‘A Premier League team losing one hundred supporters attending at one of their games wouldn’t even register with their hierarchy – an extra hundred through the gate of a non-league club like ourselves goes a very long way.’
Baldock Town, Division One members of the Spartan South Midlands league, are about to take part in their first FA Cup tie since their reformation in 2003. They will take on Hatfield Town, recently-relegated from the Spartan Premier League.
It has been a long road back to glory since the old Baldock – who boasted Kevin Phillips among their ranks at one point – disbanded at the turn of the millennium, due to rising debts and losing the lease to their home ground, Norton Road.
Despite being denied promotion once as their ground wasn’t up to scratch, Baldock Town are now on their way back to where they belong – starting with their FA Cup tie against Hatfield.
Situated in Hertfordshire, Baldock is a historic market town neighbouring Letchworth, just north of Stevenage. It lies twenty-five miles above the M25, making access to London plain-sailing. Just to the west is the town of Hitchin, where Town play their home games.
I spoke to Lee Rusbridge, club secretary at Baldock, who told me of the journey the club have had to take just to find a place to play: ”The Club started off playing on park pitches in Baldock, but our progress on the pitch meant we required better facilities to play at a higher level. As there are no immediate signs of being able to realise our own facility in Baldock, we have been forced to ground-share since 2007.’
‘We spent three seasons at the Herts FA’s County Ground in Letchworth before moving on, as they could not offer the level of fixtures required for the Spartan South Midlands League, which at the time we were close to gaining promotion to. To this end, we moved to The North Herts Arena (3G facility formerly the home of the old Baldock Town FC). Playing in Baldock again was a big coup for the club, but this would only be for one season as after winning the Herts Senior County League in 2012, we were denied promotion as the facility didn’t meet the criteria for Step 6 football.’
‘In July 2012, we agreed a ground-share with Southern League Hitchin Town to play at their Top Field ground.”
With the Spartan South Midlands League Division One acting as the tenth tier of the English football pyramid, Baldock will enter the 2014/2015 FA Cup at the very first qualifying stage, the Extra Preliminary round. But what goes in to registering to play in the greatest competition in the world? It isn’t as easy as you may think.
Rusbridge: ‘Firstly, you have to have competed in the FA Vase the season before to be considered. The criteria is then that you have to meet the Ground Grading and finish in the top four at Step 6 level to be guaranteed a place. Fortunately for ourselves, we were able to sneak in having finished 7th, which was a nice reward for the season’s work. Applications are completed online by 1st April the season before and then its a case of waiting until the draw is made to find out whether it has been successful.’
Gosling Stadium will host the tie between the two teams on Saturday August 16th (3PM kick-off) and it’s something that the visitors are looking forward to. The victors will play a Preliminary Qualifying Round match against Harlow Town and, should they come through that, will visit Grays Athletic in the First Qualifying Round.
Speaking on the possibility of making it through the preliminary rounds and facing Step 4 opposition as well as Baldock’s hopes in the league for the coming season, Rusbridge added: ‘It sounds like a cliche, but you can only take one game at a time in the league and cup. It would give everyone a massive lift if we can beat Hatfield and pit our wits against Step 4 opposition. Our Assistant Manager Stephen Morgan used to play for Grays Athletic, so he would naturally love to see us get that far, but it will be a big ask.’
‘We have two suspensions carried over from last season, so that will make things more difficult in the first few matches. Hatfield are in our division this season after relegation last term and they have a new manager, so they will be just as keen to get into the next round.’
‘In terms of the league, we actually quizzed our manager Scott Grant on his targets for the season at our recent AGM and he quickly replied with one word – ‘promotion’. An improvement on the 7th place from last season would be a stepping stone for us, but Grant has his sights set on the summit.”
Baldock will have to attempt to beat Hatfield without the services of Lee Harman. The star striker netted a whopping 46 goals in all competitions last season, but, as is commonplace in non-league, Harman will not be able to play this year due to work commitments. Despite that, Rusbridge has confidence in Town’s squad, as well as its up and coming youth players.
”We have some talented players within the squad. Dean Gilbert and Luke Gregson both have vast experience of playing at a higher level, Iain Robinson and Lewis Barker are exciting youngsters and attacking players Jack Gregson, Luke Hennessey, Nathan Aulsberry and Kane Dougherty are all on their day potential match-winners.”
From builders to paramedics and accountants to water-board engineers, Baldock are a well-run club who deserve a shot at stardom after taking so many setbacks in the past.
”We are always looking for more people to support and get involved with the Club. I think the beauty of football at our level is that we are all volunteers and we are involved because we enjoy it. Sometimes this can be lost further up the ladder when the players and management of the football club are cut off from the supporters. As with any club, the dream is always to go as far as we can within our financial means” said Rusbridge.
He added: ”People sometimes turn their noses up at grass-roots football. However, a lot of the time when people actually give it a go, they are often surprised by the standard and the enjoyment of watching a local team without having to pay a fortune to get in. A Premier League team losing 100 supporters attending at one of their games wouldn’t even register with their hierarchy, but an extra 100 supporters through the gate of a non-league club like ourselves goes a very long way.”
When asked about a dream FA Cup tie, there was a difference of opinions amongst the Baldock faithful: ”I am a Manchester United supporter, so I would be foolish not to say them away’ said Lee. ‘Our Chairman, Graham Kingham, supports Spurs, so I’m sure that would be his answer.’
‘It would be superb to play any league club at home really – especially one with a good following. I remember a number of years ago when Hitchin hosted the likes of Bristol Rovers at Top Field in the FA Cup, so to see the ground packed to the rafters for an FA Cup tie involving Baldock Town would be a dream in itself.”
Out of the 368 teams in the Extra Preliminary Round, Baldock Town was a completely random drawing for me. It involved no more than closing my eyes and pointing. However, I don’t think I could’ve chosen many better. Along with being extremely welcoming, it’s clear to see that they deserve a break; for a club so low down the ladder, they are extremely well-run, have reserve and youth teams as well as the first team and do not spend beyond their means, as many Premier League club do these days.
As Mr Rusbridge added at the end of our conversation: ‘if you haven’t been along to a game at our level before, give it a go – you might just be pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer!’
I might just do that.
Baldock Town travel to Hatfield Town in the Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, on Saturday 16th August, 3pm kick-off. They open their league campaign on Saturday 9th August against Bedford at Top Field. Tickets cost £5 for adults and £2.50 concessions. Programme is just £1!
The FA Cup itself is coming to Baldock this week – read more here: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/baldocktownfc/news/the-fa-cup-comes-to-baldock-this-week-1263036.html
Find out how Baldock Town got on in the Preliminary Qualifying Round HERE.
Article featured on Baldock Town’s website: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/baldocktownfc/news/town-featured-in-fa-cup-blog-1265928.html
Check out the full FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/