Non-League Football

Cakes and ale at Hitchin

Picture by Peter Else

Picture by Peter Else

WEYMOUTH’S band of loyal fans had a 300-plus mile round journey to play against Hitchin Town in front of around 380 people. It’s arguable that if the plan to have four divisions at Step Three went ahead, that such a fixture might not happen too often.

And neither should it, really. For a start, 300 miles is too long a distance for part-time football, especially if it happens to fall in midweek. The profit and loss on a game that attracts a crowd of under 400, when you consider travel costs, wages etc, probably doesn’t amount to much.

In Hitchin Town’s programme, Chairman Terry Barratt, who also happens to be the Southern League chairman, spoke of the idea of four step three divisions going into two National League divisions, which makes far more sense than 3 x step three into two. Then current structure is about as logical as a 24-team European Championship. The mathematics of football have also revolved around pairings and numbers easily divisable by four. Three into two doesn’t go well at all.

But Mr Barratt highlighted that one of the issues was around who will administer the fourth division. Non-league football’s hierarchy has always appeared deeply political and you can imagine that who gets the fourth will be hotly debated. The Midland Alliance, said Mr Barratt, was in the frame, but the problem was that this particular league is below the level of the Southern, Isthmian and Northern Premier. Easy. Elevate the Midland Alliance – when it has suited non-league’s ruling bodies this has happened before. It is more likely that the idea will be either fudged or abandoned – and it just so happens that as I left Top Field, I was told the idea may already be dead in the water. A pity, me thinks.

That said, clubs like Weymouth always make the day interesting. It always appears to be a slightly troubled club that has endured more than its share of crises, but the Terras (loved the banner, Terra Firma, by the way, at the Weymouth end) remain well supported and a club with potential.

Hitchin went into the game in good form in the league but had slipped up again in a cup game, this time losing 1-0 at nearby Royston in the League Cup, a result that’s never going to look good despite the Crows’ ambitions for greater things.

There were notable absentees from the Hitchin set-up. Callum Donnelly, the club’s pugnacious but systemically important skipper, was serving one of his annual suspensions, and manager Mark Burke was away on family business. Lewis Rolfe had also run-up a healthy collection of cards.

Top Field had been a hive of activity on a damp Saturday, with a coffee and cake morning in aid of charity, one of the many initiatives being introduced at the club to broaden community appeal. There’s not many clubs where you can find an enthusiastic lady called Kamikaze Kate walking the terraces with a plate of fairy cakes – it brought back memories of the famous china cups in Hitchin’s tea bar. There was also a noisy band of sponsors, clearly enjoying their day of hospitality and the Canary Club’s ale, insisting that Hitchin’s defender Alasan Ann was actually Lucas (Kirkpatrick) until they were informed of their chronic case of mistaken identity.

As for the game, Weymouth will probably be happier than Hitchin with the outcome, a 1-1 draw that once more highlighted Hitchin’s lack of venom up front. Although the North Hertfordshire take on tiki-taka was on display, one or two players seemed a little off-colour. Kane Smith, for example, looked as though his summer flirtation with the professional game has left him a little deflated, something which often happens to players whose hopes have been raised above reality. He will doubtless recapture the va-va-voom that made him such a compelling target.

Hitchin struck the woodwork early on with a Dan Webb header, but it wasn’t until the 42nd minute that they took the lead. Kane Smith played the ball into the area and Ben Walster tussled with a defender to get a shot in that was initially blocked. The ball rolled back to him and he sent a low shot across goal and past Weymouth keeper  Dan Thomas.

Weymouth levelled in the 54th minute when the Hitchin defence allowed Jordan Copp to dash down the left and he passed inside for Stewart Yetton to stroke the ball home from close range. Both teams had late chances to secure three points, but a draw was a reasonable result. At least that 159-mile trip home wasn’t too painful for Weymouth and the Terra Firma.

www.gameofthepeople.com

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