I am delighted to announce that Hitchin Town FC have appointed a club chaplain. The Reverend Nick Smith is a bone fide Hitchin Town supporter and recently took over as vicar of St Marks Church which is just a few hundred yards from Top Field. Nick came to my attention a few weeks ago when I saw a photo of a vicar on the front page of the Comet wearing a Hitchin scarf. When I read the story I found out about Nick’s passion for Hitchin Town and I thought he would be an ideal candidate to become our chaplain. When I contacted him he readily agreed and considered it an honour and a privilege.

Nick will be more than happy to talk to players and supporters who feel they may benefit from a confidential chat. With the pandemic it has been a horrible year for many people so Nick could prove to be really helpful. I asked Nick to produce an article introducing himself and giving a background to his support of the Canaries and he duly obliged as follows:

”I was born and raised in Hitchin, not far at all from Top Field. My first memory of Hitchin Town FC was hearing the games on a Saturday afternoon when I was kicking a ball around in my back garden. Finally, when my parents gave me the freedom to go out and about by myself, I started coming to HTFC games at half time.my memory is that it was free to get in at half-time: I hope I wasn’t just sneaking in!

My dad raised me as an Arsenal fan (I’m regretting his choice right now), and I’ve seen some beautiful footballing moments on the TV. But I could rarely afford to go to games, and then usually only League Cup matches. There’s something special about watching live football – I mean really live, not just watching a TV screen at the same time as the players are playing far, far away – that you can’t beat. You get to be part of the atmosphere, you get to interact with the players, you get to politely suggest that the referee may have made a small mistake. Perhaps most of all, it’s a community experience: you get to know the faces of people who come week-in, week-out. Sometimes you chat, but other times there’s something great about just having that shared moment of joy or frustration. For me, following a Premier League team on TV just doesn’t do that.

When I first started coming along at half time as a kid it would have been around 2000, and the players I remember from those days would be the likes of Mark Burke, Matt Nolan, and Charlie Williams. In those days I used to play Football Manager (or Championship Manager, as it was called) a lot. Hitchin weren’t in a playable league, so I used to edit the database to move them up a couple of divisions so I could be Hitchin manager!

I really started coming along to full games regularly around 2009 when we got relegated to the Midlands Division. Colin Payne was manager, and I loved watching the likes of Ieuan Lewis fizzing down the wing, Jamie Arlick up front, and I enjoyed Smudger’s dependability at the back. We had an incredible season in 2009/10, and I was devastated when we lost to Slough in the play-offs.

I was at nearly every home game over the next few seasons – and many away games too – with my dad Mick and brother Rick. I remember the incredible atmosphere for that derby game against Arlesey, and was one of the fans behind the goal at the Lancaster Road end when the Arlesey players came to celebrate in front of our fans: I don’t think I’ve ever felt such feelings of rage in my life, and I may have shouted a few things that would make my bishop blush. But play-off revenge against Slough and victory in the final over Daventry put me in a better mood.

John Frendo was a joy to watch, despite the constant uncertainty over whether he’d score a hat-trick or get himself sent off! And of course what experience of Hitchin Town FC would be complete without mention of the Donnelly’s (also liable to cause heart palpitations among fans whenever one of them was on a yellow card)!

I moved up to Cambridge in 2014 to go to a vicar factory, but made Saturday games a priority. Our near-misses for promotion in 2016 and 2017 were amazing seasons, but I’m still slightly scarred by the last-minute penalty against Leamington and their annoyingly memorable chant; ‘Leami-Leami-Leamington, Leami-Leami- Leami-Leami- Leamington!’

I’ve been in South London for the last three years and largely unable to get to games, so when the role came up as vicar of St Mark’s I leaped like a proverbial salmon at the chance to come home. I’ve been delighted to discover that many of my congregation are not just faithful Christians but faithful Canaries as well!

It’s a privilege to be asked to become Hitchin’s Chaplain. Sport is a great outlet for people to let out their emotions safely. But sometimes the cheering and shouting on a Saturday afternoon isn’t enough for that. Life can be tough – especially at the moment – and we all need to think about our wellbeing and take care of ourselves. Sometimes having somebody to talk to can help with that, so if anyone – fan, player, or staff – thinks they might benefit from a (confidential) chat with me, for any reason, my door is always open to a fellow Yellow. You’ll usually find me behind the goal we’re attacking, at the St Mark’s vicarage round the corner, or you can get in touch via my St Mark’s email which is vicar@stmarks-hitchin.org.uk.

BY ROY IZZARD