NEVER has a football team risen from the ashes with such dominance and desire, after having previously seen much dismay and despair.
From playing in League One in the 2008-09 season, to reforming and competing in the West Midlands Premier League (the ninth tier of English football) in less than a decade is not what the masses would consider progress. However, one of the two remaining players to see both of these times assures me that life at Hereford has never been better, and after scoring the goal on Tuesday (17th) to secure Hereford FC’s third straight championship promotion, it is hard to disagree.
“I loved the club then, but it is just better now”, said Hereford veteran and goal scorer, Rob Purdie.
“Obviously with what has happened, dropping leagues and what have you, it’s been a huge change, but I loved the club when I was here before and things have just moved on for the better.
“But deep down, it’s the same club really. I feel the same walking out onto the pitch now as I did with Hereford United.
“The connection between those fans, the boardroom, to the manager, to the players, it’s just massive and helped us achieve greatly.
After walking out onto the pitch for the 451st time, Purdie stepped up to score from the spot against Biggleswade; a goal that proved to be the decider and won him his fourth promotion affiliated with Hereford.
“Lance missed a penalty a few weeks back. Symmo missed one on Saturday which I actually wanted to take, but to be fair to him, he hadn’t missed one before – so I knew I was going to be on them against Biggleswade”, Purdie told me.
“The keeper played a few mind games with me.
“He told me he’d seen my penalties before, but he has no idea who I am so he hadn’t, and he gave himself away.
“He was so hyped up to save the penalty, I knew he was going to go down early so it was comfortable enough to put straight down the middle.
“I was confident in the boys that we were going to be fine and push on further, but we are so solid at the back with getting clean sheets, at one goal we knew we were going to be alright.”
The Bulls now play their last three remaining games as champions of the Southern League Premier Division, hoping to stretch their current 104 points, to 113.
“It’s a bit of a shame that we had to win the last three leagues away from home to be honest with you, and on a Tuesday night you can’t really do much afterwards.
“We had a couple of beers on the way home but it is nice to just get it over with because our last three games are pretty tough.
“Kettering at home on Saturday, Hitchin away, and then St Ives which won’t be an easy game.
“It’s nice to get it done and dusted, though. Not to relax, but just get it done and enjoy these last three games.
“Saturday will be one of the toughest games we’ve got this season.
“It’s massive for whoever gets the home advantage in the play-offs, so they’re going to want to win.
“They’ve also got the added incentive of trying to beat us and spoil our promotion party, so they’ll be going all out and they’re in good form as well, so it’s going to be tough.
“But we’ll just approach it the same way we always do, to win the game.
“We won’t take any liberties just because we’ve won the league.
Since rising as a phoenix club in 2015, Hereford FC can not only boast three successive promotions, something only done by six other clubs in history, but also three successive championships, something never done before. Furthermore, they achieved all three promotions with over 100 points and 100 goals.
In their inaugural season, they reached the FA Vase final at Wembley Stadium, a game where Purdie was Hereford’s only goal scorer from 25 yards. With all of this under his belt, Purdie now looks to the future for both club and career.
“Next year will be a harder transition for the boys than previously and we’ll aim to do as well as we can, for promotion, but it might take a couple of years to plan things this time.
“But just surviving is out the question. I think finishing in the top 10 would be an okay season, as long as there was a push for promotion at some point.
“Beadle is massive on going into every game wanting to win, and he drills that into us which is why we’ve got this winning mentality.
“If we get it right, get the right couple of signings and the lads progress then we’ve got every chance. Whether or not I’ll be in the setup, I’m not sure.”
Now, at 35 and coming to the end of his career, Purdie reluctantly concedes that his time at his beloved Hereford may be coming to an end.
“I honestly don’t know where I’ll be. I’ve got a new job with the fire service now which is going to massively impact my commitment, and a club like this needs commitment.
“It’s especially hard when I’m feeling so good and playing well at the moment, my body isn’t telling me stop, plus my fitness has only got better since I’ve been training with the service, they’re helping each other.
“I said to Beadle I’d sit down with him once we’d won the league and if there’s a place for me here as a player, or coach or whatever, then yeah and if not, well, there you go.
“It’s 50/50 whether I’ll be here next year I think.
“I’ve got all my shifts already and I’ve looked at it and thought well I might not be able to play a game in this month or that month.
“I’ve landed on my feet in terms of the job, though. I’ve had a good day with my crew so I’m in a team again, and it’s a job I’ve always got to adapt and develop in.
“Me, my wife, our little girl, and we’ve got a little boy on the way in June, are so happy I’ve got it, as a lot of footballers struggle once their playing career has finished.
“So that’s my next 30 years now. But, to say you’ve been a professional footballer and a fireman in your life, well those are two pretty cool jobs if you ask me.”