What do we know about Hungerford? We know that the Berkshire town was touched by tragedy in 1987, an incident that is suitably commemorated in Hungerford. We also know that the famous Plantagenet, John O Gaunt patronized the town. And oh yes, pop singer Will Young is from Hungerford.
The town’s football team is less well known, and judging by the size of crowds that visit Hungerford Town’s Bulpitt Lane ground, not many people in the area know too much about the “Crusaders”, a brilliant nickname with a club crest straight out of the Holy Wars.
But there’s something going on at Bulpitt Lane. The 2013-14 season is the club’s first at Step 3 level after winning promotion from the Southern League South & West division. They had a long run in the Isthmian League that lasted from 1978 to 2003, but then they dropped into the Hellenic League, winning the title in 2009. Over the past few years they have built some momentum and this season, they have been going well, hence they won the Southern League’s team of the month award for November.
The Crusaders have been in good form – beating Truro City in their previous game and also winning at Weymouth. Before meeting Hitchin Town, they were just outside the play-off zone. And had just beaten Chesham in the FA Trophy.
But their opponents were also on song, winning their previous five games, although, admittedly, two of those were against Herts Senior Cup makeweights Oxhey Jets and Hoddesdon. With two consecutive away wins, at AFC Totton and Corby Town, Hitchin were in far better shape than a month ago.
Hitchin swelled the gate to 117, a paltry figure for a Southern League Premier Division game. Looking around Hungerford, if the club had hosted a horse show, an antiques fair or speciality food market, they would have brought in far more customers. But it was burger and chips, not charcuterie and artisan cheese, at Bulpit Lane, so the waxed jackets and trendy wellies stayed away.
On the sticky pitch, Hitchin took an early lead, Matt Lench firing home at the far post after a very suspect Hungerford defence failed to clear the ball. It didn’t take long for the home team to equalize, a penalty kick from Mark Draycott that foxed Hitchin goalkeeper Tahj Bell.
On the half hour, Hitchin regained the lead when Simon Martin headed into the net after Callum Donnelly’s cross was nodded on by Stuart Pearson. Again, Hungerford came back and a long range shot from Dean Stow gave Bell no chance from outside the area.
Four minutes into the second half, Hitchin went in front once more, Martin at the far post again, this time heading a Donnelly corner into the net from close range.
There was much to admire in Hitchin’s young team – central defenders Dan Webb and Stuart Pearson were excellent at the back and Simon Martin had arguably his best game in a Hitchin shirt. Hungerford made a lame excuse that their team was distracted by its forthcoming FA Trophy at Leek, but isn’t this the competition that nobody cares about (!) ?.
An entertaining game, and the FA and Southern League could relax – not a flare in sight!