Hungerford Town FC end-of-season report

Nobody can deny that Hungerford Town FC has had an eventful first season in the National League South.

A slightly unexpected promotion to a league in which they’d never competed before and in which they were by far the smallest club in terms of average attendances made them many people’s favourites for relegation. I don’t know what target manager Bobby Wilkinson set his team, but 40 points and a 19th-place finish would have satisfied many. After all, miracles don’t happen in football any more, do they?

Leicester City’s extraordinary run of matches last season started the same weekend that Richard III was buried in Leicester Cathedral. John of Gaunt, Hungerford’s most famous royal associate, may perhaps not have liked the idea of his usurping great-great-nephew distributing Yorkist blessings to his local club without getting on on the act with some Lancastrian ones of his own. Whatever the reason, Hungerford’s season exceeded all expectations. Rather than struggling to 40 points, they cantered to 70. Rather than scraping 19th place they finished comfortably in sixth. They also reached the final of the Bucks & Berks Cup Final (of which more below). For a club of Hungerford’s size this is a truly staggering achievement.

An additional burden was placed on the club by the need to effect ground improvements if they were not going to get relegated for this reason. (You can read more here.) All these were completed on time, on budget and to the league’s satisfaction. Further improvements are planned which will increase the facilities at the club and so provide an enhanced asset for the town as a whole.

Finishing sixth, one point and one one place off the playoffs, may seem like a frustrating near miss. In fact, they would not have been able to compete in the play offs anyway. The National League (the one directly above the National Leagues South and North) is the only one in the FA pyramid that insists on its ground requirements being met by all the teams that take part in their play offs. Hungerford’s ground does not quite meet these standards, though it could easily do so. This was appealed against by Hungerford and three other clubs in the same situation but was recently rejected. This affected both Hungerford and Poole Town, who finished fifth. The loss will be the National League’s as they are, as a result of this rule, drawing their promoted clubs from those with the best grounds, not necessarily those with the best teams. There is a suggestion that the FA  considers this regulation incorrect (quite rightly, in my view) and will demand that it be changed in the future.

A further confusion existed over the venue of the Bucks & Berks Cup Final against Maidenhead which was to have taken place next week. The county association had mysteriously decided that this should be at Maidenhead’s ground (even though everyone knows that cup finals take place at neutral venues) and also a few days after Maidenhead’s coronation as National League South champions, a combination that would have created a party atmosphere Hungerford would have had to overcome in addition to the opposition itself . The association has since relented on both these points and said that the final will be played ‘some time in July at a venue to be decided.’ Whenever and wherever this proves to be (and we’ll let you know when we hear more), we wish them the best of luck.

All in all, a season to be proud of. The team thrived rather than survived and the ground was enhanced. Although one absurd regulation couldn’t be overturned a perverse decision was. A top-six finish, a cup final and a new stand are fine achievements and ones I think the club, management and players might well have taken at the start of the season. Anything Richard III can do, John of Gaunt can match. Clearly, you mess with teams with medieval royal patrons at your peril…

Brian Quinn

PS It now seems that, as reported here on 1 April, Juventus will not be able to play the proposed friendly against Hungerford Town after all. The problem appears to be that neither of the suggested dates of 31 June and 30 February have proved possible to reserve, or even identify, in anyone’s diary…

 

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