In another of our behind the scenes chats I tracked down Marc Willmore who is a very long standing Tudors fan who is well known to most supporters. Marc has been involved at the club for a number of years, has served on the committee and has built up an impressive hoard of memorabilia, which includes programmmes, news cuttings, reports,photo's and club records dating back to the original Apsley End FC who were the original founding club before we became Hemel Hempstead Town FC.
We could both talk for hours about the club but I've managed to condense it into an interesting (I hope) interview.
Mitch: Hi Marc, its. seems strange to be chatting via email and Twitter rather than face to face at Vauxhall Road but it’s becoming the “norm” these days. Hope you and your family are well. I thought I'd contact you to ask you about the Apsley FC programme I noticed was on sale via E.Bay a couple of weeks back, I was very tempted to bid for it but completely forgot when it was ending, it sold for £54.00 ! Did you buy it by any chance as I know you have one or two pieces of Hemel memorabilia floating around.
Marc: Hi Mitch, yeah all good thanks, working from home at present so its good to have a distraction and talk football to be honest.Yeah I do have quite a bit of stuff tucked away in boxes and on shelves. It wasn't me that bought the programme although I have an idea who it probably was ! Some of the information I have I got from a fella called Tony, who understand used to live locally and had a keen interest in local football. He published a book years ago about current and former clubs based in Apsley and Kings Langley and he also had an eye for memorabilia... he buys pretty much anything Apsley/Hemel FC related on eBay so if you ever find yourself outbid on old programmes etc then it's likely Tony, he's very determined not to lose out on anything but I'm lucky that he has shared photos of old medals with me and scans of old programmes.
Mitch: Ah, so it was probably him then. I’d have loved to have bought it but I don’t think my wife would have been impressed. We have chatted many times before about Hemel’s history and you are the “go to guy” for most of the interesting stats on the club. So tell me, have you ever thought about writing a book?
Marc: I think documenting the history of the football club is important. People come and go in football - managers, players, fans, staff and there's probably a higher turnover in the non-league game, so versions of events can sometimes get lost or misinterpreted. Also, in the non-league, sometimes people arrive at a club and talk about it like it didn't exist before they arrived - managers who talk as if no-one took the club seriously before they were appointed, players who think they're doing little clubs a favour by being there, fans who talk like die-hards but only know of very recent successes... I think these people need to know that clubs like Hemel have very long and interesting history. In 1885 Hemel (as Apsley End) formed the West Herts League alongside Watford St Mary's, who went on to merge with another club to become the current Watford FC. Our first ever FA Cup tie in 1901 was against Luton Town. In the 1940's and 50's many of Hemel's better players were scouted by Watford and went on to enjoy professional careers. Local derbies against Berkhamsted Town would regularly attract thousands of fans. There's a great deal to know and appreciate about our club.
Mitch: So a book is still very much in the offing?
Marc: One day! My aim was to write a book when Hemel FC turned 125 years old in 2010, but instead I wrote a serialisation of the club history that was featured in Hemel's 2010/11 match day programmes. I still want to write a book, but although I've got loads of information and statistics, I think it's missing the perspectives of former staff, players and fans and if I ever have the time to do so, I'd like to spend time taking to people previously involved to getting stories, memories and experiences about Hemel FC over the years. This week Dave (Boggins) tweeted a load of old photos I'd never seen before of the 1999/2000 championship winning side wearing fancy dress on a night out, other people will have similar old photos and stories, so there's still plenty of photos and anecdotes out there for me to collate.
Mitch: Well I’d buy a copy mate and I’m sure quite a few other people would too. Not sure you’d be able to retire on the royalties but it would still be a fantastic thing to do.
