‘The magic of the cup’ left Hitchin as quickly as it came, as a brilliant Heybridge Swifts side tore apart Town, currently sixth and a step higher.
It could have been a different story though, had Hitchin made the most of an opening quarter of an hour’s possession. A downpour as the players emerged from the changing rooms helped Town’s slick passing play, but they weren’t able to create any meaningful chances.
Perhaps a hangover from finishing 17th last season, Hitchin didn’t seem to have any significant support from any of the 350-odd home fans at Top Field. And when Darren Phillips put Heybridge 1-0 midway through the first half, apathy turned to frustration.
Before kick off, there was a long announcement over the PA system telling people where and where not to smoke, and to behave themselves. That didn’t stop one of the Hitchin officials smoking a pipe in the 94-year-old wooden grandstand, nor the heavily inebriated Swifts fans from telling almost every Hitchin player to f**k off. Particular attention was aimed at Tiernan Parker in the Hitchin goal, who was repeatedly called a sex offender. Even the Swifts committee looked embarrassed by the behaviour of their “supporters”. One brave Hitchin steward did try and calm them down, but without much luck.
You would have thought that Hitchin would come out for the second half full of fight, but it was Heybridge who ramped up the pressure and killed the contest with a superb long-range dipping effort from Jack Adlington-Pile.
At this point the Hitchin fans gave up, and so did their players. It was one-way traffic, and if it wasn’t for Parker, it could have been double figures. Adlington-Pile made it 3-0 with a close-range finish to round off a fine performance from his side.
Top field is one on senior non-league football’s great grounds – full of character and gallons of green and yellow paint, and a the legions of volunteers made fora very warm welcome. But there seems to be a real disconnect between the club, the team and the supporters. Tickets we’re ‘online only’ using an overly complicated ticketing system – I’ve never been asked for my date of birth watching a non-league game before. The online ticketing issue took up most of the conversation around the ground, and a look at the Hitchin forum suggests this has been a sore point for supporters for bordering on two years. Hitchin’ volunteer army could drive the club forward, and they have a real captive audience in the town, but taking just one visit as an indication you feel the next eight months could be key in which direction the club goes in.