the real fa cup

Top Field Saved

Earlier this year Hitchin Town successfully fought their campaign to “Save Top Field” from redevelopment. The ground’s landowners, the local ‘trust’ the Hitchin Cow Commoners, had plans to sell the land to a supermarket and move the club to the outskirts of town. Happily, the victory meant the Canaries could celebrate their 150 year anniversary with a match against fellow Canaries Norwich City with no gloom hanging over the place.

Despite the occasion, the more wealthy Canaries tried their best to spoil the mood. The Premier League relegation favourites, currently 10/11 with betfair to end the season in the ‘drop zone’, struggled to break down the Southern Premier League side in the first half. The Hitchin defenders resolutely kept the score down to 2-0 and even had a few chances of their own to cheer the 1777 fans who turned up to celebrate. The second half was where it all went a little awry, with Norwich scoring 5 times in quarter of an hour and Frenchman Tony Andreu pecking out a hatrick. The 10–0 win for Norwich, themselves celebrating 80 years of Carrow Road, wasn’t quite the party that Hitchin had in mind but the thumping defeat didn’t quite spoil the occasion for the Hertfordshire yellows’ fans.

But, game celebrations over and with a fresh 25 year lease on their ground pocketed, the Hitchin fans now urgently need to update Top Field to drag it out of the last century and into a more comfortable state. Some may be sad about this, the bucolic surroundings, the overhanging blackberry bushes behind the far goal, the marvellous wood terraces and club house attract groundhoppers form far and wide. The whole package is perhaps something from another time but that is often no bad thing in an era of indentikit stadium and it is an attraction for away fans and neutrals. However, lovely or not, the fixtures and fittings are rotting and need attention.

So, Hitchin have started a Crowdfunder to get Top Field up to date for the next 25 years and we spoke to Hitchin Town secretary Roy Izzard about the plans. The ambitious target is £2million to fund a rebuild of the main stand, the pitch, the changing rooms, club house, floodlights and the cost of planning permission required and, after finally gaining the 25 year lease he said they “were now confident of working with the trustees to take the club forward”. “There are ideas in place [for how best to use any funds they can raise] but nothing has been decided yet”.

The club are clearly taking time to analyse the next steps and not rush in. “Now we’ve got the 25 year lease we don’t want to waste funds or grants on the short term” and any decisions made will help secure the club’s future in the community.

“We’ve a rare owner (former manager) in that he doesn’t want to make money, he just wants to leave a sustainable stadium for generations to come”. The continuity at the club runs through the Hitchin manager Mark Burke who played in some of the club’s most recent FA cup runs. Mark was captain when Hitchin beat Hereford 4-2 in the FA Cup 1st Round 20 years ago and again when they beat Bristol Rovers in Round 1 the following year. It doesn’t sound like the club is expecting a repeat, Roy noted that players always enjoyed those runs but so much luck is required that it is difficult to plan for such an eventuality, the league is where it’s at.

The newly chirpy outlook at the club seems to have increased hope and expectation, both manager and Roy seem confident about the new season. In his recent programme notes discussion with Burke Roy said they were happy with the make up of the squad but the “elephant in the room” was the struggle to acquire strikers. The usual non-league conundrums have reared their heads: distance of travel, cost and remuneration and commitment to training and games around work schedules. This need for a striker was emphasised when they lost their opening league 3-2 at home to Stratford Town on Saturday despite a lot of possession in the search for an equaliser.

Hitchin are going to need a lot of help of the next few years, in some ways the ’Save Top Field’ campaign that has resulted in the new lease is the beginning rather than the end to their immediate worries. Their current crowdfunder for the first phase of regeneration is live for another four days so visit their page if you have some spare cash to help secure the future of the club.

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