On the road again, 2018/19 style!

From Gazza at Lutterworth, to taking my 5-year-old to his first ever football game at Staveley Miners Welfare, to Basford, where my Sydney-based mate got a refresher course on grass roots, well, 3G in Basford’s case, football…the start of my FA Cup Quest has been interesting.

I’ll start with Gazza. I decided to start at Lutterworth Town as they were hosting Heanor Town, the town of my birth. It was also Lutterworth’s inaugural appearance in the FA Cup.

As I arrived, the place was alive, with music playing through loud speakers and a general buzz around the compact little ground, which, incidentally, had a new stand, due to be opened by a very special guest…unbeknown to me. Until, that is, I made my way into the clubhouse for a pint. I could hear laughter, and people were clambering around a doorway, rubber necking at something, or someone. That someone turned out to be none other than football legend Paul Gascoigne, who was the special guest in charge of opening the new stand.

Gazza was talking to the players, telling tales in his own inimitable style, and as he made his way out of the adjoining room and through the clubhouse, he shook the hand of everyone who offered it. Total class on his part. See my Twitter timeline for pics.

So having met a legend, I then watched Lutterworth make a little bit of history, as they went on to beat Heanor 2-1, to record their first ever FA Cup victory.

So, two weeks later, I followed them to Staveley Miners Welfare. Staveley is near Chesterfield, just a 25-minute drive from where I live, and with the missus out, my babysitting duties for my 5-year-old son included taking him along to the game. It was his first ever game. Not that he was bothered about what was happening on the pitch, even though it was a corker of a game. He was more concerned about the half-time chips I’d promised him. Meanwhile, Staveley were just too good for Lutterworth, and ended up 3-0 winners.

The next round delivered a first for my FA Cup or indeed Trophy Quests: Friday night football, accompanied by my mate from Down Under.

Staveley had been drawn away at Basford, a small Notts-based club with big ambitions. On a nippy late summer/early autumn evening, and on a 3G pitch, this Notts-Derbyshire derby was an absolute belter. Despite Basford going down to 10 men early on, after former Nottingham Forest midfielder Matt Thornhill deliberately handled the ball in his area (it was more of a cracking save than simply handling the ball), the game ebbed and flowed with both sides producing decent displays. At 2-0 to Staveley, it was Basford who were applying the pressure, and they deservedly got themselves back in the game. At that point, 2-2 looked possible. But after a second home player saw red, Staveley clinched a 3-1 win and a place in the next round late on.

At the time of writing, ahead of the fourth fixture in the Cup, the Second Round Qualifying tie between Staveley and Guiseley, I’m setting up a GoFundMe page. This is something I should have done on my first quest but never got around to it. It’s in aid of my friend Mark, who used to join me on this Quest. He has an incurable brain tumour, and after being given 7 years to live back in 2007, he’s on borrowed time but is hanging on in there. He recently had to have operations to reduce a build-up of fluid on his brain and he’s no longer got the strength to join me on my road to Wembley.

So, in his honour, I shall try and raise as much money as I can for brain tumour charities as I plot my route to Wembley, relying on the generosity of clubs and players for this worthy cause. There’s more of this on the link below.

A Cup for Cancer

GazzaAtLutterworth

Gazza opens a stand at Lutterworth

Staveley

Staveley’s Inkersall Road

Basford

A night out in Basford

 

 

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Brack from the Dead

FA Trophy Final

Brackley 1-1 Bromley (5-4 pens)

Talk about a dramatic finale. On the verge of FA Trophy Final heartbreak, trailing by one goal to nil in the dying seconds of the game, Brackley Town skipper Gareth Dean found himself in the right place at the right time to tap in an equaliser after Matt Lowe’s shot came back off the post to force the final into extra time.

Cue mass celebrations in front of their fans, and cue a dejected Bromley side who thought they had held out.

Extra-time was pretty much eventless, as they tend to be, so it was onto the lottery of the penalty shoot-out, and they were to be taken in front of the Brackley supporters, whom I sat amongst.

I believe it was 4-3, and Omar Bugiel, who had given Bromley the lead in normal time, had the chance to win it for Bromley. Instead, the pressure got the better of him and he ballooned the ball over the bar. It was literally one of the worst penelties I’ve ever seen.

