Hitchin Town
Top Field




Ground No. 240
Visited -
Saturday 10th December 2011
Result - Hitchin Town 0-3 St Albans City
Competition - Southern League Premier Division
Attendance - 418



With winter well and truly settling in then it's always a good idea when visiting grounds that you have several back-ups planned in case of bad weather causing postponements, but in the case of this weekend it was misinformation that caused me to have to resort looking elsewhere when going on to Bangor City's website to plan a trip to Farrar Road only to see their game with Bala had been moved to the Friday night. Looking around the fixtures then the next most attractive game was some 250 miles away from the Welsh coast, with Hitchin Town playing host to St Albans City in the Hertfordshire derby.

As anyone with an interest in football grounds will surely know, then Top Field is an absolute must for groundhoppers, and it had been one I'd wanted to visit for a long time, so was in a good mood setting out on a chilly morning with the icy conditions already having seen several games further north fall victim to the weather. The grounds history dates back to 1871 when it was used by the forerunners to the present club, Hitchin FC who played there in the first ever FA Cup competition, hosting Crystal Palace (themselves forerunners of the current club) in front of 750 spectators who saw a 0-0 draw, a replay being unnecessary with both sides advancing to the second round due to teams dropping out! The original Hitchin club went bust in 1911, but when the present side were formed in 1928 they moved straight into Top Field, joining the Spartan League, where they had much early success, including winning the title in 1934/35 and only once finishing outside the top six in their eleven years in the competition before moving to the Athenian League. The clubs' stay in this competition lasted slightly longer, for eighteen years altogether, although they never quite enjoyed the same level of success, with the high point coming in the mid-fifties, finishing second in 1953/54, recording the grounds highest attendance two years later, with 7878 turning out to see the FA Amateur Cup tie against Wycombe, the hosts winning 1-0. In 1963 the club decided to step up to the stronger Isthmian League, and other than for a couple of brief spells in the first division, this was where they would stay until 2004 when re-organisation saw them move to the Southern League for the first time in their history. Despite relegation, things recently would seem to be going well, having amassed 100 points in their first year back at Step 4, before winning promotion the following season, but off it they have been wracked by legal battles over the future of the ground. In 1880, the land had been purchased by a group of townspeople known as the Cows Commoners' Trust, to replace common land that had been lost to the railways. Their relationship with the club had been good for most of the twentieth century, allowing permanent structures to be built in the form of the clubhouse in 1963 along with the Main Stand and far terrace around the same time, however in recent years the trust has changed their standpoint, which has left the club in a difficult situation of not being able to improve the ground, with wooden terraces along two sides in need of constant attention to withstand the effects of weathering. It's led to a legal battle that drags on to this day with both sides in limbo seemingly unable to come to an agreement.

Having set off early, we’d made good time down to the home counties, negotiating the A and B roads from the M1 fairly well, with time to stop off at nearby Barton Rovers on the way to have a quick look around Sharpenhoe Road (see here), before carrying on and arriving at Top Field for midday, getting the chance to pop in and have a look round first of all.

One of the groundsmen confirmed that the structures are wooden because they have to be temporary. He went on to say that some people have apparently told him because of this that the ground is a dump ("but our dump"), well, to quote Jeremy Clarkson, you can only say they should be taken outside and shot!

It probably wasn't a surprise hearing that, but how anyone can honestly dismiss it is beyond me. This is the kind of ground that is the raison d’ĂȘtre for travelling halfway around the country every other weekend instead of watching Wolves away (rip off prices in the Premier League having an equal part to play in that as well!). Sitting a 10 minute walk from the town centre, the clubhouse is the first thing you come across, with the clubs name emblazoned over the door in large letters, and the FA's badge quite prominent for some reason. Beyond is a small car park behind the near side stand, notable for having the floodlights sitting on the outside of the ground behind it, reminiscent of Boothferry Park or Old Trafford as once was. Inside you come into the corner with the club shop and refreshment hut to your left, painted brightly in the clubs colours of green and yellow, and carrying on behind the near goal sits wooden terracing, which to continue comparisons to league grounds is reminiscent of Molineux's Steve Bull stand, cranked to mean the middle section is sitting furthest away from the action as both sides angle inwards towards the corners. A small roof provides cover in the centre, with the main turnstile block, and club offices immediately behind the stand. On the far side is the Main Stand, which has several sections of seating, the nearest portion having come from the old Wembley Stadium. A mural painted on the near side of it adds character, whilst the stand is split with the players tunnel in the middle, the changing rooms to the rear. At the far end is a good sized open terrace, cranked like the near end, but concrete with crush barriers, whilst back to the near side is wooden terracing like the near end, with several open sections flanking the covered middle. All in all, a fantastic venue then, made better by the clubs colours being prominent to add to the character which leaves you wondering how anyone can honestly describe it as a dump (Shoot them. Shoot them in front of their families... *joke, morons) It's worth noting as well (as the groundsmen were so friendly) that the pitch is in superb condition, as good as anything you'll see in non-league, better than many in the league even, which is pretty good going for the middle of December!

