Footwear farce at Ice Station Zebra

FFT.com's Gregg Davies suffers more away-day misery

Swindon fans think they’ve had it rough in recent weeks. The former Premier League outfit suffered their fifth consecutive home defeat last weekend – a result that leaves the FourFourTwo-sponsored side 19th in League 1, with the sighting of Ian Holloway watching from the stands sparking rumours aplenty that he’s poised to replace Maurice Malpas.

However, compared to some, Robins fans have got it easy.

For a start, they don’t have to go far to watch their team lose – they can be in their local pub dissecting the defeat within minutes of booing the team off. And Town still sit four points and five places above my rock-bottom rabble, Hereford.

Sunday brought the latest instalment of yours truly ambling about the country to watch the Bulls get beat, with Oldham the setting for United’s latest defeat on the road. That’s now six out of six this season. And Boundary Park’s a very long way away, particularly when you have to hitch a lift to Birmingham to get home because it’s Sunday and the trains aren’t allowed out to play.

"No, he can't come out, he's having a bath" 

Like the fellow former top-flight members Swindon, the Latics must look back longingly at the time they rubbed shoulders with English football’s big hitters in the early-’90s. In Oldham’s case they twice came agonisingly close to an FA Cup final appearance at Manchester United’s expense, in 1990 and 1994.

But John Sheridan’s side are making a far better fist of attempting to climb another rung back up the league ladder this season. Useful on their travels – they defeated title favourites Leeds at Elland Road – they score goals for fun at home, with Hereford becoming the third team already this season to concede four in a game there.

Despite the fearful reputation of Boundary Park – dubbed ‘Ice Station Zebra’ for its brass monkey-bothering match-day temperatures – I benefited not only from the glorious sunshine on show but all the press hospitality you might expect from a well-run, family-orientated lower league outfit: one Oldham official requested my permission to go and polish off his pre-match cottage pie before dishing out the team-sheets.

"Can anyone smell burning?" 

But with pleasantries exchanged and – more importantly – trousers on, following my eventful day out at Roots Hall, I sat back to endure what I feared might happen but hoped wouldn’t: the Bulls passing the ball around crisply but lacking bite in attack and cohesion at the back.

Seven goals from 10 league games tells its own story about the team’s present plight. It doesn’t help when the side’s top scorer, Ghanaian youngster Bradley Hudson-Odoi, has to be replaced after just 30 minutes because he’s ripped his boots and apparently hasn’t brought any back-ups to Boundary Park.

Asked later about the alleged footwear farce, Bulls boss Graham Turner would only utter a terse “No comment,” possibly saving up all his energy on the subject for the player himself.

"Sorry gaffer, thought you said 'Get a fork in boot'" 

Still, Hereford’s ‘lucky seventh’ away game of the season takes place at Brighton & Hove Albion this Saturday.

United were also welded to the bottom the last time the two sides met in the league, but the year was 1997 and the teams met at Edgar Street level on points going into the final day of the season knowing that one of them had to fall through the trap-door into non-league football.

A 1-1 draw ensured it was Hereford who gave way on the goals-scored rule. And while Brighton regrouped and went on to scale the heights of the Championship, it took the Bulls nine years to haul themselves back into the Football League, flirting with financial ruin en route.

Regardless of league positions, this is one to savour for the more battle-hardened United fan and manager Graham Turner – still at the Hereford helm after suffering the ignominy of relegation 11 years ago. It’s a reunion that’s been a long time coming, and thankfully it’s taking place courtesy of the Bulls rescaling the divisions, rather than the Seagulls also plummeting south.

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