“Not a lot of people know this…” Begins Hitchin Town FCs commercial manager Mick Docking.
Mick continues. “…But it’s highly likely that the first ever recorded FA Cup Match to kick off was Hitchin Town vs Crystal Palace back in 1871.”
As fans and others associated with the club will know, Hitchin have the distinction of being one of 15 teams which played in the first ever FA Cup in 1871, where they bowed out in the second round to eventual finalists, the Royal Engineers.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the FA cup, making it the oldest national football competition in the world.
To mark the occasion, the club has teamed up with Garden City Brewery and local internet service provider IDNet to create a special celebratory ale.
“It’s a way for us to generate some extra revenue for the club, engage with local firms and have some fun along the way. IDNet kindly provide the broadband here at Top Field and they were our partners in hosting previous local cider and cheese festivals. We reached out to local brewer Nick Rolfe and a recipe for the ale was hatched” says Club spokesperson Mick.
It was decided to focus on hop varieties and ingredients which would have been around back in 1871.
After doing some research, the key hops of Challenger, East Kent Goldings and Fuggle were chosen.
A date was set in mid-August and the enthusiastic team met at the Garden City Brewery to roll up their sleeves and prepare the mash.
Brewer Nick Rolfe welcomed volunteers from IDNet and the Football Club, and after a short briefing on the process, it was all hands-on deck.
As Nick explains, there were three highly participative activities where everyone got stuck in.
“First we got everyone stirring in the grain, this took about 15 minutes of continuous paddling and was followed by a 75 minute mash. Mashing is the term given to the start of the brewing process, where crushed grains are mixed with water to form a porridge-like mixture.
Next came the messy part of transferring the wort into a giant kettle and scooping out the used grain. I was impressed how keenly and vigorously everyone got involved, not least because you need a decent level of fitness!
The final piece of group participation was measuring out and adding the hops – followed by 60 minute boil” concludes Nick
The whole process took around 5 hours and a well-earned pint of something pre-prepared was enjoyed by all afterwards.
IDNet’s Director Tim Davies commented “When Mick told us about his plans to mark the 150th anniversary of the FA Cup, we quickly realised that it would combine three of our favourite things: Hitchin + Football + Ale. How could we not be involved in such a noble initiative. Grass roots football and the true spirit of the FA Cup need to be celebrated now more than ever, so we hope the Football Association and other clubs make the most of the ‘150’ celebrations.”
Now there was only one last thing to decide – what would the ale be called?
Both the Football Club and IDNet canvassed their social networks for name suggestions and after much deliberation, and some chuckles, the winner was announced as HOP FIELD 1871.
“It’s a play on our home ground of ‘Top Field’ and incorporates the commemorative date” explains Mick Docking.
HOP FIELD 1871 will be available to purchase in the Canary Club bar from the first week of September to coincide with the launch of the 150th anniversary of the Emirates FA Cup.
All proceeds will go to support club development.