When did you start following Hemel? I can claim to have supported them longer than you but only because I’m considerably older than you! My first game was against Leatherhead at Crabtree Lane when, as a young boy I just wandered in the bottom gate about two hours before the kick off after finishing work with my Dad on his milk round. My brother Tony took the mick out of me for getting there early but I had no idea what to expect. I’d only ever been to West Ham with my Dad and was used to the hustle and bustle of (then) First Division football. Needless to say I was probably the first person in the ground and I remember being terrified I’d get thrown out for not paying to get in! As it turned out I don’t remember ever paying to get in via that bottom gate.
We played in green by this time, which was a disappointment as I’d been told by my Dad we played in claret and blue. It turns out that changed in 1963/64, long before I turned up.
Marc: I didn't know Hemel even had a football team until I was 11; in 1987 my mum signed me up to a school holiday football training camp at Vauxhall Road. After that, I followed Hemel FC results in the local papers and eventually started watching games; I'm quite sure my first game was against Saffron Walden and cost me 50p to get in (£1.35 in today's money so not far off what kids currently pay). I had some interesting away days as a kid, with Tring Town and Berkhamsted Town in our division being a short train ride away and as I got more familiar with the other fans I started to join Dilesh, Tapper and Terry on some of their away day jaunts. By the time I was old enough to drive I was following Hemel home and away almost every week. In more recent years, work and family have kept me away from Football quite a bit, but in this last season that was cut short, I'd probably seen the most games I've seen for a few seasons thanks to some changes at work and being able to bring my kids to games.
Mitch: Do you have a “so called big team? Mine obviously being the Hammers as my parents came from East London.
Marc: Yeah I have another team who’s results I follow. I first got in to Football watching Norwich City. Most of the Tudor Army know exiled Hemel fan Steve Bisney (who now lives in Handan, China) and that he is also a Norwich fan; he's my uncle and started taking me to watch the Canaries at a very early age. As I got in to my teens I evolved from watching Hemel whenever I wasn't watching Norwich, to watching Norwich when I wasn't watching Hemel, to only watching Hemel. My last trip to Carrow Road was way back in 1997, where I spent the game being pelted with coins by Ipswich fans during the East Anglian derby. People who've known me all my life still talk to me about Norwich's current form etc, assuming I'm still a fan, but I've not a clue what's going on there now.
Mitch: You, like myself have done a few stints on the committee at Hemel haven’t you?
Marc: I've had two spells on the Hemel FC committee - 1997 to 2000 and 2013 to 2019. Having supported the club for years, I first got involved at Vauxhall Road in 1997/98 when I offered to start up a club website. I remember when I first met Dave (Boggins, who was halfway through his first season as Chairman) and asked him about it... I honestly don't think he knew what I was on about, this was the very early days of the internet after all, but when I said it involves computers his eyes lit up and before you knew it... I was website editor, programme editor, match reporter and press officer! Turns out no-one else on his committee had a computer!
Part of what I was putting together for the website required some research in the club history. The internet back then wasn't awash with information like now, so I had to rely on old Hemel FC match day programmes, but previous versions of the club history were inconsistent or missing chunks of the past, so I started collecting older programmes and league/FA record books to write a more accurate version. Fans like Terry Turnbull (RIP), Tapper and Steve Bisney had collated statistics, programmes and newspaper cuttings over the years that they gave me and as the internet evolved a lot more resources appeared online. Every time I thought I had a comprehensive account of the club history, I'd find new facts. Only last week I was looking online for old Hemel FC photos and came across three years worth of stats for the early 2000's that filled in some fixture dates and goal scorers that were missing from my records.
I've got almost every league and main cup result for the club along with every final league positions going back to the formation of Apsley End FC as it was then in 1885; I'm probably missing a few cup ties from minor local competitions. Amongst a box load of old books, programmes, newspapers and other records, I've got copies of original records from the early days of the West Herts League which Apsley were founding members of in 1885. My favourite season was 1997/98, Dave Boggins first season at the club.
Few current fans will remember the previous season where the club had no money, no clubhouse, schoolboys having to step up and play first team football, weekly drubbings and many, many changes of management during the course of the season. Dave arrived in the summer of 1997 with Hemel having just been relegated to the Isthmian Division Three which was the equivalent level of today's Spartan South Midlands Premier, and set about turning the club around.
