So, we’re up and running. The first pre-season game is done and dusted, as City ran out comfortable 7-0 win against near neighbours Gorleston on Saturday.
There were the inevitable few moans on social media – what else would I do for entertainment on a Saturday afternoon in July – that the half-time 5-0 score-line wasn’t converted into double figure by full time.
Of course, it should be an easy run out. The Emerald Park outfit play at tier nine of the football pyramid.
But, pre-season isn’t about the score-lines. It’s about getting players match fit. Converting all the hard work so far conducted on the training fields at Colney and St George’s Park into game time and being ready for the big kick off on the August 8.
We move on. Next up, tier seven opposition from the Southern Premier League in the shape of Hitchin Town.
Nothing too special to get too worked up about here, you may think? After all, last season, the home club averaged gates of just under 400 per game, with a season high of 1,606 and a low of 201.
Except, this is no ordinary season for Hitchin Town. It’s the club’s 150th anniversary with the pre-season game against the Canaries the highlight to mark their special occasion.
The Canaries against the Canaries.
“One shirt, one football teams,
Two colours, yellow and green …. “
Yep, the same nickname and the same colours, with one team. Do Hitchin have a second kit? They’re rumoured to be giving a first showing to their new away kit on the night, if a tweet from the home club is to be believed!
Yet, the contrast between the two outfits could not be starker.
The visitors, armed with another Premier League windfall, will enter the new season with a huge budget what will reflect their expected turnover approaching £100m over the next twelve months.
In contrast, for the past decade the Hitchin Town Supporters Trust has been raising funds each year to help pay the players’ wages.
However, that doesn’t go anywhere near telling the whole storey, as the club’s problems are much bigger.
For a start, the club doesn’t own its own ground , Top Field, and it’s been embroiled in a 25-year legal dispute with the landowners, the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust. They have had been seeking to relocate the club to an out-of-town location, as part of a land swap, and build a supermarket on their existing ground.
As you can probably imagine, the proposal hasn’t been well received by the majority of the club’s loyal supporters, who don’t want the club’s 150 year history and tradition just “uprooted” to a greenfield site to help satisfy the whim of some local developer.
And, from a practical perspective, whilst all this has been ongoing, the club has had to exist with a lease on the ground but the lease contained a break clause so the landlords could serve notice and move the club out-of-town.
As a consequence, the club has been unwilling to commit to anything other than absolutely essential maintenance on facilities for years and, with finances so tight, who can blame them in the circumstances?
Running a football club at any level is difficult, but, imagine having to do so whilst enduring an on-going league battle?
Just to put this in context, according to the club’s website, they’ve incurred legal and other costs in excess of £100,000 in resisting these proposals. Undoubtedly, these are monies which could have been directed into more useful matters, such as the day to day running of the football club.
The dispute now seems to have been settled and the club now has a straight twenty-five year lease on the ground. They can move forward with a degree of more certainty.
Stage two of their campaign has now commenced, with a recently launched eight week, Save HTFC appeal, which is seeking to raise £50,000 from the local community with the deadline of the August 14. The club needs to raise the so they can carry out the much needed improvements to their ground.
It’s not going to be an easy task. The club has yet to reach ten per cent of their needed target and it’s not clear what the consequences of failure, which probably don’t bear thinking about, would entail.
For now, I’m sure that Hitchin Town FC are looking forward to the imminent arrival of the Canaries. The gate receipts will undoubtedly be very useful to their cause.
I’ll be there doing my bit to help, with my first pre-season game on Tuesday.
It does, however, put into context, the debate raging last week, closer to home, on the worth, or otherwise, of a certain one Robbie Brady!
On the Ball City…