ON THE eve of Britain’s mission to Brussels with its finger on the trigger, there was a reminder of one of the historic occasions that helped define the nation’s history – the 1953 conquest of Everest. Strange that this should be found in Hemel Hempstead, one of the new towns that sprung up after another landmark event, the second world war.
This aide memoire came when the Hitchin Town supporters’ coach sashayed down Tenzing Road, one of the streets that sprung up just after Queen Elizabeth II’s accession. Tenzing, of course, is none other than Sherpa Tenzing, one of the men that scaled Everest with Edmund Hilary, who also has a road named after him in Hemel. The coach had missed its turning.
It should have crept into Vauxhall Road, home of Hemel Hempstead Town and the improvised Hertfordshire County Ground for the Herts Charity Cup final – Hitchin Town v Cheshunt. Both clubs have bigger fish to fry this season in the form of play-off places. Hitchin are in a good position for a second successive attempt to get out of the Southern League and Cheshunt are clinging onto a hope of a play-off from the Ryman Division One North.
Hemel’s ground has come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years, but there’s absolutely no atmosphere before kick-off. Hitchin have brought a healthy contingent down from North Herts, but Cheshunt’s average gate is just 140 and although they have a couple of dozen people in attendance, the crowd looks very small.
Are we surprised? The Herts Charity Cup is scarcely a headline maker, and it is a mini-series of a competition. Cheshunt, for example, had won just one game to reach the final as they had received a walkover in the first round – ironically against Hemel Hempstead. Cheshunt actually won the first ever competition in 1900-01, by a walkover against St. Albans Amateurs.
Hitchin had beaten Potters Bar and St. Albans. Invariably, it is seen as a hindrance and rarely commands full strength line-ups. That said, it is a nice piece of silverware, ideal for placing a few well-cut roses in some water.
Why Hemel, and why not the County Ground? The official line is that – for the second year running – the floodlights at Letchworth do not meet the required standard. The unofficial line whispered around Vauxhall Road was that the team managers don’t like the County Ground. Whatever the reason, the old format of tossing a coin for venue might be more appropriate given the status of the competition.
But it was there to be won. On paper, it looked as though Cheshunt had the sort of mountain to climb that faced Sherpa Tenzing and his pals, but Hitchin were not at full strength – Kane Smith, Robbie Burns and Jamie Dowie were all missing, along with the absent Dan Webb. Surely, the Canaries had enough to dispose of Cheshunt?
Not so. The team in amber and black stripes took to the task better than their opponents and by half-time it was 1-0 to Cheshunt. Hitchin had opened quite well, trying to make use of Brett Donnelly’s aerial ability. Matt Lench had a low, curling shot that went very close and a header wide. But as time went on, it was clear that invention was something being reserved for the weekend’s big game at Dorchester.
The vital goal came in the 41st minute, a long ball across the field and into the path of Jason Hallett, who controlled it well and drove his well-timed shot under Hitchin goalkeeper Michael Johnson.
Surely, Hitchin would come out all guns blazing in the second half? True, the pace was stepped-up and a succession of attacks really put Cheshunt under pressure, but there was no end product and most crosses failed to find their man. To be fair, Cheshunt’s goalkeeper, James May, played a blinder. That didn’t stop one or two sceptics predicting that the season was collapsing – such is the fickle nature of football fans!
Then a twist. Hallett, the goalscorer appeared to elbow Lench and was red-carded. Maybe now the turning point for Hitchin. Could they climb that mountain?
They kept bashing away on the Cheshunt door and in the 86th minute, their best chance fell to the scurrying Jonny McNamara, but he headed over from close range after some trickery from Lench, who by now was one tooth less after the elbow. It wasn’t to be and Cheshunt clearly enjoyed the occasion. Not an Everest-style victory, but something to put those spring daffs in on the Cheshunt boardroom table!