The biggest non-league football story in Herefordshire in recent years is the sad tale of Hereford United FC, who dissolved in 2014 due to money problems that are unfortunately far too common at clubs underneath the Football League. The newly formed Hereford FC are now in to their second season as they try to work their way back up the non-league ladder, and currently play in the Southern League Division One South & West – the eighth tier of English football.
But perhaps attentions in the Southern county, and indeed the attentions of the entire country, should turn to the team’s neighbours a division lower – Westfields FC. The club’s rather unusually named allpay.park stadium is just a one minute drive away from Hereford’s Edgar Street ground, whilst a couple of The Fields’ players are ex Hereford United stars. Manager Sean Edwards was a massive Hereford United fan and followed the club home and away. When the newly-formed Hereford played Westfields for the first time in August 2015, allpay.park achieved it’s record capacity – 1825.
But that figure may well be beaten tomorrow. Why? Westfields are in FA Cup First Round action for the first time in their history as they host Curzon Ashton. The club are also the lowest ranked team left in this season’s competition, playing in the Midland League Premier Division, the ninth tier of English football. They are the first team from that level to reach this stage since Tiptown Town and Hythe Town in 2010-11.
But because Westfields don’t have a rich cup history, aren’t a well-known team or aren’t facing a League One or Two club, their fixture has not been selected for TV coverage. “It’s disappointing,” boss Sean Edwards told me, “as there is definitely a story to tell with Westfields.” A fascinating story it is too…
A Brief History
What makes Westfields’ historic cup run even more special is the fact that this year they celebrate their 50th anniversary, having been formed in 1966. The year ‘West Ham United won the World Cup’ with Hammers players Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst all being key in England’s first and only major international trophy. Despite the fact that I believe that statement to be absolutely nowhere near the truth, it is relevant to the founding of Westfields FC. The group of local youths who created the club were fond admirers of Moore, Peters and Hurst, so gave their new team West Ham’s claret and blue colours. One of those ‘local youths’ (as Wikipedia describes them) was Andy Morris, who is currently the Westfields Chief Executive and Secretary.
From that unique beginning, Westfields have never quite matched the heights of Alf Ramsey’s Three Lions (how could they, a club can’t win the World Cup, eh West Ham?), with the highest they have reached in the football league ladder being second in their current division in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Unfortunately only the league winners get promoted.
But this season, things have certainly been looking up. Up until a 2-0 defeat to Alvechurch in mid-October, Westfields were the only side in the top nine tiers of English football with a 100% record. As they head into this weekend’s cup tie the club sit third in the league table, with three games in hand over second place Lye Town and six games in hand over leaders Alvechurch. Add in a historic FA Cup run, and the club haven’t been making headlines this big since Prince Harry was pictured in a Westfields shirt whilst in Lesotho in July 2008!
The FA Cup Journey So Far
Westfields began their 2016-17 FA Cup campaign on August 6th, a week before their league campaign had even started. The magic of the competition was evident straight away, with a thrilling 4-3 victory away at fellow Midland League side Stourport Swifts.
High scoring games would go on to become a theme of Westfields cup run, with a 5-1 win over Tividale followed by a 4-0 win over St Ives Town (two divisions above them), a 4-2 win against Highgate United and then another 4-0 victory versus Walton Casuals (one division above them).
Then came the biggest game perhaps in their history. Just one game stood between Westfields and the FA Cup first round proper, and their opponents were Leiston FC, who play two divisions higher and had lost just once in all competitions up until that point. This was a much closer affair, but The Fields took the lead just before the hour mark through captain Phil Glover before conceding in the 73rd minute. With three minutes left on the clock, allpay.park was sent into pandemonium as top scorer Richard Greaves poked the ball home to make history.
When I interviewed Westfields goalkeeper Keiron Blackburn he told me his choice of celebration. “I did a Klinsmann into their fans behind my goal!” said the shot-stopper, as he recalls diving on the wet surface in sheer jubilation. “I didn’t mean to go that far in all honesty!”
