It was never going to be an evenly-matched game. The home side’s fans, hoping for the play-offs as minimum this season, said their biggest concern was local rivals Hemel Hempstead beating them to the title. The visitors’ fans, just a few years ago a hair’s breadth from promotion to the Conference, hoped only to survive the season after years of financial problems. The club hadn’t hired a bus for the players to travel to the game, nearly a 200-mile round trip.
And it wasn’t a close match. Hinckley applied pressure for the first fifteen minutes, but Chesham’s two banks of four were effective. A soft penalty for the home side set things on the way in the first half, and Chesham ran out 3-0 winners. To the travelling Hinckley supporters, the score meant little but the game an awful lot. At 10.30am on Monday 7th October 2013 the club will almost certainty be liquidated – making the visit the Chesham the club’s last match.
The financial issues have been covered in detail elsewhere, but needless to say it seems nobody in authority wants to keep the current club going. Maybe that’s not possible in its current state – the debts are big. What’s certain is that the group of fans who made the trip to Chesham deserve a lot better.
What next? Some fans spoke of the club’s reserve side possibly being saved: Hinckley would still have a football team, albeit at a much lower level. Some of the club’s younger first team players could stay on and help them progress. They would even have most of a ground, given that much of it belongs to a separate company – Leicester Road Stadium Limited – than the one which will be liquidated.
If the club doesn’t survive in any form, there’s the question of who to watch instead: a group of Hinckley fans are soon travelling to watch Wick Academy in the Highland Football League; others chanted the name of Northern Premier League side Matlock Town. Nobody suggested they’d watch the sides most local to Hinckley, Barwell FC and Leicester City. But for many, there’s no interest in picking a new team: ‘I’ll do some ground-hopping, but there’ll be no emotional connection – I can’t just replace Hinckley,’ said one fan.
When Hinckley United disappears from the Southern Football League, it won’t just be the fixtures and the points that disappear. It won’t just be the club that came so agonisingly close to the Conference in 2007. It’ll be the spirit, the determination and the passion of all those who, when brought together, make Hinckley tick: the players who drove to the Chesham game at their own expense; the fan who travels to every home match from Hemel Hempstead; the author who gave away free copies of his Hinckley United book at a recent home game so they could be thrown at the finance director; the excellent Hinckley club shop, a museum to Leicestershire football; the unofficial @hinckleyknitter Tweeter, whose finger is on the pulse but whose identity remains a mystery; the black humour of the fans, singing ‘We’re Hinckley till Monday’ at Chesham or Tweeting about the longest close season ever; the affection with which the fans hold each other – as the end neared on Saturday, the club’s biggest fans were named and given three cheers; the fan who wore a Hinckley United onesie to the game; and the Hinckley United coach who wore it for photos.
But enough gushing like an Oscar acceptance speech – at the end of the day I’m an outsider, and have no doubt missed out someone important. Hinckley are probably gone by the time you read this, and it will likely take years to get back to the level they’ve left. But those fans, staff and players should be proud of their dignity, humour and humility as they put up with another difficult hand life has dealt them.
Saul Pope is a contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine and blogger, mainly about football in Russia and Ukraine though also with an interest in Leicestershire football. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope. A previous article about Hinckley United’s troubles appeared on the When Saturday Comes Website: http://www.wsc.co.uk/wsc-daily/1166-september-2013/10283-confusion-over-hinckley-s-future-as-fans-turn-away