Home is where the heart is: the power of stadia (part two)

stadiums part two

Two weeks later, I’m picking up from my previous stadium ramble. This week, our stadia journey moves back into non-league, flies up the divisions to the Prem and then jaunts over to Europe. So, onward to our first stop…

Edgar Street – the home of Bulls, a phoenix and the kick-starter for a legendary British broadcaster

If you threw a stone from our last topic of Coventry, an hour and a half south-west (and dangerously close to the Welsh border), you’d hit Hereford. If your aim was impressively even better, you’d hit Edgar Street.

Now the home of phoenix club Hereford FC, the just-under 5k capacity Edgar Street has been an ever-present in the agricultural city since the late 19th century. The Bulls Hereford United made it their home in 1924 and over the years it has seen some superb action. From non-league escapades to an infamous FA Cup upset, Edgar Street (like Luton’s Kenilworth Road) is unchanged by the constantly evolving football landscape. Talking of that cup upset, Edgar Street is a place I’ve been on many occasions – and the cup exploits of 50 years just gone are clearly embedded in the club’s identity.

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In 1972, part time Hereford United defeated First Division Newcastle in a well-earned Third Round Replay, 2-1 in the February mud. It wouldn’t have gone ahead these days. The top league players had to play a dogged non-league side. Newcastle had a dangerous goal scorer in Malcolm MacDonald. Hereford had a set of players willing to throw everything on the line. Full-back Roger Griffiths played the majority of the match with a broken leg!

After 80 minutes of battling, ‘Supermac’ broke the deadlock. Standard. 1-0, wrap this up and go home. The men in white though had other plans. Ronnie Radford challenged John Tudor for the loose ball in the centre of the park. He played a nice one-two with Brian Owen. The return ball tumbled across the muddy surface but sat up beautifully for the arriving Radford. The leather was almost smacked off the Mitre Permawhite ball as it rocketed into the top left corner, goalkeeper Willie McFaul just a helpless onlooker.

The crowd swayed and spewed onto the viscous turf. Just above the violent noise, came a voice fresh to the ears of the public. 26-year-old John Motson was commentating on this one. He expected a routine Newcastle win. The shock was evident in his shrill tones.

Radford, Tudor’s gone down for Newcastle. Radford again… OH WHAT A GOAL! What a goal! Radford the scorer!” – John Motson

For a moment, Motson wasn’t a commentator. He was another astounded fan of football. For me, that’s what makes great commentary. Not always the spill of similes or mercurial metaphors flying by. It hangs off the very moment. This moment, although not even the winner, would put Hereford back in the game and ultimately help Motson flourish as a broadcaster.

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The game rolled over to extra time. Tired legs trundled as the ground churned evermore. This time, Ricky George was to be the hero. A replacement for the unbeknownst broken Roger Griffiths, he was played in by Dudley Tyler. The turn and shot on the right side of the box was fast. Perhaps not the cleanest strike, it still evaded both Bobby Moncur and keeper McFaul. Newcastle silence. Hereford through. Another pitch invasion.

Although Hereford FC couldn’t recreate this moment against Portsmouth in yet another big recent FA Cup mismatch, there is deserved infamy. The towering floodlights were seats for the desperate that couldn’t get tickets. People hung from trees too, just to catch a glimpse of history. Hereford old and new is a club that epitomises the competition. Edgar Street is the rightful home of an important FA Cup chapter.

The YNWA connection

Building off of that FA Cup moment, it’s obvious to suggest that iconic events and stadia are ultimately intertwined.

For me, a boyhood Liverpool fan, singing You’ll Never Walk Alone is such a special moment. My first game at Anfield was a 1-0 victory against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup in 2020. Admittedly, that one conversion was of the own goal variety, but I was still awestruck for much of the game. Situated next to the Kop, YNWA was belted out, and experiencing it first hand for the first time was ridiculous. Tears grappled to stay in their ducts, my brain struggled to comprehend. As corny as it reads, it was a cathartic instance that will remain forever. I’ve been a number of times since, yet nothing tops that first experience.

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Anfield, although deemed the holy land for much of my life, isn’t the only place that houses this moving pre-match chorus. Also, being a Liverpool fan from outside the city touches upon that grey area of club tourism. It’s something noticeable in that big new main stand and recent ‘wool’ infested quiet home crowds. However, one club that welcomes outsiders brilliantly and occasionally dons the anthem is Feyenoord Rotterdam. In 2015, my Dad and I visited the city. We booked a tour of De Kuip through one of his Dutch work colleagues – a fan of De Klassieker rivals Ajax funnily enough.

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Entering De Kuip, or ‘The Tub’ as it translates, is quite something. On the tour, we were slightly apprehensive, not understanding Dutch. However, the seasoned tour guide picked up on this instantly – spotting two clueless Brits loitering at the back. He kept returning to us, enthusiastically speaking of prominent figures including Coen Moulijn, different memorabilia and so much more.

To reach the pitch, you have to stroll through this almost-artisan painted subterranean tunnel. Then, on the side of the pristine pitch, a hatch opens up and there you rise. On match day you could just imagine how daunting that would be – appearing in front of a rabid 50,000 strong crowd, noise likely seeping and thumping through the tunnel.

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It must be said that the construction of ‘De Kuip’ or to give it its official name, Stadion Feijenoord, really prides the match goer. In the 1930s, the club president Leen van Zandvliet concocted a superb idea for a new stadium with two free hanging tiers and no view-obscuring obstacles. He had looked longingly at great arenas like Arsenal’s Highbury and the Yankee Stadium in New York. So, Johannes Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt were drafted in to bring his vision to life. The project was completed between 1935 and 37.

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It survived German occupiers nearly tearing it down for scrap metal in WWII, for its capacity to be bolstered in 1949 – before floodlights were a welcome addition in 58′. Since then, the stadium has boasted the likes of Ruud Gullit, Johan Cruyff and van Persie among many other legends – as Feyenoord have been a presence both domestically and on the continent.

De Kuip has seen many moments of greatness. Over the years, it has played host to UEFA and European international finals – but the moment that holds the most importance to me is Feyenoord’s title victory the season after our visit. Cult hero Dirk Kuyt’s infamous final-day hat trick performance was title winning. Yet, my Dad and I always joke that the true reason behind the triumph, was because we had paid a lucky visit that season before.

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