Twenty years ago – Brighton and Hereford faced each other on the final day of the Division 3 season. Both knew that at the end of the game one of them would no longer be in the Football League.
The game was not for the faint hearted. Scrappy, tense, dramatic. Brighton got the 1-1 draw necessary for them to survive, while among scenes of despair at Edgar Street, Hereford’s league status slipped away.
The contrasting fortunes of both club’s since that fateful day are incredible and a lesson for all in football.
Brighton’s story is well documented with promotion to the Premier League secured after many seasons knocking on the door. For the team of 1997, the club both on and off the pitch was unrecognisable from today’s success story. About to be homeless and in disarray, Brighton had lurched from one disaster to another. Defeat after defeat had left them on the verge of relegation and probable extinction before salvation in rural Herefordshire.
The road to recovery was not all plain sailing for Brighton. The following season they again finished 2nd bottom (with Hull, Cardiff and Swansea the next teams above them!) while playing home games at Gillingham and later the inadequate Withdean athletics stadium. There was a high of double promotions in 2001 and 2002 and a playoff victory in 2004 but generally, Brighton had consolidated themselves as a League 1 club.
2010-11 season was a defining moment for the Seagulls with Gus Poyet’s exciting side winning the League 1 title with 95 points. The following season they comfortably survived in the Championship. After finally moving to a permanent home, the AMEX arena, the club was looking up and everything geared for Premier League football. A goal achieved this season after a few years of playoff heartache.
In contrast, Hereford United’s story is one of woe and sadness.
It would take the Bulls nine seasons to reclaim their league status. That conference playoff victory sparked a brief renaissance that saw Hereford promoted to League 1 in 2007-08. Back together in the same league for the first, and only time since 1997, Brighton returned to Edgar Street this time running out 2-1 victors.
Hereford ended that League 1 campaign bottom, a relegation and the beginnings of a downwards spiral. Three seasons later they were back in the conference but this time the damage was permanent. During the 2013-14 season they were demoted to the Southern League following financial irregularities.
Worse was to follow and on the 19th December 2014, the club that had given us Ronny Radford in that great FA Cup moment, ceased to exist.
A club never dies and a new Hereford has emerged from the ashes. They have had to start from the very beginning but at last, their supporters have something positive to shout about. Brighton are not the only team celebrating a successful 2016-17 season. Hereford became champions of the Southern League – Division 1 South and West, losing just once and amassing 107 points.
Next season Hereford will kick off seven leagues below Brighton in the Premier League. A huge gulf between the two clubs.
However, but for an inspired goalkeeping display, a missed chance when clean through and some desperate defending you wonder what might have been for these two clubs had the footballing gods favoured Hereford and not Brighton back in May 1997.