Upon the full-time whistle, the Westfields Twitter account understandably went crazy with this incredible Tweet:
Blackburn, who only signed for the club in the summer, told me he was equally ecstatic. “If you watch the videos at the final whistle, you’ll see me in the background doing a cartwheel! I took that from Peter Schmeichel in the Champions League final 1999. We practically all just ran at each other and jumped at each other as hard as we could.”
Even when I interviewed manager Sean Edwards nearly two weeks after the game, he admitted “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”
This is echoed by Keiron: “I don’t think it will actually sink in until we turn up for the game and go out for the warm-up.”
With 23 goals in the FA Cup so far this season, Westfields are the competition’s top scorers, seven ahead of second placed Stamford. Five of their six cup games so far this season have been at home, whilst they are also in familiar surroundings against Curzon Ashton tomorrow.
When I asked Sean about the importance of being at home, he replied: “It’s massive. If we were seriously wanting to get through to the next round, we needed to get a home draw. It’s familiarity, we’ve played so many games at home. We’ve been at home virtually every Saturday since the start of this season.” He’s not wrong. Westfields have had 14 Saturday 3pm kick-offs in league and cup so far this season – 11 of them have been at allpay.park.
What is often mentioned when lower league teams make it further than expected in the FA Cup is the monetary rewards, and how much cup progression can help keep clubs afloat. By starting in the extra preliminary round and reaching the first round proper, Westfields have earnt £30,925 in rewards so far. The reward for winning 1st round is £18,000. “It’s way over what we budgeted at the start of the season.” says Edwards. “But it’s gone beyond the money really now, it’s more for the kudos of the club and to put Westfields on the map.”
Dare To Dream?
And so now the focus moves to Saturday. In truth, the focus has been on this fixture ever since Westfields beat Leiston, and their league form has suffered as a result. A 2-0 defeat to Alvechurch came just three days after the win, whilst last weekend they suffered a 4-0 loss to Coleshill Town. Sean said: “We suffered a hangover from our last FA Cup game. Most of our lads didn’t come down from the clouds until after we’d finished the league game on the Tuesday. We put in a poor effort really, we didn’t go there with the right attitude.”
Keiron added: “There was probably a little bit of alcohol still in our systems! “It’s hard to get your minds off this weekend. People didn’t want to get injured. Our minds probably have been elsewhere in the league.”
They may be at home, but this is unfamiliar territory for the club, having never gone this far in the competition. “Normally we think we might go one or two rounds,” said Sean, but to go six rounds already, it’s been incredible really. Our thoughts normally are to get as far as we can in the FA Vase.
“It’s quite surreal really. Considering we had such a poor season last year, we’ve now reached the FA Cup first round proper and are doing well in the league.”
Their opponents Curzon Ashton currently sit 19th out of 22 teams in the National League North, only two divisions below the Football League. They themselves are trying to equal their best ever FA Cup run and reach the second round for only the second time in their history. The Nash beat York City, relegated from League Two last season, 2-1 in a replay in the last round, so will feel confident going into the game, despite being winless in three league matches.
It will certainly be Westfields’ toughest game yet, but the underdogs are not to be taken lightly. Sean said: “If they have an off day, and we have another good day, we could be in the hat for the next round. Fingers crossed, we might be speaking again!”
When I asked Keiron and Sean if they thought the team could do it, the former replied: “Of course. I’m sure they’ll say the same thing as well, but we have to have confidence in our ability. I definitely think we have a chance.”
“If lady luck is on our side, you never know.” said Sean.
Sometimes a chance and a bit of luck is all you need, and in the most magical competition in the world, anything really could happen. Hopefully at 5pm on Saturday afternoon, Westfields will have made even more history and be one game away from a chance of facing the Premier League big boys.
All facts and figures are taken from the Westfields FC official website and @FACupFactfile on Twitter and WordPress. The latter is an absolutely incredible and fascinating resource that I would thoroughly recommend checking out!