“Tales of the Town” – a century and a half of association football in Hitchin
Posted on December 27, 2017
THESE past two years, Game of the People has been working on a celebratory book looking back at the long history of Hitchin Town Football Club. The book – all proceeds to Hitchin Town – was published just before the Christmas period and is available online here.
There have always been a lot of myths and legends surrounding Hitchin Town Football Club. Folklore has a habit of perpetuating inaccuracies and the history of the town’s football has been laden with stories and facts that have been passed down the generations. A prime example of this was the club’s formation. You can find printed among local history publications that Hitchin Town Football Club was a founder member of the Football Association. But the Football Association was founded in 1863. Hitchin’s football worthies did not form a “foot-ball” club until 1865 and when they did, it was to play with both the round ball and the oval ball. The two codes converged at times and it was not until 1871 that things became official.
Furthermore, Hitchin’s football practitioners did not use what we know today as Top Field. It was a case of “playing where we can”. It wasn’t exactly “jumpers for goalposts”, but it was not until the 1890s that the business of football became just that. The assumption that Hitchin Football Club was an amateur concern is also a misconception. The first Hitchin club dabbled with professionalism, got out of its depth and folded, unceremoniously, sometime in 1911. Scarcely a mention of this can be found, but we do know that the club had been limping along for some time. The FA Cup, which has always meant something special to the club, has also been inaccurately recorded.
In 1871, when Hitchin did indeed play its part in the first FA Cup, the game with a Crystal Palace team (no relation to the current club), was drawn 0-0 and was played at Paynes Park. It was not until 1928 that Hitchin folk decided to form a new club and it was decided to call it “Hitchin Town” and that a new yellow and blue kit should be adopted. The nickname “Canaries” was born in 1928 and certainly not in 1865, when the club’s colours started out as magenta, black and white and morphed into white and blue, red and even all-white.
And while Hitchin Town was, if you like, in hibernation for 17 years, a host of other clubs carried the flag of the fast-growing sport, not least the temperance club, Blue Cross. None of these clubs had any relation to Hitchin FC or Hitchin Town, although some future (and past) Hitchin players turned out for the Blue Cross, who folded in 1928-29. It’s important to acknowledge these small, but nevertheless, important details as they help us understand the history of the club we know and appreciate today. So this publication is not just about the current Hitchin Town Football Club, but also the story of the roots of the club and its forerunners.
However you interpret the geneology, nobody can be in any doubt that the town of Hitchin has played its part in the evolution of association football. Long may that continue!
Tales of the Town by Neil Jensen, with a foreword by Guillem Balague, is published by HTFC150 and is priced £ 14.95. ISBN 978-1-5272-1693-8