Cue Brackley. They were back in the game. And after another miss by Ravens skipper Jack Holland, who hit the post, it was up to Brackley’s Andy Brown to win it. Up he stepped and calmly slotted the ball home, to wild celebrations from the 6,000-or-so travelling Saints fans.

Incredible scenes.

Bromley, playing in front of a sea of white, as a rumoured 22,000 of their supporters had swelled the attendance, had been in front within 20 minutes of the tie after that Omar Bugiel goal.

Chasing the game, Brackley piled on the pressure in the second half, leaving gaps for Bromleys’s nippiest to run into. But they spurned a couple of chances which would surely have been enough to win it. Having missed them, Brackley once again piled forward. Numerous crosses, shots and set-pieces peppered the Bromley box. There were scrambles, scrapes and escapes for Bromley but alas, there was Dean; Johnny on the Spot, to tap home when even the most hopeful of Brackley fans were beginning to lose faith.

So it’s the team from Nothamptonshire who take the trophy. Credit must go to both sets of supporters who were a credit to non-league football, mingling before and after the game without incident.

For me, this will be my last blog. I’m hoping to carry on my FA Cup Quest next season if the rounds fall on weekends on which I’m free. But I will no longer be writing a blog to essentially no one. Is anyone actually reading this? Am I tryping to no one? Probably yes, so no more blogs. If you are reading this, follow my Twitter account @FACupGuy. I will continue to post regularly on that when I go to games but as for blogs, they can blog off. Thanks to all those who did drop by. Adios.

Images from Wembley

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From Ice, Ice, Brackley to Ace, Ace Brackley

As the FA Trophy Final approaches on Non-League Finals Day, which is, by the way, a revolutionary idea to give fans – and neutrals like myself – the chance to watch two finals for £25. First up is the FA Vase just after midday, then it’s the Trophy final at 4:15. Well played FA, giving fans the chance to go to Wembley for very little expense.

But let’s rewind a little. Let’s go back to March 17, the date of the FA Trophy semi-final first leg at Brackley Town’s St James’s Park. It’s a ground I know well from my FA Cup Quest two years ago. I visited St James’s on three occasions that year, but this time, if anything, the stakes were higher. This time Wembley was the prize for the winner, but Wealdstone stood in their way, backed by a large and very boisterous away contingent.

There had been an early pitch inspection as the weather was quite simply appalling. A frozen pitch and/or the forecast of snow had threatened to derail this tie but it was game on. But, as the snow swirled around the ground and the wind whipped across the pitch, the players found it increasingly harder to play any kind of football whatsoever, and chances were scarce. In fact, I can honestly say that I have never been so cold at a football match, and I’ve been to Hartlepool in November!

At one point, during a second half I can barely remember, I stood at one corner of the ground as a blizzard blew in my eyes and I thought to myself “Why am I doing this?”. My fingers were literally too cold to Tweet and I contemplated binning the game off and just getting another shandy from the clubhouse. But then, from nowhere, the game’s one moment of true quality was witnessed through the maelstrom of snow.

The ball fell to Brackley’s Alex Gudger on the corner of the six-yard box and he rifled an unstoppable half volley into the corner of the net.

Wealdstone’s noisy lot were silenced, and with that, it was advantage Brackley. For me, I’ve never been so pleased to see my Peogeot knowing that it had fully operational heaters! Although I swear I didn’t totally thaw out until I stopped at Castle Donington services!

A week later, it was down the M40 to Wealdstone for the crucial second leg. Grosvenor Vale is a ground full of character, and the fulcrum of a community who clearly love their football. 

The atmosphere before kick off was electric. Stones fans truly believed they could overcome the deficit and reach Wembley, as they had done in 1985. 

The club house doubles as a community venue, The Ruislip Social Club, and is adorned with Wealdstone memorabilia everywhere you turn. My particular favourite, as a Forest fan, was a  framed 1991 Forest shirt signed by Wealdstone’s finest export, Stuart Pearce. He made his debut as a marauding, hard-as-nails left-back at Wealdstone in 1977.

The match itself was delayed 10 minutes to allow fans to cram themselves in. And once you were in you were in. There was very little room for manoeuvre.

Stones fans once again were in excellent voice, but once again they were silenced by Brackley when the visitors took the lead when Shane Bryce’s low free kick found the bottom corner. Game over? Not according to Stones supporters, who raised the voices once more. But alas, in the closing stages, as it became apparent to all that time had run out, Aaron Williams made absolutely certain that it was Brackley who would go to Wembley with Town’s second.

