SECOND ONLINE 50/50 DRAW
Following the great success of our first draw, which raised £558 for the Club, and £279 for the local East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals’ Charity, we have commenced our second monthly 50/50 draw and sales are already progressing well.

The draw will take place on Wednesday 6th May at 19:45 hours on the Club’s Twitter site by a live feed, when the winner will be announced.

We hope we can encourage as many fans, followers, and family to participate in the draw. Again we will be donating 20% of the final take to the local NHS Charity, 40% will go to the winner of the draw and 40% to the Club.

You can purchase your tickets by clicking here.

STEVE KIMBERLEY
The good news is that Steve Kimberley the joint manager of our social club is continuing to make a good recovery from Coronavirus. Further info is available by clicking here.

COW COMMONERS TRUST
You will have seen that the trustees of the Cow Commoners Trust very generously decided to allow the club a rent free quarter to June. It was so good to be able to produce a positive good news article about the Trust. The history of our relationship with the Cow Commoners Trust is well documented but that is now in the past and I am delighted to say that the present position is very different.

The current position is the relationship is now very positive and both sides are working together. I must thank the clerk to the trustees Alan Doggett in particular for being so helpful regarding the rent position.

TOP FIELD MAINTENANCE BY STEVE BARKER
As lead of the brilliant volunteer ground staff team (I couldn’t manage without them) a job I have been doing for 27 years I thought I would give some insight into what happens to the hallowed turf when the football season comes to an end.

The most time we usually get is 10 weeks from when the season ends to the first pre-season game which is a very short period for new grass to establish.

The contractor we use should start work next week, hopefully, and I will try to take some photos/video of the works as they progress.

Without any rain forecast we have to try and soften the ground before the work can start, which means putting sprinklers out on the pitch and moving them frequently.

The first operation the contractor will undertake is to use a large tractor connected to a verti-drain machine that puts thousands of air holes about half inch diameter and 9 inches deep to aid drainage, this takes a day to complete as it is done at a crawling pace.

Following this operation at least 12 bags of special sports pitch seed is drilled into the surface of the pitch by special machine. Fertiliser is then put down and watering can commence.

This is followed by the application of 60 tonnes of special sports pitch sand being applied to ‘dress’ the surface and fill the dips caused by a season’s wear and stop the ‘bobbles’. The whole pitch is then drag-matted to smooth the surface and cover the seed.

The whole process can take up to 3 days to complete.

Pigeons will see seed from miles away so we normally put germination sheets down in the goal mouths and linesmen’s runs at the sides of the pitch to try to stop seed being eaten even though the seed is treated so the pigeons do not eat it – but they still do.

Depending on the weather we can expect to start cutting the pitch after 3 to 4 weeks.

I will give updates on the progress of the grass with some photos as the weeks go by.

NORTH HERTS FM WITH KATE DELLER
Please don’t forget to listen in to North Herts FM. It is in times like these that we must all help each other. Becky Phillips started this wonderful Radio Station which serves the North Herts Community; she answered our prayers when she agreed to help host commentary on our matches. We were lucky enough to have within our supporting ranks four fabulous commentators in Brian Gray, Freddie Cardy, Patrick Sloan and Annie Barnes. The rest they say is history.

This valuable service to our Club has gone from strength to strength. So please head over to their website and listen in to their shows keeping the community up to date and entertained. Don’t forget if you are missing football, they have the old commentary links to listen in again!’

GRANDAD PARKS
Congratulations to our assistant manager Adam Parker who this week became a grandfather as his daughter Chloe gave birth. It really makes me feel old to think of Parks as a grandad and I am sure he will get plenty of stick from the players when football returns!

THE MARK BURKE CHRONICLES
To replace Mark’s manager’s notes when there is so little to say I have decided to do a series of articles on his career with Hitchin Town FC. Mark has been involved with the club for 35 years making his playing debut in 1985. He played 731 games over 20 seasons and scored 20 goals. He became manager in 2013 and has just completed his seventh season in the hot seat.

This first instalment concentrates on how Mark eventually came to Top Field. The story starts with Mark playing for St Josephs Youth Under 16’s where he was spotted by John Moore, at that time the Luton Town youth team coach, and later the first team manager. Moore invited Mark to play for Luton youth team against Cambridge United Under 17’s. Mark faced Andy Sinton who went on to play for QPR, Tottenham and England and Mark Cooper who played for Gillingham and Orient before joining Tottenham. Mark must have impressed as he was invited back to play for Luton’s South East Counties Division 2 team. Opponents included Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham and he played for the rest of the season. He was called up to the FA Youth Cup squad despite being two years younger than most of the players.