So, after a quick look round, we headed back into town to have a walk around and stop off in both The Victoria and the Half Moon, the latter especially being worth a visit if you're into real ales, before heading back to the clubhouse to meet Brian and Alison who had travelled up from Kent to tick the ground as well.

Going into the game, neither side were in the best of form, the hosts without a win in six, whilst St Albans had lost eight of the last ten, both sitting in the bottom half of the table, if comfortably enough away from relegation. The visitors had bought a fair few fans with them on the short journey to North Hertfordshire and they were dotted around the ground as we headed in, and as the game kicked off it was their team who started to take control early on, helped by having ex-Watford and Jamaica international Micah Hyde making his debut for them in central midfield, pulling the strings which saw them take the lead after 20 minutes thanks to former Chelsea striker Paul Furlong who picked up a long throw and turned to fire low into the corner for 1-0. Despite confidence clearly being low, the hosts weren't going to lie down, and within five minutes they'd nearly bought the game level when firstly John Frendo hit the post, before Saints keeper Neil Jupp turned away a good free kick that looked to be going in, the resulting corner seeing Marc Leach's header cleared off the line. If any of those chances had gone in, then who knows, but just before half time the hosts collapsed after the visitors made it 2-0 in the 43rd minute, James Gray hitting home a good effort from a corner, before he got his second and St Albans' third bang on the whistle when unmarked he ghosted into the area to head home a free kick from the right for a goal that Hitchin's manager Carl Williams will have been disappointed in such was the poor defending.

The second half was a bit of a non-event, notable only for a nasty injury to St Albans winger Sean Shields which meant a lengthy delay, the game going on until gone 5pm as a result of added time, but with the result already as good as done at half time then the visitors were content to sit back, the hosts being unable to really break them down and get back into the game.

After leaving we headed home with the journey going well, glad to have come, despite the falling temperatures making for a chilly afternoon out. Not only is it a pleasant town to visit, it's also a cracking ground with character in abundance. Apparently there are hopes to build permanent structures here should a legal dispute with the owners be resolved, which would be a shame, as whilst the stands are technically temporary, they really are special, with little like them around the country, most clubs opting for the tedious flatpack designs that are of course more financially attractive. Not wishing the club ill in their fight, which seems to revolve around whether the ground was ever common land in the first place, but should they win the case, then hopefully any developments will remain in keeping with its current feel.




The Clubhouse


The Turnstiles


Welcome to Hitchin Town!


The Floodlights


The Club Shop/Refreshment Hut


The Near End


The Near End


The Main Stand


The Near End


The Main Stand


Old Seats from Wembley


Far end of the Main Stand


The Far End


The Near Side


The Near Side


Terracing on the Near Side


The Near Side


Time of the year!


Ready for Kick Off


The Near End


The Far End


The Near Side


The Main Stand


The Near Side


The Main Stand


The Near End


The Far End


The Near Side


Top Field


Floodlights



Top Field Panoramic 1
(click here for full size picture)


Top Field Panoramic 2
(click here for full size picture)


Top Field Panoramic 3
(click here for full size picture)


Top Field Panoramic 4
(click here for full size picture)






  

2 comments:

  1. At least they have a sign to let people know where the toilets are. It is something that you ask and price per head bookmaking community are really into knowing where they are.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Please research stand names. "Near side" is the "Fishponds Road End". The concrete terrace is "The Ilkleford End". The terrace on the dugout side is the "Popular Stand". Thanks..

    ReplyDelete