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150 years celebration - the story so far

Friday, July 31 2015

I thought it might interest supporters to be told the story behind the celebration of 150 years of association football in Hitchin. I will explain how the committee was formed, how we managed to get the game against Norwich and the problems we faced staging it, as well as giving details of other 150 events.

It was always felt that the club should celebrate the original Hitchin FC being formed in 1865 as few clubs can claim 150 years of history . But the idea really took off when Chris Newbold approached the executive committee to suggest setting up a totally separate committee to oversee the 150 years celebrations and he offered his services along with Steve Maxted, Roger Berry and Frank King. It was agreed that myself and Mick Docking would represent the main club while Ian Mann would also be invited as the club steward. Brian Gray was also invited as he and Chris had discussed the 150 year landmark being recognised at an earlier date. Colin Ridgeway joined the committee as we needed him to carry out all social media duties while Neil Jensen was asked to join as we hoped he would be able to use his journalistic skills.

The first meeting took place on 27th August 2014 where the outline of what would be done to celebrate the 150 years was set out. It was agreed the 150 committee would be totally separate from the main club but Mick and myself provided the link. Our objectives were agreed and they were—

  • Raise funds for the club

  • Raise the profile of local football and the present club

  • Involve many more people in the celebrations

  • Most importantly celebrate 150 years of association football in Hitchin.

It was also agreed that as well as the club benefitting we should have a local and a national charity as beneficiaries. BBC Children in Need was chosen as its November appeal coincided exactly with the 150 year anniversary while the Garden House Hospice was chosen as many local people and supporters of the club have benefitted from the services of the Hospice. It was agreed the profits would be split 40% to the club and 30% each to the charities.

It was felt a special 150 logo was needed and Mark Harrison was approached to design this. His chosen design was very well received.

hitchin150 badge

 

Other suggestions were for a 150 prize draw, a football dinner with a guest speaker, finding a corporate sponsor, buying in special 150 merchandise, commissioning a kit in the 1865 colours of white and magenta halves and  holding a special commemorative game or games. Interestingly all these ideas were progressed while Neil agreed to write a book to mark the 150 year anniversary. Members of the committee were given different areas of responsibility. I was tasked with getting a prestige game and dinner speaker, Chris agreed to get the replica kit and sort out merchandise, Brian chose to chase corporate sponsors and agreed to write an events programme with Mick, while Roger, Steve and Frank agreed to organise the 150 raffle.

The 150 raffle has gone incredibly well as Roger, Steve and Frank have secured over 180 prizes by approaching local businesses so successfully. Chris managed to find a company to produce the 1865 kit which was difficult as magenta is a difficult colour to produce and the 150 merchandise is still on sale. It was an  idea of Chris to auction the kit after only being worn for the Norwich game and this will hopefully boost funds, The events programme was put together by Brian and Mick who decided to invite guest columnists to provide articles while writing the bulk of the material themselves, which was very time consuming. Mark Harrison helped the design and the end product was a high quality publication. Mick did obtain sponsorship towards the cost of the programme and we are grateful to the companies concerned.

In his search for a corporate sponsor Brian wrote to over 30 companies. He had even researched and contacted large corporate companies  who were also celebrating 150 years in 2015 such as HSBC and Nokia. However Brian found our main 150 sponsor while walking his dog! He got speaking to a fellow dog walker Kirstie Timmins about his search for a sponsor and she indicated that her company Proceed Archiving Solutions Limited might be interested. Discussions continued, written proposals were submitted and following a meeting between Proceed Archiving Solutions with Mick and Brian at the beginning of December, our proposals were accepted and we had our main sponsor on board. We are so grateful to Kirstie and managing director Nick Parkin for their support and giving us a headline sponsor. Proceed Archiving Solutions Limited could not have been more supportive and their generous support made a great difference to the campaign.

Proceed logo

 

Now it was down to me to get a prestige game. I was in no doubt it would not be easy and sure enough I faced the same problems as Brian with some of my emails not even being acknowledged. I thought Nottingham Forest was a good bet as they are also celebrating 150 years but they were not interested. I also had high hopes of Arsenal with our past association with them but despite chasing really hard they also said no. An FA representative side proved a non starter but I decided to try Norwich thinking Canaries versus Canaries was  a possible selling point. My first email was sent on 27th October and their secretary Andrew Blofeld replied two days later. I was heartened by his response as he said ‘’I have discussed your proposal with a few of my colleagues here at the football club including the chief executive and there is initial interest here ‘’. This got me excited but the next paragraph said ‘’however all football related matters must get the green light from the manager and I have forwarded your email to him for his consideration’’. But  Norwich did confirm the game on November 13th although we were not allowed to announce it until they were ready.

Despite  the manager changing and the successful play off final victory Norwich remained committed  to the fixture and eventually allowed us to make the announcement in early June. I had always been assured it would be their full first team and Norwich were as good as their word sending down their full squad that contained no less than nine internationals. I can only say Norwich were as supportive as they could possibly be from the outset and they helped to make the night the great success it proved to be. They even agreed to wear their new away kit for the first time against Hitchin and encouraged their fans to come to Top Field. The way Norwich acted throughout has restored my faith in the way bigger clubs can still be helpful to smaller clubs and the behaviour of their manager and players on the night was an absolute credit to the club—they could not have been better ambassadors.

Team handshakes

Len Leroux was  invited to join the 150 committee as we needed his help in staging such a big game and he took full control of match day organisation. I worked closely with Len during the protest campaign and his organisation was as meticulous for the Norwich game as it had been for the Poole game and the fact the evening was such a resounding success is mainly due to Len. To host a Premier League team means all sorts of rules and regulations come in to force and Len took all this in his stride. He had a meeting with the Norwich Safety Officer and coordinated our plans. Stewarding was needed and we used a mixture of a professional security company-- Moulton Security-- and 20 volunteers from RAF Henlow who were provided courtesy of Captain Rhydian Jones and the security on the evening ran superbly.

Extra toilets had to be hired in and Len had to ensure all the wooden terracing was safe for the evening. Indeed the whole ground underwent a massive spring clean with a number of dedicated volunteers putting in countless hours of graft. It was great to see the whole club pull together and Top Field looked immaculate on the night.

Extra turnstile operators and programme operators were needed as were car park attendants as Len had managed to secure the use of Butts Close for overflow parking. This was courtesy of North Hers District Council and we thank them for their support. One bizarre feature of the evening was Norwich requesting to use both dressing rooms but Len managed to secure the use of changing rooms at the swimming pool , while Ian Mann secured a small marquee for the players to use by the physio room. In the end the whole evening went better than we could have hoped and the icing on the cake was a brilliant feature on the club that was shown on ITV’s About Anglia. Reporter Donovan Blake really did the club proud with his report. Again securing TV coverage was difficult and I sent countless emails and made many phone calls to BBC, ITV and Sky. Eventually ITV and Sky came on board but I am still waiting to hear from the BBC! Sky and About Anglia both showed goal action from the game.

The dinner has been booked for the Sun Hotel on 20th November and most of the tickets are already booked. For the guest speaker I approached Graham Poll who has Hitchin roots and is well thought of on the after dinner circuit and I am happy to say he immediately accepted my invitation.

So the game has taken place , the raffle tickets are selling well along with the merchandise, Neil’s book is nearing completion, the shirt auction will start soon and the dinner is all set up. Our corporate sponsor is in place  and we still have other fund raising ideas so our charity partners and Hitchin Town FC will hopefully have a nice financial bonus to come.

Roy Izzard



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