EVERY now and then, an event comes along which reminds you why you like football and why local clubs provide so much pleasure to so many people. Player reunions can become a little “all our yesterdays” but in an era where non-league football seems to have fewer characters, even fewer clubmen and a lack of continuity, the Generation Cup provided an opportunity to catch a final glimpse of some old favourites.
At Hitchin Town, present day descendants of the first Hitchin club hosted a three-team group in the innovative competition devised to commemorate the very first FA Cup of 1871-72. The group comprised Crystal Palace (a modern version of the team from Sydenham Hill that played in 1871) and Maidenhead United.
Top Field has staged many FA Cup ties over the years and Hitchin’s cup history has had some high points, notably in the mid-1990s when they disposed of Hereford United and Bristol Rovers in 1994 and 1995 respectively. Some of the heroes from those teams, such as Ian Scott, Jon Bone and Lee Burns, not to mention skipper Mark Burke, now the Hitchin manager, were rolled-out to represent the club. Waistlines might be thicker, hair conspicuous by its absence in some places, but it was a pleasure to see some of the old boys on the Top Field turf once more.
It was also good to see Brian Talbot, formerly of Ipswich Town and Arsenal and twice FA Cup winner, don the Hitchin shirt as a special guest at the age of 68. He has winners’ medals from 1978 when Ipswich beat Arsenal 1-0 and 1979 when he featured in Arsenal’s 3-2 victory against Manchester United and scored the Gunners’ first goal.
Talbot was an excellent midfielder who arguably deserved more than the half dozen England caps he won between 1977 and 1980. He moved from Ipswich to Arsenal in January 1979 for a very sizeable £ 450,000 and in 1979-80, played in every one of Arsenal’s 70 games. Brian’s son, Danny, also turned-out for Hitchin as a guest.
The competition kicked off with a 3-3 draw between Hitchin and Maidenhead, the home side throwing away a three-goal lead. Comebacks were very much part of the afternoon, for Crystal Palace, losing 2-0 and 3-1 in the second 50-minute game against Maidenhead, scored twice and also drew 3-3. There was no lack of entertainment, even if it was at a slower, more deliberate pace! It was a pity more people didn’t drop by Top Field, but if there is criticism of the event, it is that the publicity was a little scant.
The final game in the group, with everything up for grabs, saw Palace easily beat Hitchin 4-0. The fuschia-shirted Hitchin team had lost its legs by then while Palace, whose team was somewhat younger and fitter, strolled to victory. This meant the south London side had won the group and therefore moved on to St. George’s Park for the finals in March 2022.
The competition continues in November with another six teams (Reigate Priory, Clapham Rovers, Upton Park, Royal Engineers, Wanderers and the Civil Service) taking the field at Reigate Priory on November 7.