Friday 26th December 2014 – Hitchin Town FC 2 – 0 Arlesey Town
Southern League Premier Division @ Top Field, Hitchin
Ground Grab was at the in-laws in Bedfordshire this Christmas. The geographic distance, coupled with ‘weather bombs’ and total shut down of the rail network, meant that whilst many a Hull City fan started 3pm in the 7th tier of the Stadium of Light’s North Stand, I opted for the 7th tier of the English football pyramid. My destination for 2014’s Boxing Day match was Hitchin Town, playing local rivals Arlesey Town (the second time I would see the latter this season).
Some research in the week running up to the game revealed turmoil at the club; Hitchin have played at their ground, Top Field, since 1928. It seems however that they are being forced out by their landlords, seemingly not cognizant of the importance of a town having a football club within its boundaries, who are intent on making a few quid by selling the land to Tesco. This would force the club outside of the town onto green belt land.
For context, Hitchin is a small, quiet market town, which like many on the same train line, has expanded as more of the populus move south to commute to and work in London. A quick walk around before the match revealed it is a friendly and pleasant place, small in size, but with plenty of greenery, old buildings and small shops (similar to my own hometown of Beverley).
Top Field itself is about 10 minute walk from the centre and is set opposite a common, with houses either side. It is quite well hidden from the road by the trees.
Which I guess begs the question, would the residents want a Tesco there? Surely having c. 400 football fans outside your house every other Saturday is preferable to car parks, shoppers, litter, delivery lorries at 4am, and the eyesore of a superstore when you leave the house?
Guess you’d never be short of milk…
I feel for Hitchin, I really do. Their fans and the club have put on a united front in opposing such plans. Top Field is something of a ramshackle offering (more detail later – I believe the legal battle with the landlords has stopped them developing the ground further), but it is their home. I really am an advocate of a club staying close to the centre of the village / town / city it is representing. My own Hull City moved from the dilapidated Boothferry Park to the shiny KC Stadium over a decade ago now, but it worked because it stayed within the periphery of the city centre – people could still walk / get a bus there in 20 minutes max, and away fans had a short walk from the train station. One only has to look to the likes of Reading and Bolton to see how ‘stale’ a club can become when it moves outside of the confines of the city.
So best of luck in your fight; those wishing to support them can do so here.
Entry price to Top Field was a very inexpensive £10, and only £2 for a matchday programme. Ground Grab arrived about 25 minutes before kick off, so immediately set off on an anti-clockwise wander around the ground. Immediately to the right of the entrance is the club shop and snack bar ‘Canary Corner’. Hitchin play in yellow and green (hence the nickname), which gives a retro colour theme throughout the ground. The stand immediately next to this along the long side of the pitch is a wooden terrace, covered for a section immediately before and after the halfway line next to the dugouts (but uncovered otherwise). They reminded me somewhat of the benches you see on prison dramas….
Left: Canary Bar. Right: Dugouts and covered wooden terracing
Opposite the entrance is a fairly sizeable terrace behind the goal (also uncovered) at the other end of which is the main, fully seated and covered, Club Stand. There are a number of club buildings behind this, which, as mentioned previously, are quite ramshackle (pictures below).
Left: Terrace behind goal. Right: Seen better days…..
Left: Football’s smallest boardroom? Right: impressive art on side of physio room.
Completing the tour, there is another terrace behind the other goal, partially covered with a wooden structure.
Left: Wooden terrace behind goal. Right: view of Club Stand from terrace behind goal
So that is Top Field. I believe there is also a club bar; I saw a couple of people milling around with pints before the match and at half time but couldn’t find it. In fairness, my liver has received something of a pickling over the Christmas period, so probably for the best.
My perch for the first half was the wooden terrace (uncovered next to the entrance):
It was a very cold and grey December day; I did actually wonder whether this one would be called off given I woke up to find a thick frost outside – but it went ahead. The pitch was a muddy quagmire, and with the drizzle that came and went throughout the first half became a whole lot worse. Hitchin dominated the first half and went in two goals up following a penalty on the quarter-hour mark, and a second right at the death. Arlesey could have had no complaints. The rain started to pick up towards the end; suddenly standing at the top of some slippery and wet wooden terracing didn’t seem the best of ideas….
The drizzle turned into a pour during half time (but thankfully wasn’t sleet / snow), so along with the Bovril and dozens others, I sought refuge in the covered area of the same stand:
The second half was a much more even affair, with Arlesey only being denied a foot back in the game following some great saves by the Hitchin keeper. As the rain picked up, the tackles became more adventurous. Thankfully the ref, who wasn’t particularly card happy anyway, didn’t start flashing the reds around. It finished 2-0 to Hitchin. I feel slightly to blame for Arlesey’s plight; I have seen them twice this season, first time they were put out of the FA Cup, then a league defeat. Sorry guys (though your place is on my ‘ToDo List’…)
Last mention to the crowd, just shy of 500, and the odd smattering in a santa hat. Fairly large for a club at that level and nice to see.
And so into the night. I liked Top Field, and hope the club and their supporters are successful in staying there. It’s a decent place to watch a game and has real character to it. I’ll definitely be back, and perhaps next time I may find the bar…