Sunday, 3 April 2011

Hitchin Town with Neil Jensen

Please read below for my interview with Hitchin Town media officer Neil Jensen. It was published in the latest Football Focus magazine which can be viewed here for absolutely free! Included in the current issue are Queens Park Rangers, Chester and many more football clubs.

 Hitchin Town

Hitchin Town Football Club
Southern League Division One Central side Hitchin Town, otherwise known as 'The Canaries' – due to their yellow and green strip – were actually formed under the original name of Hitchin FC almost 150 years ago, in 1865. Despite the club initially struggling as a professional outfit, they remarkably reached the quarter finals of the first ever FA Cup in 1871-2.

Hitchin's luck took a turn for the worst after a devastating fire at ground Top Field in 1911. However, the club reformed in 1928 and as club Media Officer Neil Jensen informs us, the immediately following years would be a time of unprecedented success for the Hertfordshire club, only for a certain Adolf Hitler to upset the apple cart. “The 1930s were halcyon days for Hitchin Town. With players like Reg Smith, who later played for Millwall and England, Wally Odell and Les Clarke, there is little doubt that this was a golden age for Hitchin Town. The club won the FA Senior Cup in 1932 and in 1935, won the Spartan League Premier Division. The club entered the Athenian League in 1939, but after two league games and a Herts Charity Cup tie, all of which saw Hitchin score seven goals, Hitler intervened!”

With Hitler now firmly in the past and a tough economic climate in the present, Neil believes the emergence of youth is more important than ever. “We have an affiliated youth section in the form of Hitchin Town Youth which runs football from very young ages to under-18. In this 'age of austerity', we could see youth football become even more important – we certainly believe that a successful youth scheme is vital to a progressive non-league club.”

While the development of future talent is important, Hitchin's current squad are competing well and in the driving seat for promotion to Southern League Premier League. “We have a young side and we are on target to win promotion – after 26 games, we were unbeaten in the league.”

Off the pitch, Hitchin Town work hard to keep the local community involved with a host of different programs. “In the past few years” explains Neil, “we have launched a series of initiatives aimed at embracing all areas of the local community. As well as a 'ladies day' and 'forces day' we also held a 'community day' last season where we invited special guests, youth football clubs and local politicians and councillors.”

Top Field - The home of Hitchin Town
Although the local community is important, Neil is also adamant that Hitchin Town must improve their ageing ground if they are to continue progressing, although breaking the bank to do so, is not an option. “Our ground is very old – a 1920s period piece. The club recognizes the need to develop, as there is a limited time frame in respect to how long the facilities can last. But we are well run, prudent with money and will not put the club in jeopardy in any way.”

In fact, Neil will be sad to see the old lady go when she eventually meets the end. “The ground is much-loved by regulars as it has a charm of its own. But nostalgia aside, the club has to move on!”

Indeed, with a sizeable home support, Neil says Hitchin are aiming for glory as soon as possible. “We are a well supported club - averaging close to 350 people per game. We feel we can realistically win promotion and then to challenge for Blue Square South.”

In fact, the club has recently been commemorating “The Boys Of '61” who fifty years ago, ran out to meet Walthamstow Avenue in the FA Amateur Cup semi-finals. Although the 30's are regarded as the most successful decade of the club's history, this 1961 side are believed by many, to be Hitchin Town's finest ever side. During the same season, Hitchin also faced Crystal Palace in the FA Cup before an incredible 21,000 spectators. The club will be hoping that the current group of players can take inspiration from those Canary heroes.

written by Will Lyon

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