The dust has just settled on the 2018/19 season and the question is was it a good one or a bad one for Hitchin Town. It was such a roller coaster of a season with both highs and lows that I am sure supporters will be divided as to how they will judge it.
I saw every game this season with 58 league and cup games and 10 friendlies so I have experienced very high highs but also suffered very low lows but my definite conclusion is that despite the poor league results it was ultimately a successful season because of the FA Cup.
Nobody would deny that our league form was generally not good enough. To finish 18th is way below expectations and having reached the play-offs in recent seasons it is hard to take. It started to go wrong in only the second game when we suffered a humiliating 8-1 defeat at Needham Market. This sort of scoreline is alien to us and we took a while to recover. But over the season we did concede far more goals than at any stage of Mark’s managerial career and I know how much he values clean sheets. Often it was down to inexplicable individual errors. Unfortunately the strikers were also struggling to hit the target and time and time again Mark was bemoaning the fact we were just not clinical enough.
The FA Cup run did not seem to help our league form and we fell behind in fixtures and were in and around the relegation zone for too long. We had strange sequences of successive wins and successive defeats. Having lost 7 successive games in December and January we then won 6 of our next 7 games with no draws. The wins included successive victories over Stourbridge and Kings Lynn who were in the top three at the time. This showed inconsistency that must have been maddening for Mark but it also showed another factor that he often mentioned through the season and that was how so many games were settled by fine margins. When we lost the 7 successive games we were not as bad as that sequence makes it seem and the same is true of the 6 wins out of 7 when we were probably not that good.
But relegation worries eventually faded away and we were always too good to get relegated in my opinion although I know many teams have been relegated despite their ability. But despite the league woes I still regard the season as memorable because of the FA Cup run. If you had offered me a passage to the first round proper of the FA Cup and finishing one place above the relegation zone I would have snapped your hand off. It had been 23 years since we had last reached the first round and I had been lucky enough to have been involved with the club in both of the giant killing runs. I had seen the effect a Cup run can have on a club and this season proved to be no different.
The Godmanchester game nearly saw us go out, while we had to rely on penalties to beat Didcot in a replay. We played well to beat Hastings and then met Leatherhead. Before the game I had heard from the BBC that they wanted to hold the draw for the first round of the FA Cup at the winners of the Leatherhead tie. I could not quite believe this and it put more pressure on the game. We drew after suffering the dismissal of Jay Dowie and the BBC decided we would host the draw. What a night that was—little Hitchin Town on national television and with the programme shown all over the world. This really put us on the map and our profile could not have been higher.
The replay at Leatherhead was surely right up there as one of the most memorable games in our history. All those present (and there was a massive Hitchin following) will long remember a game that seemed to have everything and the atmosphere was sensational. It was a great win and would you really have swopped this night to finish a few places higher in the table? The Solihull game saw Top Field full with over 3,000 supporters and I felt quite emotional. I could only think of how we all battled to save our historic ground and this seemed the icing on the cake. We had BBC cameras present and we put in an excellent performance against a team that went on to take the National League by storm. We proved we could handle such a high profile game and earned praise from the police for our organisation.
So the FA Cup was a great experience and now everyone was aware of Hitchin Town. We even discovered a canine superstar as Elvis the dog hogged the headlines! The Solihull game also demonstrated another reason why the season proved we were moving forward as the successful use of the online ticketing system worked like a dream and showed we have embraced the digital age. Throughout the season the online ticketing system has become more popular with supporters with significant advantages for the club.
Another benefit of the FA Cup was how our social media team rose to the occasion. I think they are as good as there is at our level and the whole media team deserve huge credit for their achievements this season. I am convinced they really helped boost the Solihull attendance. On the media front it was also great to see North Herts FM provide live radio coverage of a number of our games and again this moved the club forward thanks to Kate Deller and the commentators led by Brian.
How can it not have been a good season when we benefitted so well from the FA Cup run. Those profits are being reinvested in the infrastructure. We have been able to sort out the Canary Club roof that has been leaking for years and now have state of the art dugouts. We have also extended the dressing rooms to meet FA regulations and further work will follow in the Canary Club.
Another positive of the season was the good relationships we had with Luton Town, Stevenage, Colchester United and Milton Keynes. This is very beneficial especially when loan players are required at short notice.
The fact that we are seen as a true community club who do so much to help charitable causes was further enhanced this season. A number of good causes benefitted from our help including Seraph Thomas and I think it is so important we are seen to be at the heart of the community.
So overall while I am really frustrated by our league form I do think the positives of the 2018/19 season far outweigh the negatives. Mark knows he need certain new signings to boost the squad and if he can get the right ones I am sure we can have a successful 2019/20 season.
BY ROY IZZARD