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1995-96: "They've done it again"
 The euphoria that accompanied the 1994-95 season, FA Cup giant-killers for the first time and fifth in the league, quickly evaporated when Andy Melvin lost both Richard Wilmot and Shaun Marshall to Stevenage Borough. It was a case of déjà vu for Melvin, for only 12 months earlier, Steve Conroy had also been snatched up by Borough manager Paul Fairclough after scoring more than 20 goals. Marshall wanted to step up a grade and pursue a dream of playing professional football. “I think Stevenage can get into the Football League,” said Marshall, who had, after all come from his home town club in the first place. The Wilmot move angered Melvin, however. The tall goalkeeper had agreed to stay with Hitchin, but changed his mind. “As far as I was concerned, Wilmot had renaged on the deal and I was livid,” recalls Melvin. “But he wanted to return to Stevenage and for him, it turned out to be a good move as he won a Conference medal.” But for Hitchin, it was another example of the club’s inability to hang on to good players.

Melvin had funds at his disposal as a result of the cup run, so he had the chance to replace Marshall and Wilmot. A player long coveted by Melvin was Stevenage’s own Martin Gittings, a combative forward who scored goals with the same sort of prolifency as Marshall. But he was also 10 years older and carrying injuries. To many, it seemed an ill-timed move and hardly a “like-for-like” swap. Getting a big name goalkeeper was a problem for Melvin, but Gerald Sylvester, who had performed heroics in the FA Cup run, only to lose his place when Wilmot came to the club, was slotted back between the posts. Melvin thought he had pulled off a coup with the acquisition of Conroy, who had struggled since leaving Top Field and soon found himself ousted at Stevenage. With Gittings, Conroy and Williams, Melvin had three strikers of apparent quality. The new combination failed to materialise, however. Gittings pulled up in a pre-season friendly and was barely seen again all season, and Conroy returned heavier, slower and lacking the confidence of earlier years. Nevertheless, Melvin was as bullish as ever, claiming that his team could make a challenge at the top of the table.

There was to be a rude awakening on the opening day of the new season as Harrow Borough trounced Hitchin 5-1 at Top Field. To make matters worse, Steve Miller and Gavin Covington were both sent off. It was just the start of a poor run that earmarked Melvin’s side for relegation rather than promotion. Hitchin secured just two
 points from the first six games and were rooted to the bottom of the table. Aylesbury then won 3-0 at Top Field in a shambolic game in which Darren Thompson and Neil Ryan were both sent off. After the game, Melvin resigned, proclaiming that it was time for someone else to see if they could improve the club’s fortunes. Within 48 hours, though, Melvin was back in charge, although there was a collective statement that “changes would be made”.

Within a week, the club had signed Adam Parker from Stevenage Borough. A precocious player, Parker was released by Stevenage after he had been charged with fraud and seemingly on his way to prison. Paul Fairclough rated Parker one of the most talented players he had managed, but he had a reputation as a l’enfant terrible. It was just the sort of challenge that Melvin liked and his renowned man management skills came to the fore once more. Parker went to prison, but Melvin waited and promised that Hitchin fans would soon see an excellent player in their team. In the meantime, things had improved on the pitch just in time for the return of the FA Cup. Having received an exemption to the fourth qualifying round, Hitchin had to win just one game to get back among the Football League clubs. They did just that, coming from behind to win 2-1, thanks to goals from new signing Lee Burns and old favourite Gary Williams.

The first round draw gave the club an even bigger game than the previous season had delivered, Bristol Rovers at home. As before, nobody gave Hitchin a chance against Football League opposition, despite the fact that Rovers were not a particulary strong second division outfit. Hitchin had not won at home in the Isthmian League and were in 16th place. They had conceded 16 goals at home in seven league games at Top Field. Rovers were in 13th position in their league. But somebody thought an upset might just occur, judging by the media attention on the day. Within 90 seconds, Hitchin had taken the lead. Ian Scott’s free kick landed perfectly for Conroy and he leapt like he had not all season to head the ball into the net. The players ran behind the goal and joined the fans in celebration. The frame was captured perfectly by Times photographer Marcus Aspland and featured in almost every newspaper the next morning. “Who crossed, who crossed,” came the cry from the press box but veteran Fleet Street man Mike Langley had seen it all in his opera glasses, “The boy Scott”. Before Bristol Rovers could come to terms with conceding so early, Hitchin did it again, Lee Burns latching on to a through ball and curling his shot around the Rovers goalkeeper. The Football League Second Division side pulled a goal back before half-time, but the second half onslaught that many expected didn’t materialise, although Gerald Sylvester, the hero of Hereford, pulled of a string of good saves.

The victory was enjoyed, although it lacked some of the excitement of 12 months earlier, perhaps because Hitchin had been there before. But Melvin and Conroy were whisked off to London to appear on BBC TV’s Match of the Day to take part in an embarrassing interview with an ill-prepared Tony Gubba. Melvin’s response to most questions as to why he was involved was “Roy Izzard”, the man who introduced him to the club. While the FA Cup was put to one side, Hitchin grabbed four points from two games, drawing with eventual champions Hayes.

The second round draw had not been kind to the Canaries, an away trip to in-form Gillingham, again from the Second Division. A plucky first half display at Priestfield saw two long range efforts from Ken Gillard shake the nerves of the home side, but three second half goals, two of them from former Stevenage striker Leo Fortune-West, finished off the cup run. With a share of a 7,000-plus crowd, Hitchin had made some cash once more from the competition, which enabled them to bolster their squad. But there was to be no magical second half of the season.

When Gary Williams left the club in March, many Hitchin fans were despondent. Williams, after all, had epitomised Melvin’s side of the 1992-1995 period and was hugely popular with the Top Field faithful. Melvin seemed to lose heart in the second half of the season and after a 1-1 draw with Kingstonian, announced that his coach Robin Wainwright had been sacked. In his place was to come a two-man coaching team in the form of Paul Price and Micky Hazard. Price was a familiar figure at the club, arguably the most celebrated player ever to put on a Hitchin shirt. Hazard, of Tottenham and Chelsea fame, came as part of the package and their arrival was seen as a progressive step. “It might get worse before it gets better,” said Melvin, and he was right. Between February and mid-March, Hitchin won just one game in 11 and endured a run of seven straight league defeats. There was still enough momentum to take the Canaries into the last four of the Isthmian League Cup, but Aldershot were too strong and won 3-0 on aggregate over two games. Hitchin won one of their last nine games of the season, sending alarm bells ringing into the summer. It was only the shortcomings of others that prevented them from suffering relegation as with two games to go, in which they lost both, they could still have gone down. Melvin handed over the reins to Price and Hazard in the summer, hoping that fresh ideas could provide the club with the lift it needed.

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