Saturday 22nd May 2021 – The FA Trophy Final – Wembley Stadium, London
The FA Trophy is a strange competition for clubs at Steps 3 and 4. It is impossible to win, with clubs almost penalised for success by having to play three league games a week to catch up. It is no wonder that the competition is normally contested, and won, by sides from Steps 1 and 2. But the 2021 edition saw the impossible become reality as, perhaps because of the state of Non-League football, Hornchurch became a shining beacon of hope for clubs at Step 3 by beating Hereford.
The more I practice, the luckier I get is a famous quote from golfer Gary Player. There was no luck about The Urchins win at Wembley Stadium on Saturday – their second half domination of a tired-looking Hereford team saw them score three late goals to comfortably win the trophy, but their route to the final had seen them overcome win two penalty shoot-outs against Step 1 opposition as well as overcoming Step 2 Maidstone United by the odd goal in nine.
Saturday was the team’s eighth game since the Isthmian League season ended in early November – on one hand the lack of league action had kept the players fresh and injury free but on the other hand, lacking in match practice. The fact that opponents Hereford hadn’t been in league action for three months themselves meant coming into the game, both sides were evenly matched at least in terms of preparation.
There has been some talk in recent years of a third tournament that would be for Steps 3 and 4 (The FA Shield), which would slot in between the Trophy and Vase. That would certainly bring more interest into the tournament for clubs who could see the opportunity of reaching Wembley more achievable, but for the foreseeable future, we will all need to aspire to doing a “Hornchurch”.
The walk up Wembley Way an hour before kick off was surreal. It seemed that the Hornchurch fans outnumbered their counterparts from Hereford three or four to one, although many of the The Bulls could have been arriving via Wembley Stadium station, closer to the Hereford end of the stadium. Whilst there was significantly less fans than for a normal game at the national stadium, the Urchins fans were making up for it with their noise, with another group descending the stairs from the station every couple of minutes to join in with the chorus.
There were a fair few West Ham fans among them, taking the advantage of a day out at football for the first time in months, supporting one of their local Non-League sides. One hope from the whole campaign is that a few of these fans come back next season to the club to support them – last season when crowds were allowed, the club had grown attendances by 100% from the 2018/19 season, although at an average of 357, the club would welcome even 10% of the fans who came to Wembley as new, regular attendees to the Hornchurch Stadium.
The opening few minutes saw both teams testing each other out, with neither goal keeper tested until the thirteenth minute when Hereford went ahead after a well-worked corner was deflected past Hornchurch keeper Wright. The Bulls looked strong and organised, but lacked that final ball that could have put the game beyond Hornchurch by half-time.
As the second half wore on, the Urchins confidence grew. They could feel an equaliser coming and came close with twenty minutes to play when a Nash effort was cleared off the line. But they finally got their goal a few minutes later when a corner was headed onto his own bar by Hereford’s Grimes and it appeared to hit Ruff on the head and went in, with the player not knowing much about it.
Hornchurch suddenly looked like the higher-ranked team and started to push forward. A decent shout for a Hereford penalty was waved away and the Urchins broke, with the impressive Liam Nash slotting home to give Hornchurch the lead with four minutes left.
It was a story told so many times. Hereford threw men forward in the final minutes, Hornchurch broke with Ellis Brown and his shot, despite being partly saved, slowly rolled into the net. Hornchurch knew at that point they had won, with the substitutes and some of the support staff running to the corner to celebrate with the players and some fans who had jumped the barriers.
There’s little that can be taken away from Hornchurch on a magnificent campaign. I sat watching them with my own feelings of disbelief that a club who we compete with in the regular season had not only made it to Wembley, but were fully deserving of their victory. It was a tremendous achievement and come the day next season when we line up against each other at The Dripping Pan, I hope our fans recognise that fact. The victory will not only bring prize money but commercial partnerships that will allow them to invest on and off the pitch next season. They will undoubtedly be one of the teams to be challenging at the top of the table come the end of next season.