The market town of Hitchin around 40 miles North of central London is your typical small Home Counties town. A leafy suburbia set in North Hertfordshire, the tow has a population of around 33,000 and has a long history of football. Hitchin FC were formed in 1865 and competed in the inaugural FA Cup in the 1871/72 season reaching the Quarter Finals. The club were professional in the early 20th Century but fell on financial difficulties and folded in 1911. Hitchin FC before Hitchin Town played at Top Field meaning the ground has been hosting football since 1873 only two years after Maidenhead United’s York Road. The Canaries were formed in 1928 and first came to my attention dumping my beloved Bristol Rovers out of the FA Cup First Round in 1995. Top Field has become a Mecca for Groundhoppers, with it’s wooden terracing and general vibe of grounds long lost. Though dated, it’s been well maintained and cared for especially after it was nearly lost to a supermarket build in 2014.
With the Pandemic still putting a halt to attendance of football matches across most of Europe, I used Hitchin as a stop off while returning home to Bristol from a friends in Peterborough. I met Ffion who I’d previously gone to the Genoa Derby and Valencia with in The Victoria a pub about half a mile down the road from the ground. After a quick couple of pints we mooched up the hill to the ground (somewhere Ffion had been numerous times before). With pre-purchased tickets which, Hitchin are doing for all games for the foreseeable future we were temperature checked and on our way in. The ground has wooden covered terracing down one side of the ground and behind one goal, there’s one covered stand straddling the half way line on another side with a reasonably large open terrace at the other end. We decided to take our place on the wooden terrace that Hitchin were attacking first half while I munched on a particularly decent (for football) burger.
Alvechurch were the visitors to Top Field and were dominated from start to finish by the hosts. After only four minutes Hitchin took the lead from a penalty by Layne Eadie after winger Jhai Dhillon was cut down. The hosts doubled their lead as Dhillon broke down the left and played the ball in to Callum Stead who opened his account for the season with a smart finish. A couple of minutes later the game was effectively over when Alvechurch’s Zack Foster rather hilariously threw a ball at a Hitchin supporter after they’d won a throw in. Alvechurch tightened up for the remainder of the first half and saw through the 2-0 until half time.
At half time I took the long anti-clockwise route around the ground to pick up a couple of pints and we made our way to the open terrace for the second half. Church pulled a goal back after 61 minutes when a foul Ryan Smith lead to a penalty handily put away by Kieran Cook. They couldn’t could they? Game on? No, Hitchin shifted up the gears Stead set one up soon after to restore the 2 goal lead after he crossed to Luke Brown who slotted home from close range. Stead then added a fourth when he, let’s put it frankly crossed from the right hand side on the corner of the penalty area. The ball flew over visiting keeper Brown and into the far corner of the net. Stead was replaced soon after by Marcus Goldborne who also managed to get on the score sheet. The sub made it 5 with twenty minutes to go, would Hitchin go for more? No, they spent the last twenty minutes toying with Alvechurch creating half chances but never really trying too hard. The match ended 5-1, did it flatter Hitchin? Not really but, at the same time I don’t think Alvechurch deserved that.
Now I had intended to keep this blog for fixtures abroad, Top Field though deserved a post. I’d put it in the same bracket as Twerton and Penydarren Park, it’s a ground you simply won’t see for much longer. With the added bonus of the frankly bonkers wooden terracing it really is a beautiful anomaly. Catching it on a sunny day added to the joy, the open terrace is a sun trap and despite not being the hottest day was lovely and warm. The club has also gone the extra mile with their Covid procedures and, along with many other non-league clubs up and down the country deserve your support.