With the aggregate score now 3-0 to the visitors, many home fans began to trickle out. Their dream was over.

So it’s Brackley who I follow to Wembley. They play Bromley in what should be a cracker.

I’ll sign off by saying how amazing Wealdstone’s supporters were. At both games they sang their hearts out and got behind their side for the duration of both ties. The club reminds me of Wimbledon, a proper community club, loved by an army of devout supporters. I wish them well.

For me, though, Wembley awaits.

Photos from Brackley

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Photos from Wealdstone

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Tales from Maidenhead and Stockport

It’s been a while since my last blog and four matches have passed. So I’ll just do a brief round-up.

Firstly, Maidenhead. Having beaten Kidderminster, my Quest team were the once mighty Stockport County. They headed south for a match against the Magpies in Theresa May’s homeland. Imagine that – a couple of bus loads of Corbynites invading May’s constituency. And they were in good voice too, both before the game in the pub and at the ground.

Maidenhead, who play in the National League, a level above County, have an odd setup. The ground has one seated stand directly below the main line between Paddington and Wales. It’s in here which I plonk myself for the first half. The other three sides are standing. The opposite side to the seated stand is not really a stand. It’s just an uneven bit of concrete with an indoor five-a-side footy pitch situated at one end and a bar at the other. It’s an old-fashioned bar, much different from the rather plush little shack on the other side. I don’t know what the away fans get in terms of refreshments as that area is segregated. Good job too, as both sets of fans – separated only by a metal fence – trade insults throughout. Also if you’re a rail enthusiast, it’s a great ground for train spotting as trains rattle past that main stand.

On the pitch, a very wet pitch due to the persistent drizzle, County take the lead in the first half only to be pegged back in the second. It was an entertaining game which the home side almost nicked but alas, it ended 1-1, so back to Edgeley Park on a Tuesday night it is.

Except, it wasn’t. The forecast on that Tuesday was for snow, and anyone who’s driven through Buxton in the snow – as I had for the County v Kiddy replay – will know it is not a pleasant driving experience. So, couple the inclement weather with childcare issues, I stayed at home and followed the game on Twitter. Missed a humdinger though. Maidenhead squandered a 2-0 lead only to lose 3-2 after extra time.

Next up is another trip to Stockport, this time without the worry of snow. Their opponents were Brackley, a team from the same league, and a team which I followed on my FA Cup Quest two years ago.

After a pre-match beer in the local Sir Robert Peel pub, a stone’s through from the ground, I decided to sit in the Danny Bergara stand which is pitch side, having been situated behind the goal for the Kiddy game.

Despite the sunshine, it was bitter, and the first half was probably the worst 45 minutes of football I’ve witnessed in a good while. And I’m a Forest fan!

Thankfully after the break things perked up and County fell behind as Ndluvu poked home to give Brackley the lead.

But the home side were soon level, when Ball nodded in a leveller. And that was that; another draw. Back to Brackley on a Tuesday night? Well no actually. I had it all planned. Babysitter booked, leave work a little bit early, get to Brackley in plenty of time for a pint in the pub. Alas, I fell ill, and had to once again rely on Twitter for my Quest fix.

Brackley ran out 2-1 winners and so it’s them whom I follow into the semi-final against Wealdstone on Saturday. Will I meet the Wealdstone Raider? Dunno, but I shall be going back to a ground which I visited three times in 2015-16 on my FA Cup run so it’s a ground I know well. And another plus point: at least there will be no more awkward sodding replays!

To Brackley, (again).

Pics from Maidenhead

Pics from Stockport

 

 

Stockport Take Two Attempts to Beat Kiddy

Second Round

Kidderminster 2 – 2 Stockport County

Replay: Stockport 3 – 0 Kidderminster

In the original fixture of this cup tie, Stockport will have been left scratching their heads as to what happened in the last 13 minutes to deny them their place in Round Three. Seemingly comfortable at 2-0, courtesy of a glancing first half header from Jason Oswell and a well-taken second from Darren Stephenson either side of a missed penalty from their hosts, it looked like they were coasting. But Kiddy had other ideas. From nowhere, they found an extra gear, and when Fraser Horsfall reduced arrears with 13 minutes left to play, it was game on.

