How I Managed To Sing For Hereford Utd And FA Cup Legend Ronnie Radford

Footballers still retain a quasi-mythological status in my eyes, so to meet a man who etched his name into FA cup history with one kick was pretty mindblowing
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Footballers still retain a quasi-mythological status in my eyes, so to meet a man who etched his name into FA cup history with one kick was pretty mindblowing

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Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen the goal. It was 1972, an FA cup third round replay between lowly Hereford United and the giants of Newcastle United. The first leg finished 2-2, with Hereford coming from behind thanks to a goal from Colin Addison to secure a mightily impressive result. Newcastle legend Malcolm Macdonald had reportedly said he was going to score 10 goals against Hereford in the game. As if the underdogs needed any more motivation.

Hereford brought the Magpies back to Edgar Street and everyone was expecting Newcastle to win comfortably. They’d been complacent at St James’, but they’d surely learnt their lesson, surely.

The pitch was kicking up ferociously, tackles were flying in, but on 82 minutes Macdonald powered a header past Fred Potter in the Hereford goal. The junior commentator assigned to the game, some bloke called John Motson, firmly stated: “That’s it!”. In his eyes, the game was over.

However, three minutes later John Tudor was caught in possession in midfield by Hereford’s number 11, Ronnie Radford. Radford played a perfect one-two with Brian Owen and the ball bobbled up on the pitch. Radford wound up and let go. Willie McFaul in the Newcastle goal didn’t stand a chance. The Hereford fans stormed onto the pitch, and the comeback was on. In extra time, substitute Ricky George squeezed a ball into the Newcastle goal, and one of the most famous giant killings in FA cup history was complete. Little Hereford had beaten Newcastle United, and Ronnie Radford was the name on everybody’s lips.

However, Radford was not a full time professional, like many of his Hereford team mates. He was a roofer and carpenter, and the morning after scoring such a memorable goal he went back to work, fixing a roof on a house. It was this part of the story that made me write “The Ballad Of Ronnie Radford” when I was 18 years old, never dreaming that I would ever meet the man himself, let alone sing him his song.

A few years go by. I finish my degree, play shows all over the UK, tour Italy, all the while carrying this song in my back pocket. I have a vague notion of collating it with a few other football themed songs on an as-yet-unrecorded EP, but that’s it. My girlfriend’s father insists I show the Youtube video to Soccer AM, I think he even e-mailed their producer on my behalf, but nothing came of it. It was just a song about a footballer, my closest football team, and the idea that extraordinary moments can seemingly have the most ordinary origins.

Then one day earlier this year I received a Facebook message asking me about the song, from someone who seemed to be linked to Hereford United in some way. Caroline Preedy, wife of Dave Preedy, one of the club’s directors, had tracked me down to ask me whether I would play The Ballad Of Ronnie Radford to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the match in question, in front of the whole team, including Ronnie. At this point I should say that no matter where my music takes me, if I become wildly successful or fade further into obscurity, the fact that I was asked to do this will always make me happy that I decided to pick up a guitar.

So on Saturday 11th February, I packed up my guitar and my mother and I went to Edgar Street. We were treated like royalty. We watched Hereford’s game against Cheltenham, a creditable 1-1 draw that could have been so much more had Tom Barkhuizen finished a golden opportunity in the latter stages, we ate and drank in the boardroom at half time, I even met the chairman David Keyte, with whom I’d had a fictional relationship on Football Manager for the past 4 months. I thanked him on being lenient to me given my recent poor away form and my failure to control the wage budget, asserting that the upward trajectory of the club (2 promotions in my first 2 seasons) was proof that we had ambitions to play at the highest level (I currently sit just outside the Championship playoffs with 5 games to go, and Bernard Mensah, a crafty free transfer from Watford, is on course to be named Championship Young Player of the Year for the 2nd season running).

Later that night there was a gala dinner for the Giantkillers in Hereford’s Starlite Rooms, a new development built to hold corporate functions and entertainment, and to generate some revenue for a club already financially stretched. We were shown a documentary about the game, and the original Match of the Day highlights, with all the players exchanging banter as if they could still feel the mud beneath their boots. Stories were told, Ricky George talked about the managing methods of John Charles (“Right boys, you’ve have to win tonight...well, you don’t have to win...), Colin Addison talked about the 4th round tie against West Ham, and Ronnie, well, he talked about that goal. We paid our respects to Roger Griffiths who passed away in 2006, the player who played for nearly 70 minutes with a broken leg.

When the night began to draw to an end I was ushered behind a white screen so I could calm my nerves, tune my guitar and make sure everything was working. The team had seen my song the night before at the rehearsal dinner, but they didn’t know I had been booked, meaning I had to refrain from introducing myself to anyone all through the day. When the screen went up I found myself standing a few paces away from Ronnie Radford, about to play the song that I wrote for him. Shitting bricks doesn’t quite cover it.

The rest of the night remains somewhat of a blur. After finishing the song the chairman asked me to play it again, this time with everyone singing along, which they did, beautifully. Ronnie Radford then came on stage and gave me the tightest hug I’ve ever had in my life, thanking me from the bottom of his heart. I was speechless.

A few weeks later I received a letter from Ronnie thanking me again. He included his contact details and asked me to get in touch, which I have done. I’m happy to call him a friend. Hereford have struggled this season, replacing their manager Jamie Pitman with Richard O’Kelly on the 5th March, a more experienced man at the helm to try and help them avoid relegation. If they do so, it will be by the skin of their teeth. I hope they get the results they need though, because that club gave me the proudest moment of my life, and one that I can’t see myself bettering for a long time.

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Songs From The Terraces, including The Ballad of Ronnie Radford, will be released later in 2012. Follow @hharrismusic to find out how you could help get it made.

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