Supporters of two clubs, from Hertfordshire towns separated by the A10, have waited a while to meet each other in a competitive league fixture. Fortunately, after years of having to watch each other from a distance, fate has brought these two locals rivals together again. In the story of their reunion the supporting parts are played by Worcester City and London Colney. The midlands club voluntarily dropped to step five after relegation from the National League North. This allowed Ware to stay at step four despite finishing in the relegation positions last season. Colney, who pipped Hertford Town to the Spartan South Midlands League title last spring, turned down the opportunity for promotion allowing Town to join their local rivals in the Bostik North.
After a long wait the people of Hertford and Ware have finally got their favourite derby back. Twelve years ago, when these two local rivals last met in a league fixture at Wodson Park, the pair were about to go on separate journeys. It was the final season of the Isthmian Division Two before it was disbanded. Ware won the title and promotion to Division One North, where they’ve remained since, bar one transfer season in the Southern League. Hertford, who finished in midtable, found themselves in the aforementioned Spartan League.
Ware v Hertford Town
Fortunes for the two clubs have been somewhat different in their first season back in the same division. Hertford have floated around midtable while Ware have once again been dangerously close to relegation. The first derby of the season, at Hertingfordbury Park in September, was won 2-1 by the home side meaning Ware’s wait for a league win over their nearest and dearest would have to continue for a little longer.
Their opportunity came on a day where winter was sounding its final death rattle. After a week where we’d seen the first signs of Spring, freezing temperatures and snow had returned to the South East. Social media was alive with news of postponements. I was checking the best routes to get to places like Bromley and Boreham Wood, just in case. Fortunately, it takes more than a light dusting and an icey gale to stop a game as eagerly anticipated as this one from going ahead.
I was pleasantly surprised on arrival at Wodson Park. One quarter of the surface had taken the brunt of the snowfall. Club officials were busy clearing the white stuff from the lines, one with a nameless pint of coloured cider in hand. Unlike many of my previous visits to clubs in the Bostik North I struggled to find many images of Ware’s home. It was, however, a well put together ground with plenty of interesting features including a good sized main stand, a long covered terrace and some tight concrete steps at each end for the hardier local souls.
Ware moved to Wodson Park in the mid 90s having sold their previous home. Wodson Park’s obvious delights apart, it cannot match its predecessor's backstory. The story goes that Bury Field, as it was known to most, was the burial ground for victims of the plague. The historical link sits comfortably with a club that dates back to 1892 and its founding as Ware Town. The Blues, a name they share with their local foes, were successful locally winning seven East Herts Leagues and Two Herts County League titles before a 1952 Spartan League triumph.
In the mid 70s Ware joined the Isthmian League. The club briefly courted the national press in 2007 as they were the lowest ranked side in the First Round of the FA Cup. A record crowd of 2,123 saw them narrowly lose to Kidderminster Harriers. That same season was their first in Division One North, after achieving promotion, and the beginning of a long stay at that level which was fortunately prolonged by Worcester City.
Wodson Park is easily found by car. Follow the A10 past Ware and take the exit for the A1170. Take the first exit and follow signs for Wodson Park. There is plenty of parking available at the ground. Ware Station is around a 30 minute walk away and the 331 bus stops outside, in Ware town centre, and conveniently for this game the centre of Hertford. It must have been a bumper day for the 331 as a large group if visiting fans arrived en masse shortly before kick off.
A derby day crowd of 251, Ware’s largest of the season, contained many adorned with the yellow and blue colours of the visitors. The large group of visiting fans swelled as the game began. Ware’s supporters were more evenly spread between the main stand and the covered terrace on the far side. The terraced side provided excellent shelter from the icy breeze, but it was sadly on the opposite side of the ground from the tea bar. This meant a tricky assault course for many who choose to squeeze past the Hertford hoards to heat their innards with a tea or burger.
The home side started the game with a solid formation and captain Gareth Madden sweeping behind the midfield. They conceded quite a lot of possession to the visitors but looked to catch them on the break. Hertford, playing up a slight slope in the first half, found some space down the right but struggled to test Harry Voss in the Ware goal. Ware, on the other hand, were having a little bit of joy on the counter attack with Jordan Watson holding up the ball well and Rose and Laurent providing helpful support.
As the game was headed towards half time it was the home side that made the breakthrough. A ball over the top was misjudged by the Hertford defence and Watson raced through, he beat Mann to the ball and finished well to give his side the lead. The goal seemed to stun Hertford and they nearly conceded again a couple of times before the break. Mann saved well from Rose and then again from Watson at close range after the keeper had fumbled the initial effort from Laurent.
After the break Hertford continued to monopolise the ball, but Ware still maintained a threat in transition. It wasn’t until the latter stages of the half, however, that the visitors got close to equalising. Ware boss John Dreyer stuck with the same eleven throughout the game and in the final stages tiredness began to sink in. Voss pulled off a couple of good saves and was thankful for his defence for rescuing him after a fumble late on. Ware held out, however, for a hard worked and well-earned victory.
One of the great things about the digital age is being able to get a good look at grounds and clubs before you visit them. Ware, who have a smaller online footprint than some, was an enjoyable surprise. Wodson Park is a very well organised ground with friendly and welcoming locals. Hertford, and their travelling support, must also take a lot of credit for adding to the derby atmosphere. I’d pencilled in this game a while back and I’m glad I did, and that Hertfordshire avoided the worst of the weather.
Read more from Louis at his own website, www.gotseats.co.uk