Histon FC's Cup triumph was made in Hunts

The downfall of Leeds United in the FA Cup by Histon FC at the weekend was partly masterminded by a Huntingdonshire businessman. Histon chairman Gareth Baldwin has turned the village club into giant killers. JACK TAPPIN caught up with him. ARSENAL away

The downfall of Leeds United in the FA Cup by Histon FC at the weekend was partly masterminded by a Huntingdonshire businessman. Histon chairman Gareth Baldwin has turned the village club into giant killers. JACK TAPPIN caught up with him.

ARSENAL away would be Gareth Baldwin's dream tie.

Swansea at home - after beating Leeds United 1-0 in the second round of the FA Cup - is the next challenge, but if Histon win that game on January 3, then the dream could come true.

As chairman of Histon Football Club, 41-year-old Mr Baldwin, who lives in Hemingford Grey, has in 17 years helped the club recover from being on the verge of going bust through five promotions and into the Blue Square Premier League.

And, of course, there's that FA Cup run.

"As a club to be playing in Blue Square Premier and beat someone in League One is great. All the publicity, the colossal amount of national television coverage and having a full house for the game was fantastic," Mr Baldwin told The Hunts Post.

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"Despite five promotions this was the biggest game we've ever had. Beating Leeds was the pinnacle of the season, and in terms of a fan base and history they don't come much bigger."

Histon's previous record FA Cup run was a second round replay against Nuneaton in the 2004/5. Histon were knocked out by a 93rd minute winner.

If they had won the game, they would have faced Premiership side Middlesbrough.

"It was heartbreaking to lose that game. We have never been to the third round before, so for us to get there now is very special.

"My dream team would be Arsenal away. Me and my wife are, and have been, season ticket holders for 20 years, so to see Histon walk out at the Emirates would be incredible."

Mr Baldwin describes Hemingford Grey as "the nicest place I have ever lived".

But as well as living in Huntingdonshire, Mr Baldwin has brought Histon FC into the area - the club operates numerous academies throughout the county, and one particularly successful team is the under 14 squad who train at Hinchingbrooke.

The youngsters have won competitions in Denmark and Sweden and beaten the youth teams of West Ham, Fulham and Crystal Palace.

"They are a very good side and hopefully are producing some of our future players. At the moment we have the right foundations and we hope we can build on those.

"We have a lot of talent that comes through our youth academy and we have three boys in the first team that have come through the academy now.

"If we can bring quality players through the academy it's fantastic and lots of players will come to our academies with the hope of joining the first team."

The youngest academy player to make the first team is 19-year-old Nathaniel Knight Percival. The Cambridge player has trained with Histon since he was nine and has played for the first team for three years.

Mr Baldwin was himself a keen footballer but had to stop playing at 18 due to injury.

He joined Histon in 1992 but only after a varied career. He left school at 15 to join Cambridge United, but left the club after three months. He then became a chef for four years before going into travel joining Steve Jason Concert Travel, a business that helped people get to concerts.

He did well in that business, becoming a partner and selling it in 1991 to found Sports Line with Hertfordshire businessman Dave Collier. The company helped transport people to sporting events.

He left Sports Line in 1994-95 and joined Corporate Innovations in 1997, an Oxfordshire company that focuses on event management.

The first dip into club management and administration was with a small club called Eternit in Melbourne, Hertfordshire.

"I had a lot of success both commercially and on the field. I spent some time helping out Cambridge and then I had to make a choice between staying in Cambridge with the board or joining Histon. I took some advice and decided to take a chance with Histon."

Since moving to Histon, he has overseen the club climbing to its highest ever league position and going on its best FA cup run since being founded in 1904.

His wife Lisa has worked with Histon for 14 years as club secretary and Mr Baldwin describes the club as "our life."

The couple married nine years ago and have an 11-month-old daughter, Olivia Grace.

The club is run by 74 volunteers and a board of seven businessmen, including Mr Baldwin, and managed by a very successful Steve Fallon.

"It's the volunteers and businessmen that help to run things, it's not down to me at all. We have given the club the direction and commitment but other people have made it happen.

"I do think we will make the football league within three years, that's our number one priority. If we can get into the league then how far we can go depends on how much investment we can attract."

For now Histon can look forward to their third round tie with Swansea at the Glassworld Stadium where they will hope to continue their giant killing antics.

And who knows, Histon could face Theo Walcott, Cesc Fábregas and co next.


GIANT KILLERS: Histon goalscorer Matt Langston heads the goal that knocked Leeds United out of FA Cup.

IN THE CHAIR: Hemingford Grey's Gareth Baldwin has helped turn Histon around with the help of a team of volunteers.