The FA Youth Cup game was away to Newport County and they travelled in the first team coach. Mark said how proud he was feeling like a real professional player as they trained in the morning. Luton’s team included Tim Breaker, Mitchell Thomas, Stacey North and Ray Daniel. Mark was named as substitute (only one substitute was allowed then) but his great claim to fame is that he kept Mark Stein out of the squad! Unfortunately Mark did not get on but it was a great experience. At the end of the season he hoped to be offered an apprenticeship but he missed out. He was not too surprised as Luton were at the time in Division 1 (now the Premier League) and had Mal Donaghy, Paul Elliott, Mike Saxby and Clive Goodyear as defenders with Stacey North and Mitchell Thomas coming through.

However Mark was invited to play to pre-season training and played in an internal friendly between the reserves and the first team which included Paul Walsh and Brian Stein who both played for England. Mark’s team won 1-0 and he went on to play in the South East Counties team. Mark could not have been happier as he was a genuine Luton supporter and was a regular visitor to their games.

One match Mark vividly recalls was against Millwall where he was marking a certain Teddy Sheringham. It was a cup game played at Kenilworth Road and Neil Ruddock also played for Millwall. Mark said Sheringham ”absolutely battered” him and he could not get near him. This led to John Moore giving Mark some advice that he really felt was helpful for his future career. Moore told Mark he had tried to win every ball which did not work. He advised him to nudge the forward in the back to let him know he was there but then drop off 2-3 yards which would give him the chance to pick the ball up after the forward had flicked it on. Mark always remembered this advice and said it really worked for him.

Mark was at sixth form college at this time and trained in the evening – there were no scholarship schemes or academies back then. This season Mark did play in the FA Youth Cup team winning at Plymouth but losing at Stoke on the old Victoria Road ground. It was a 3-2 defeat, one of the goals coming from a poor back pass from a certain M Burke. At the end of the season Luton had reached a two leg final against Colchester in the South East Counties Plate competition. Mark missed the first leg which was lost 4-1 but they won the second led 7-2 with Gary Parker and Mark Stein on fire. Kingsley Black was on the bench.

At the end of the game John Moore shook Mark’s hand and thanked him and Mark knew he had played his last game for Luton. Mark had continued to play for St Josephs and played against Hitchin where he was noticed by Cyril Buck, then the Hitchin secretary. Cyril invited Mark to come to Hitchin for pre-season training but in the meantime Mark had a lucky break. Hitchin’s youth team manager at the time was Jeff Southall and his son was playing at QPR. Their South East Counties Division 1 team lost their first league game 5-1 at Ipswich and the QPR manager asked Jeff if he knew of any centre backs who might be suitable for QPR. Jeff then thought of Mark who he had seen play for St Josephs and knew that he was going to be training at Hitchin after being released by Luton. So Mark was invited to play in a game against Wimbledon for QPR and was marking the highly regarded first team player Andy Sayer. Mark marked him out of the game and was therefore signed on by QPR on a non-contract basis. He played in their South East Counties team and opponents included Paul Ince at West Ham and Niall Quinn and Paul Merson at Arsenal. Home games were played on the plastic pitch at Loftus Road.

Interestingly Luton had contacted Mark inviting him back but he was able to say he had accepted an offer from QPR. Mark remembers the FA Youth Cup run that included a draw with Norwich at Carrow Road where he scored and the other scorer was none other than Graham Westley, the ex-Stevenage manager. QPR won the replay and then played Millwall. Mark considers the Den the most intimidating ground he played at.

After QPR finished their league season Mark played for Hitchin’s reserve team at Witney with current scout Ian Stratford the manager. He then made his debut in a Wallspan Trophy game at home to Stotfold on 7 May 1985 after the league season had finished (and which is not included in the Fishponders stats). He actually marked Ian Donnelly, father of Brett, Luke and Callum and Stotfold won 2-1. Mark said Ian was a very difficult opponent. Then to cap the season off Mark was invited on QPR’s end of season under-21 tour to Holland. Opponents included Ajax and with Martin Allen among his team-mates, QPR finished third. Mark said he had never really thought of football as a career and was just really enjoying himself.

Then Mark began the 1985/86 season by training under manager Alan West at Hitchin and made his debut in the Herts Charity Cup tie at St. Albans City, which resulted in a 2-1 victory. The team was Luff, Woodward, Gleeson, K Thomas, Grant, Burke, Miller, Harding, Lawson, M Thomas; subs Holloway and Giggle and scorers Harding and Lawson.

So began Mark’s career and love affair with Hitchin Town – more next week.

BY ROY IZZARD