champions League to take an interest in the kind of club that exemplifies the British footballing tradition, teetering on the brink. The papers are too busy reporting who is not going to shake hands with who, and other such play-ground squabbling of extremely privileged, fully grown millionaires to pay any attention to the precarious position of a club formed in 1924. Who cares about Hereford United?
Like any club, Hereford United will have some fans to whom the club means everything. To a supporter it matters not in the slightest whether their club is amongst the sparkling elite of the game, or whether their side is ploughing the lower end of the pyramid, you follow your team no matter what. Whether out of local pride that almost warrants the term patriotism, or whether because a club is so entrenched in your family heritage that it almost forms part of your DNA, literally every club means everything to someone. Hereford United means everything to someone, so they care about Hereford United, I care about Hereford United and so should you.
In terms of Hereford’s recent monetary tribulations there is one anecdote that illustrates the point with perfect clarity. In response to the urgent financial needs of the Edgar Street club the chairman, David Keyte, suggested that 2000 supporters might pledge £100 each to meet the immediate needs of the club. The chairman of Hereford United Independent Supporters Association (HUISA) recounts that a young fan of around 18 years of age, approached him in tears to donate a signed picture of the Bulls side that won promotion from the Conference. The fan was apparently unable to afford £100 but clearly desperate to do everything he could, he told HUISA they could have is treasured piece of memorabilia if it would help.
I can identify with that sense of helplessness, when it comes to one’s own football club facing an uncertain financial future, my own club Sheffield Wednesday were in more trouble than most football fans, including many Wednesday fans, seemed to realise immediately before Milan Mandaric took over the club late in 2010. Although I did not give up any precious possessions for my club’s future – the figures to help Hereford and the figures that would have helped Wednesday 2010 being vastly different – I suspect that whatever lies ahead for Hereford this young fan will always take a degree of satisfaction from the fact that he did everything he could for the club he obviously loves.
Not long after Mandaric’s takeover at Wednesday, Hereford came to Hillsborough in the FA Cup and gave Wednesday a bit of a scare by opening the scoring, although the Owls eventually ran out 4-1 winners. A mark of the day was how many friends Hereford won amongst Wednesday fans through their support. This support has really come together in their efforts to aid the cash-strapped Bulls. A further donation of memorabilia was made of Hereford’s former player-manager, John Charles’, old Juventus shirt. Other fund-raising activities include a sponsored chest and leg waxing event prior to the home game with Luton on November 6th, and before the match against Telford on December 1st a sponsored walk will take place from the Anchor Pub in Malvern to the club’s Edgar Street ground. Downton Abbey actor, Matt Milne, went as far as to hijack an interview he did for day-time television programme ‘This Morning’, to appeal on behalf of his home-town club.
It has been reported that Hereford need to raise £240,000 by the end of November, with administration the likely result of this objective is not met. Keyte is unwilling to continue to finance the club, along with the rest of the board, in the midst of low crowds – attendances are around the 1,500 mark with the budget apparently based on 2,400 – having put large sums of his own money into the club especially over the last year or so. Within five days of appealing to the supporters £15,000 had come in including donations from Cape Town, Cyprus, New York and Norway. This return represents a terrific effort, but much more will be needed with the club counting the cost of relegation from the Football League, with drastically falling television revenues and with ten players still on Football League contracts, still on the clubs books.
The Bulls have also failed to make payments to HMRC, for which they find themselves under transfer embargo by the Conference. The club are also understood to be having difficulties paying the playing staff. Keyte has said however, that due to HMRC’s refusal of part payment that money could be used to pay some of the owing salaries. The club have been given some hope by virtue of the FA Cup, in which they have been drawn at home to rivals Shrewsbury. The chairman hopes that this is a draw that could see the club break even for December.
So what is special about Hereford United? Nothing and everything. Every club in our system has a unique history, fan base and local pride. This fact was astonishingly lost on Andre Villas-Boas when he suggested that Premier League teams should be able to field B teams in the Championship, as in the Spanish system. A typical display of the Premier League-centric arrogance that misses the very roots of where English football comes from. It forgets the founders of our teams in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It ignores the generations that have passed the tradition down. It denies the deep love that some supporters feel for their club. Hereford are no different and that paradoxically means that to someone they are exceptional.
Since falling out of the League Hereford have seen the money they receive from television deals drop by a drastic amount. When they were a League Two team they obtained just £743,000 from Premier League and Football League television money. It is here that we hit on the real arrogance of top-level English football. £743,000 is nothing to Premier League clubs – for some players it is a few weeks wages. English football should be looking after itself, not damaging its own heritage. Clubs should not be heading for administration or worse, over such comparatively small sums, when there is so much money in the game. There needs to be a fairer distribution of wealth within the sport to stop the rich getting richer while the poor go bust. Hereford United are by no means alone in experiencing financial trouble in these tough times.
We are talking about a football club, with some wonderfully loyal supporters, and almost 100 years history potentially going into administration for barely any more money than one Premier League millionaire was fined for calling another Premier League millionaire names, and that situation has to be wrong. Hereford United and any other club whose very existence is threatened deserve better than to be treated as an unwanted aside to the trivial playground dramas of the Premier League.
Should anyone reading this wish to help Hereford United:
Donations can be made to Hereford United via the clubs online shop http://www.idsports.net/shop/Hereford-United-Club-Donation/
To join in or sponsor the waxing event tweet @Squin4 or @StefanDavies91
To join in or sponsor the walk email firstname.lastname@example.org