A couple of games make a big difference
7 December ~ Memories of Hereford United's past FA Cup glories are invariably evoked by broadcasters in search of an upset when top-flight clubs are paired with dwellers of a lower division. Martin Foyle's side have enjoyed good fortune in the competition this season, financially as well as through good results. Having already beaten local rivals Shrewsbury Town 3-1 at Edgar Street last month, Monday's 1-1 second round draw at Cheltenham sets up a replay on Tuesday to see which side will earn a televised home tie with Everton.
Aside from the excitement of a good run and the prospect of facing top-flight opposition, the competition has done much to increase optimism surrounding the club's future security.
Before this season's Cup campaign got underway the future was looking bleak for the Bulls. Relegation from the Football League in May after six years away from the Conference was followed by a poor start to the league season and a rapid decline in attendances at Edgar Street, prompting talk of administration from chairman David Keyte.
Ten points from the opening four games was followed by only two wins in 12, in which time the club was placed under a transfer embargo due to their inability to pay off £110,000 to HM Revenue and Customs, while an average league attendance of just over 1,800 is well below the budgeted figure of 2,400. This equated to a loss of over £8,000 per week. Just four years after a solitary season in League One, the prospect of resorting to part-time status appeared real.
Things took a turn for the better when the side's first FA Cup fixture arrived at the end of October. A potentially tricky qualifying tie at FC United of Manchester was passed with a 2-0 away win and rewarded with a home match against Shrewsbury. The ensuing win over their local rivals brought much needed financial assistance: prize money for winning two rounds and a share of the gate receipts were supplemented by being a featured match on the television highlights, bringing the estimated total to just under £40,000.
When they were then paired with Cheltenham and the tie was chosen by ESPN for live broadcast this figure rose a further £67,000 from television rights alone. Such revenue that was not budgeted for has allowed an agreement to be reached with HMRC and the club's transfer embargo was lifted on November 21. With the reduction in income following relegation from League Two estimated at almost £500,000 solely from television money, before youth funding and reduced gate receipts are taken into account, it is clear how much of a difference just a few cup matches can make for sides outside the League.
The luck of the balls has also transformed fortunes on the pitch: the 12-game barren run has given way to a period of only one loss in ten games in all competitions. That came at an in-form Lincoln City, who are also reaping the rewards of a cup run and will host Liverpool if they can get past Mansfield in a replay next week.
Hereford go to Barrow tonight and will feature on live television for the second time in a week. The coverage gained from being on Premier Sports and the accompanying £1,000 fee for being a featured away side pales into insignificance compared to the revenue gained in another competition this season, keeping alive the fantasy that future generations of Bulls fans might see their own Ronnie Radford moment at Edgar Street. Matt Ramsay