Around the Grounds, No. 27: Hitchin Town’s Top Field, home of the Canaries
- Credit: Archant
Football writer Carl Marston dons his anorak to visit clubs in the region (and beyond) in his quest for good football and a good cup of tea. Here he heads to Top Field, home of Hitchin Town
Nicknamed the Canaries, with yellow-and-green the prevalent colours all around, I could have been forgiven for thinking that I had stumbled into Carrow Road, the home of Norwich City, after it had hit on some hard times – some very hard times!
It was weird. Here I was, standing in the area of the ground known as ‘Canary Corner,’ next to the tea hut, turnstiles and clubhouse, all decked in the aforementioned yellow-and-green, but without a Championship footballer in sight.
Actually, I wasn’t in Norfolk at all.
Top Field, the humble home of Hitchin Town, situated on Fishponds Road, is another delight of the non-league scene.
It has been the headquarters of the current club, ever since it was formed 90 years ago, but has hosted football even before then.
The original Hitchin FC, formed in 1865, played at various venues, including Hitchin cricket ground, Ransomes Field and the delightfully named Dog Kennel Farm.
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By the early 1870s, Hitchin FC was playing its home games at Top Field, while the teams used the nearby public house as a changing room – a familiar tale shared by clubs up and down the country during these formative years.
The original club turned professional in the early years of the 20th century, but financial problems, combined with the wooden grandstand being burnt down in 1911, led to Hitchin FC’s demise.
However, 17 years later and football returned to Top Field, in the shape of the current-day Hitchin Town and, a further 90 years on from that, I made my long-awaited first visit.
Making myself at home, in the rather threadbare main-stand, with its corrugated iron sides (painted green, naturally), I was in town to report on Leiston FC’s endeavours to cement their place in the top five of the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Central.
Club: Hitchin Town
Ground: Top Field (since 1928)
Manager: Mark Burke
FA Cup exploits
I got the distinct feeling that I had mistimed my first visit to Top Field, by a matter of 11 days.
Hitchin has long had an association with the FA Cup, harking back to the inaugural year of this famous competition in 1871-72, when the former Hitchin FC reached the quarter-finals before being beaten by the eventual runners-up, Royal Engineers.
The modern-day Hitchin Town have failed to reach such great heights, but they did host a ‘big’ FA Cup tie just 11 days before Stuart Boardley’s men arrived from East Suffolk.
A bumper crowd of 3,148 turned up to witness the first round proper tie against National League high-fliers Solihull Moors, which ended in a 2-0 defeat. That gate was a rise of 3,069 on the previous home match, against Tring Athletic in the Hertfordshire Senior Cup (79).
As manager Mark Burke said: “It was a memorable day that will live long in the memory. Everything about the day was right, apart from the result.”
Hitchin had been in the spotlight even before that match, because the draw for the first round had taken place in the clubhouse at Top Field.
Winning away at Leatherhead in a fourth qualifying round replay had boosted the Hitchin coffers to £55,000 from the FA Cup run alone, and that was further swelled by a sell-out crowd for the visit of Solihull Moors, together with their share of the TV money (£12,500) – the tie was beamed to more than 130 countries.
As the local newspaper, ‘The Comet,’ revealed in its match report: ‘The supporters were queuing down the Fishponds Road before kick-off as cup fever shook the normally quiet and unassuming market town of Hitchin.’
No wonder, then, that my visit, with Leiston, had a feeling of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show.’
- Wed, Nov 21: v Leiston (Southern League Premier Central, 2-2 draw).
The crowd was not 3,000-plus. It was actually 229, but the select few enjoyed an entertaining evening of Step Three football.
There was no magic of the FA Cup, no TV cameras on show and not a national newspaper hack in sight – just me and a young lad in charge of the club’s social media in the press box – but then, as we all know, non-league football is not all about the glitz and glamour.