NON-LEAGUE football likes to think of itself as “one big family”, although the romantic idea of fans mingling and back-slapping is often just that. Only last season, I witnessed some rather ugly jostling as two sets of fans passed each other on their way out of the ground, and that was in the Southern League Premier Division.
Not much chance of that happening at the Hitchin Town v Basingstoke Town game at a very autumnal Top Field. For a start, the Canaries are now employing security at their home games, a subtle presence of muscle welcoming people to the old ground. Secondly, Basingstoke were supported by the proverbial one man and his dog (well, perhaps a dozen). No chance of a scuffle amid the quaint wooden terracing.
But when it comes to family, Hitchin Town can claim to have its own “Who do you think you are?” element. It is worth pointing out that the current squad has two Donnellys, 35 year-old Brett, an honest broker of a player who adds his own brand of endeavour to the team when he comes on, and the precocious Callum, a talented individual with a penchant for challenging the status quo.
The brothers, whose father, Ian, also played for the club and also filled a variety of dugout roles, linked up to provide Callum with what proved to be the winning goal against a youthful Basingstoke side.
These are not the only Donnellys to have found their way onto the Hitchin team sheet. Luke Donnelly, an earnest midfielder, played for the club and Paul Donnelly, brother of Ian, was part of the first team bench squad in the early 1990s.
Fish-out a Luton Town team group for 1975-76 and you’ll find a fresh-faced Ian sitting cross-legged at the front of the photo, with Eric Morecambe sitting just behind him. Former Hitchin manager Brian Williams will still claim today that Ian Donnelly was the best signing he ever made.
But you can go back further to trace the Donnelly link. Ian and Paul’s father, Jim, also played for the club, albeit fleetingly, in the 1950s. In fact, the day of the Basingstoke game, September 23, marked the 67th anniversary of Jim’s first game against Bromley. We won’t mention the score!
So, how fitting that the Donnelly brothers should be responsible for the winning goal in a game that Hitchin really needed to get three points from. It was a match that was as ragged as the beard now being sported by Hitchin’s number two, Adam Parker. “Parks” was in charge as manager Mark Burke was on holiday.
It’s not the same team that seduced the Hitchin public over the past two seasons. Before meeting Basingstoke, they had won just once in the league and had gone out of the FA Cup very cheaply. But this is explainable as they lost the core of the squad in Kane Smith, Will Wright, Matt Lench and Robbie Burns and at present, they are trying to bed-in a new batch of recruits. One senses there will be a significant amount of turnover before Burke and Parker settle on a unit that can compete in the top half of the table again. Therefore, this may be a transition campaign for the Canaries.
Of the new faces, Trey Charles caught the eye. One-footed he may be, but he has a habit of skipping past defenders and causing panic – a player that Parker and Burke would do well to nurture. In fact, Charles had the ball in the net near the end when he jumped to nod home a cross, but the referee ruled it out for an infringement. The final score was 2-1, which was more about function than form, but nobody minds too much when you’re near the bottom of the table and need points. Afterwards in the bar, the Donnelly family was at the heart of the post-match celebrations, probably unaware that on September 23, 1950, their grandfather wore the number 10 shirt for the Canaries on his first-team debut.