Who remembers the Monty Python episode when they had trouble getting an Icelandic Saga started? They enlisted the help of the North Malden Icelandic Saga Society and from then on the performance contained various references to the joys and advantages of New Malden and life therein. Not so much subliminal as in-your-face. This report could get a bit like that.
You see, although I am born and bred in West Bromwich, the town of Hitchin and Hitchin Town go a long way back in my personal history. I lived here during teaching practice, a safe distance away from the pub-free zone of Letchworth Garden City but not too far for my Morris Traveller, a half-timbered car to match some of the town’s buildings.
I lived here again in a succession of circumstances during my first five years as a young-and-green science teacher. One such was a floor (temporarily) in Fishponds Road, about thirty seconds from the Top Field turnstiles, and so, sometime around 1980, I pitched up for some non-league distraction from writing worksheets about atomic structure and checking exercise books to see whether the youth of Letchworth had understood my first attempts at “delivering” sex education. (Largely, no, it has to be said.)
I just don’t know how many games I have seen there – these were the murky years BG (Before Groundhopping), before Excel and before I had totally fallen out of love with the top tiers.
Having been promoted to later posts in Essex, I tried valiantly to leave that county before my children learned to talk, but it was the mid-90s before I once again, and largely by chance, had a Hitchin address. I soon discovered groundhopping and the rest is history, geography, chemistry and mathematics.
Top Field is a gem, and I love the fact that Hitchin’s midweek home outings are now on Mondays, so I can scuttle through the lanes of Kimpton, Whitwell and St Paul’s Walden, waving at the deer and the muntjac and the red kites, nodding knowingly at a number of excellent schools and convivial pubs en route. New M… I mean, Hitchin, is a great place to be. It has its own music festival too, you know, called Rhythms of the World. July. Make a note.
We are gathered here today, all 185 of us (which is a tad disappointing to be honest), because of a 1-1 draw on Saturday beneath the White Hawk at Whitehawk. Both of these clubs make hardened groundhoppers smile. Whitehawk have the natural amphitheatre and the iconic birdie, Hitchin have the wooden stands, canary colour scheme and the substantial end terrace.
They have both earned their right with recent promotions to compete at step 3 of the pyramid. By all accounts, the first game was not great, and it needed a second-half equaliser from Hitchin to cancel out a gifted early goal for Whitehawk. No good asking me, I was at Trafford v Spennymoor Town because that fixture has 23 letters in it. My world is strange, but it has lots of random FA Cupness in it.
We have established beyond reasonable doubt, Your Honour, that I am biased. Whitehawk were in blue and that is about all I can tell you about them on this occasion. For the record, I was there and cheering them on when they had an FA Vase semi-final against Wroxham in 2010, but tonight, they were in the way of another possible Monday night replay. Most of the time, I am a neutral. Not here – Come On You Yellows!
It only took six minutes for Hitchin to go one up. It was a neat finish from Luke Gregson at the end of slick passing, but the Whitehawk defence had given him enough room to set up a stall similar to one of those at the town’s excellent open market. The sides then exchanged near misses – a visiting defender headed just past his own post and there was chaos from the corner. Then Whitehawk’s fullback clipped the top of the bar with a swerving shot. But that was as close as it got. Hitchin’s target-man and programme cover star John Frendo was brought down, and he scored from the spot himself.
Although Whitehawk made some half-chances, and made keeper Martyn Bennett earn his pennies, Frendo and Zak Burke were also combining well, as the home side continued to threaten. There were no more goals before the interval. We wondered whether 2-0 would turn out to be a “dangerous “ score, and expected a chastened Whitehawk to come flying out after the break after some managerial hairdrying.
Actually, what happened was, less than a minute after the whistle, Frendo found himself on the edge of the area with enough time to read the brochure for the splendid British Schools Museum, which is located handily near the town centre. A cool, placed finish made it 3-0 and the Canaries could start to feel confident about a forthcoming battle at Hastings in the next round.
Given the knockout nature of the game, Whitehawk had to push forward and leave space at the back. Bennett made a couple of routine saves and then after 65 minutes Dean Gilbert was in the right place to smash in a rebound from the bar. Louis Lee had been unlucky not to score himself. Just five more minutes and Ieuan Lewis controlled a ball dropping from the sky on his right and rolled it slowly past the keeper for a wonderfully trickled goal. 5-0 after 70 was more than even the most optimistic Canaries had expected.
The last few minutes rumbled past without great incident, the result long since decided. Home supporters gently encouraged the ref to blow up early on the grounds that Whitehawk had a long drive home. Other gorgeous moonlit Monday evenings in English market towns of character may be available (but I doubt it).
I added five goals to my tally in the Hopping For Moorfields spreadsheet. I have been asking for pledges this season to raise money for research at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and a penny-a-goal could cost you about £2.50 come next June. Please throw something my way if you haven’t already.
Words & Pictures: Graham Yapp. Graham IS the modushopperrandom website and you can find him on Twitter @GrahamYapp. Graham is also raising money for Moorfields Eye Hospital via the aforementioned “Hopping for Moorfields” and you can creatively donate via his website.