It is barely 18 months since Hereford United’s existence came to an end, wound up in London’s Royal Court of Justice in December 2014 for non-payment of bills.
When the re-formed club return to the capital for the first time since this Sunday, it will be to take part in a much happier occasion, playing at Wembley in the FA Vase final.
Hereford FC play Northumberland side Morpeth Town in the first of the two matches to be staged on Wembley’s first double-billed Non-League Finals Day, prior to promoted Grimsby Town taking on relegated National League rivals Halifax Town in the FA Trophy final.
And the chance to play at the national stadium will be the fulfilment of a dream that never came true for most Bulls fans.
During the old club’s previous 90-year history, they might have famously beaten Newcastle United in the FA Cup back in 1972 but they never managed to make it to Wembley. And yet Hereford FC will be going there in their first season.
Like a red rag to a Bull
Perhaps that is only due reward for all that the long-suffering but inspiringly stubborn Bulls fans have had to go through to get to this day.
They saw the former FA Cup giantkillers slip into financial difficulty, be taken over by London businessman Tommy Agombar, then relegated two divisions in June 2014 for failing to pay their bills, just weeks after completing a near miraculous final-day escape to avoid relegation from the Conference Premier.
A tortuous power struggle between the fans and Agombar ensued, with the old Hereford United languishing in the Southern League – the seventh tier of English football – when they were finally wound up with debts of £148,000 in December 2014.
By that point crowds were down to around 500, while most fans stayed away in protest at the way the club was being run.
But it was the indefatigable spirit of the supporters which kept them going – and the newly formed ‘phoenix’ club overcame all the administrative, political and financial hurdles in their way to be accepted into the Midland League, the ninth tier of the English football pyramid.
Now they will go to Wembley on the back of a season in which they have not only won the Midland League, but two other trophies too, and have regularly been watched by crowds of more than 4,000 people back in their revitalised Edgar Street home.
A 19,500 following of Herefordians will make the journey to the capital for Sunday’s final, knowing that this will hopefully be their only chance to win the FA Vase. Next season, their elevation in rank means that they will only be considered for the FA Trophy.
From old Bulls to new Bulls
Hereford FC have three players in their current line-up who turned out for the Bulls in their former guise.
Captain Joel Edwards made a handful of substitute appearances, while midfielder Rob Purdie is now into his fourth spell at Edgar Street. But former Wales international Ryan Green has the fondest memories of all.
The Cardiff-born former Wolves youngster capped the end of his first stay there 10 years ago by scoring the winner at Leicester’s Walkers Stadium to take the old Hereford United back into the Football League after a nine-year absence.
Having left for Bristol Rovers, he was playing at Wembley just 12 months later in their win over Shrewsbury Town in the 2007 League Two Play-Off final – one of the first games to be played at the rebuilt stadium. And now he has the chance to return.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play at Wembley, even for a Welshman,” Green told BBC Hereford Worcester. “This is the icing on the cake for a fantastic season.
“It’s not the best of levels but it’s the club I love. As soon as I took the call, my decision was made to come back.
“I’ve had my footballer’s pension from the PFA now I’m 35 and looking to start my own business, but I also want to play as long as I can.
“I coached at Cardiff City for a year and a half and then I had a job doing maintenance walk on the railways. That’s not great, having to get up at half past four in the morning, finishing at half four, then training after.
“But, once it’s over, it’s over. I’d like to play until I’m 40.”
Winning is what Beadle’s about
Peter Beadle was Hereford United’s manager prior to the old club being expelled from the Conference, just six weeks after staying up.
But, when the old club finally expired and the new club was formed by their passionate fans, Beadle was the man they immediately turned to.
He had been promoted from being the club’s director of youth football to take charge as caretaker manager when Martin Foyle left the club in March 2014.
And he thought he had saved them when the Bulls won three of their final five games to supposedly avoid relegation. Hereford scored a late final-day winner at Aldershot, at almost precisely the same second that a Salisbury equaliser was going in 210 miles away at the Deva Stadium to send Chester down instead.
Six weeks later, Chester were reprieved. But it was almost a year later before Beadle’s Bulls reprieve came, during which time he had been off to coach Sutton United.
It was on 17 April 2015 that he was appointed as the reformed Bulls boss. And, now a season which began with a friendly at Malvern Town last July, and saw the Bulls score 138 goals in winning 35 of their 42 Midland League games, will conclude for him at Wembley.
“We’re just nine months into our first full year as a football club,” he told BBC Midlands Today. “And to achieve what we’ve done already is pretty much a fairytale, to be where we are.
“The players have been phenomenal. They’ve bought into what we’ve tried to do. And it will be a very proud day for me to watch them go out and express themselves in the national stadium.”
Who do the Bulls play at Wembley?
Hereford are up against north-east side Morpeth, who needed a 93rd-minute winner to see off Essex League side Bowers Pitsea in their semi-final.
Morpeth represent the Northern League, a division with a near-perfect monopoly on the FA Vase since Whitley Bay lifted the trophy in 2008-09.
The league has contributed six of the past seven winners, and a finalist in each of those Wembley showpieces, putting the pressure on the Highwaymen to keep up the tradition.
“The club’s never been here in 100-odd years,” manager Nick Gray told BBC Look North. “Who knows if we’ll ever come back again?
“We’ve got to treasure these moments and look forward to it. The last thing I want is people saying to us ‘at least you got there’, it doesn’t wear with the players. We’ve come to win it.
“I’m confident the lads won’t let themselves, their families or the north east down.”
They include in their ranks 45-year-old former Ipswich Town, Bury and Rotherham United defender Chris Swailes, who has won the Vase twice before, in 1993 and 2012, with fellow north-east side Dunston.
Despite having had four heart operations and a six-inch screw inserted in his heel, the seemingly indestructible Geordie is bidding for a third triumph.
Additional reporting by Matt Newsum.