There have been so many appalling scandals involving football teams in the last 20 years that it is difficult to pick out one for special mention, but the shocking going-ons at Hereford United take some beating.
A proud club, Hereford will always be remembered for that Ronnie Radford thunderbolt in the FA Cup victory against mighty Newcastle United in 1972. But as recently as 2009 the Bulls were in League One, upsetting the football betting odds left, right, and centre by playing and beating the likes of Leeds United, renowned for their attacking football and financial security.
Fast-forward five years and Hereford United is a club in turmoil, its heart broken by greedy businessman, and the fans boycotting the team’s matches. Relegated from League Two in 2011-12, just six years after clinching promotion from the Conference, the Bulls finished sixth in their first season back at level five under the stewardship of Martin Foyle before the problems really started.
Former chairman David Keyte somehow managed to increase the club’s debts to £1.5million despite a deterioration in the quality on the pitch and annoyed Foyle so much that the former Port Vale striker launched a winding-up petition against the club in May.
Lurch from one crisis to another
More winding-up orders came and went and the reviled Keyte eventually sold the club to Tommy Agombar, who became one of the few men to fail the FA’s owners and directors test. He then sold up to a company specialising in distressed debts, Alpha Choice Finance.
Despite handing the club several new deadlines to sort out their debts, the Conference finally lost patience with Hereford and threw them out of their league, ironically just weeks after a last-gasp Michael Rankine goal had staved off relegation on the pitch.
Hereford were accepted into the Southern Premier League despite still lurching from one crisis to another, a league two levels further down the football pyramid than the Conference. A rag-tag of players continue to wear the Hereford shirt but less than 250 people paid to watch the team lose 2-1 to Corby Town in October, just ten per cent of the numbers that regularly turned up at Edgar Street less than five years ago.
In an attempt to draw more attention to their plight, more than 200 United fans took their protest against the club’s current regime to Kidderminster for their game against Welling United at Aggborough.
Future looks bleak
Banners explaining Hereford’s situation were on view at a match which was televised by BT Sport, and applause broke out around the ground in the 24th minute to mark the club’s foundation in 1924. But the future looks bleak. Agombar’s holding companies have sought to take control of the club’s leases on Edgar Street, although the council, who own the land, opposed the moves and the requests were withdrawn. The whole situation remains a mess and, as usual, it is the fans who suffer.