GOTP Non-League Special: Hitchin Town’s Top Field drama

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NON-LEAGUE Hitchin Town’s battle to keep their ancient Top Field ground has taken many twists over the course of the past year. Game of the People has covered most of the main events, including a controversial interview with the club’s landlords. It seems to have gone quiet at the moment, but Game of the People can now provide a review of a momentous year in the life of the club, and the town of Hitchin.

August 2014: Check-out time? Another twist in the Hitchin saga
The tale of Hitchin Town and their atmospheric old ground took a new twist this week when a local property developer posted an application to build a supermarket on the club’s Top Field site.

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October 2014: First blood to Hitchin as the Battle of Top Field commences
There was no doubt who the star of the show was on the night that Southern League Premier Division club Hitchin Town held a public meeting over the future of its ancient home of Top Field: Mr Mishi Morath of Dulwich Hamlet FC.

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November 2014: Hitchin’s march is not just about a football club
Throughout the centuries, the concept of the “march” has played its part in shaping history. There’s the Jarrow March, the Chinese Red Army’s Long March, the March of the Hebrew Slaves, Gandhi’s Salt March and the Aldermaston Marches, to name but a few. On December 6, 2014 in Hitchin, a quiet, unassuming town in Hertfordshire, a procession will take place to protest about the possible loss of the club’s historic Top Field football stadium – for the die-hards of the Canaries, it is the most important step-out they are ever likely to participate in.

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December 2014: The Hitchin Town March: Days like these
They came from far and wide: Australia, Doncaster, Bedford, Stevenage…and the Hertfordshire village of Ickleford. There were different agendas: saving a football ground; protecting the local economy; and conserving the countryside. Saturday morning was a nervous time for the organisers of a campaign aimed at saving the development of a football ground. Would the town of Hitchin react to the call for support of a protest march intended to make a point to a group of now demonised trustees known as the Cow Commoners?

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January 2015: So, how do you fit a ground into a busy town?
Let’s be frank, some property developers are about as popular as pantomime villains. They fill the role of Mr Nasty. They’re notoriously good at working round the rules and upsetting local communities.  For example, in many new developments, there is a commitment to provide low-cost, social housing, something which some developers really don’t want to do because it compromises their profitability, so they employ “experts” who help them avoid such a commitment and maintain profit margins.

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April 2015: Hitchin to ask people to add their voice to the pound of the crowd
It has been another week of intrigue in the great debate about Hitchin Town’s Top Field ground. After proudly announcing the club cannot be evicted for at least 25 years, documents have been strategically leaked that add to the general confusion about the whole saga.

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August 2015: No dragons in the den – meeting the Top Field trustees
If you believed some of the stories you read on websites, my trip to see the trustees at the centre of Hitchin Town’s stadium squabble could possibly end with me being dismembered or completely drained of all my blood. But I was pleasantly surprised that the people confronting me didn’t have two heads, certainly no cloven hooves and, to be truthful, I couldn’t pick up the smell of sulphur anywhere.

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October 2015: And the clock struck 13 at Top Field
In footballing terms, it was something of a second leg defeat for Hitchin Town’s owner, Andy Melvin and his acolytes. Having won the public vote over a year ago with a carefully choreographed protest march, Melvin slipped into North Hertfordshire’s version of  Animal Farm, transitioning  from “Four legs good, two legs bad” to “Four legs good, two legs better”.

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It’s all gone quiet at the moment, and nobody really knows what is the next step. It is clear that Top Field means a lot to people, but equally, it is very obvious that the ground, as it stands, cannot go on more much longer. The next 12 months may be just a noteworthy.

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