Mitch: I remember pre Dave Boggins and the Portacabin. I had just started to come along more regularly, usually when the Hammers weren't playing at home. Before Dave arrived you could wander in (like the old days) without paying. One game (against Letchworth I think) in mid week, we got a real tonking in front of about 25 fans on a Tuesday evening. There literally was a man wandering around with his dog and he stopped to chat on each circuit about how bloody awful it was! Dave must have been like a breath of fresh air coming in and finally wrenching the club from the grip of Greenhills Social Club which had always been far more important that the football side of things.
Marc: Yeah it was, by the end of the season Hemel had won the league, had a new clubhouse and there was a real air of optimism around Vauxhall Road. On the pitch, we won't see teams like that again with the club represented by just local players, because we're at a level now we can't rely on just local talent and (to the benefit of the fans) bring in talented players from further afield, but there was something special about the club bouncing back in '98 with a proper local team. The championship winning sides of Isthmian Two and Southern Premier in 2000 and 2014 respectively were brilliant teams and both set club records that'll take something special to eclipse, but for me 1998 stands out as the best, probably because of what we had seen before. It showed that the club had progressed at last!
Mitch: Coming right up to date, where do you think the club is nowadays and how do you feel it went last (or this) season ? A strange one to say the least.
Marc: Last season Hemel got off to a flying start to the season and everyone was delighted. Then form dipped and people were less happy. That's football! But if you compare our season to others since we stepped up to the Conference South, the final statistics were quite consistent with previous years. I think what was more impactive was that we went so long without stringing together some good results, whilst in previous years we've usually bounced back quicker from bad runs of form.
This might sound crazy but I quite like being at games when we hit bad form; when Hemel are doing well or even average, fans turn up, socialise with general chit-chat during the game then go home. When we're not playing well it really brings out another side to fans - dissecting tactics and critiquing performances, it really gets fans talking about the game and there were a few heated (but healthy!) debates last season, and I find this keeps match day interesting. However, when the new season eventually gets underway and we've got a new manager appointed, my fingers will be crossed for some winning form as the Tudor Army deserve a change in fortunes after last two seasons, it's been a while since we fielded a consistently entertaining and competitive side.
I have no idea what the future holds or even when we will get back to playing but I am confident that the club is in good hands and with a little bit of luck and some financial backing we could progress even further.
Mitch: Finally Marc, you must have some funny little anecdotes from over the years. I remember dear old Fred Barnes son Brian, getting a clump off an opposition player back in the Crabtree Lane days. The player got so fed up with Brian's constant goading that he jumped over the fence and decked him! I think it made the Gazette so there must be a copy floating about.
Marc: Apart from the famous, as seen on Youtube incident when I tried to climb the wall after our championship winning game at Hungerford, where my foot got caught in the advertising board and I went over like a Scots Pine, check the footage, it’s still out there, I could talk forever about my experiences of Hemel FC, from a former manager taking me in to the changing room before a game just so the players could call me an expletive, to the players that annoyed me so much I I deliberately mis-spelt their names in match reports/programmes or left them out altogether.
Believe it or not I very nearly played as a "ringer" in a Herts Senior Cup tie due to a shortage of players.
I remember Delish threatening to kick me out of his car on the hard shoulder of a motorway in the early hours of the morning after a very cold midweek cup tie in Bognor. The more I think about it the more tales I remember, honestly I could write my own book! At the very least you'd have an hour podcast on your hands rather than a quick interview. Plus some people might not be that happy about certain stories being repeated .
Mitch: Nice one Mark, as I said we could chat for hours but it'd probably be only you and me that would find it interesting!
I hope you get around to writing the book, it would be a great read and as I said, I and many Tudors fans would definitely buy a copy. If anyone need to find out information on all thing Hemel FC then Marc is your man, hope to see you soon Marc, stay safe.