Emmanel ‘Snoopy’ Sonupe, who had seen his earlier penalty saved, then restored parity with 10 to play as he latched onto a through ball and confidently slotted home the leveller.

There was even more drama late on. With just four minutes left, Fraser Horsfall was shown his second yellow card of the day and duly dismissed, and then they were denied the comeback of all comebacks when Stockport’s ‘keeper Ian Ormson not only kept out Liam Truslove’s driven attempt, but also blocked James O’Connor’s headed follow up to deny Kiddy a 3-2 win. That was the last action, so all back to Edgeley Park on the following Tuesday.

I can’t talk about Edgeley Park before mentioning (again) the food at Aggborough. Having tasted their famous soup in the last round, I opted for their famous Cottage Pie this time. And I tell you what, that is some meal. Loads of mash and meat and a thick gravy. Delicious. I suggest anyone paying Aggborough a visit tries the excellent matchday food.

Anyway, to Edgeley Park then, once the answer to the question: “What football league ground is closest to the River Mersey?”. Yup, back in the days when they enjoyed football league status, it was neither Goodison or Anfield that was closest but Stockport’s home, as the river snakes close by.

Getting to Stockport proved tricky. The forecast was for snow, and as I had to travel via Buxton – a Derbyshire town in which snow falls even in the summer months due to its height above sea level in the High peak – I was always going to hit the white stuff. At one point along the A6, between Buxton and Dove Holes, the snow came down heavy, and visions of my disastrous journey back from Manchester on my FA Cup run last season (in which my car skid out of control on a snowy hill near Glossop) came to mind. But I got through it, thankfully, and arrived with time to spare for a pint in the Sir Robert Peel pub, a stone’s throw from the ground. But to say it was freezing cold is an understatement. It was Baltic, with snow flurries greeting me and sporadic throughout the game.

The last time I was at Edgeley Park I saw my team, Forest, romp to a 4-0 victory en route to their promotion from the Championship to the Premier League back in 1997-98. Both Forest and Stockport have endured hard times since then, with The Hatters suffering a much worse fate, losing their league status and now sitting two tiers below League Two.

However, they can at least look forward to the FA Trophy Third Round, and dream of a trip to Wembley perhaps, courtesy of a 3-0 win in the replay. But it was far from as convincing as 3-0 suggests. In fact, Kiddy outplayed them for the most part, and if their players had had their shooting boots on, the scoreline and outcome would have been different. Harriers created a host of chances, 12 in all, all wasted, with shots not even testing keeper Ormson. And they were made to pay on 25 minutes when birthday boy Rhys Turner did well to keep the ball under control on a shimmying run before hammering it past the Harriers ‘keeper from close range.

Even after the break, the visitors dominated, and created more opportunities. But it wasn’t to be, and with a quarter of an hour left to play, a driven attempt from Ben McKenna deflected in before an injury time penalty, converted by Bohan Dixon, made the scoreline appear extremely harsh on Harriers.

But Stockport had finished the job they had failed to complete on Saturday, and it’s them whom I follow to Maidenhead tomorrow.

Images from Kidderminster

Images from Stockport

Harriers Taste Victory Over Holders York

First Round

Kidderminster Harriers 2 – 1 York City

First things first: the food at Kidderminster’s Aggborough stadium is outstanding.

The usual footy fayre is of course burgers, hot dogs, pasties et al, and all those are available if you like tradition. But at Aggborough, they also go way beyond that. Trays of chilli, award-winning cottage pie, the famous Aggborough soup… it’s worth visiting for its culinary delights alone.

I chose the Aggborough soup, having read about it online, and being intrigued to discover just why it’s so famous. Now I know this is beginning to read more like a foody blog than a footy blog, but it’s worth mentioning as part of the overall match day experience. It has a flavour which I couldn’t nail down; a spicy, warming element to its thin broth before the onslaught of meat, veg, potatoes and pasta awaits you at the bottom of your cup, which requires the spoon you’re provided with. Superb stuff. I think I’ll try the famous cottage pie when I return in January for the 2nd Round tie with Stockport.

And that brings me back to the footy.

Kiddy beat my FA Trophy Quest team – and the current FA Trophy holders – York City in the tournament’s first round, with two quick-fire goals from James Pearson and Emmanuel Sonupe in the 35th and 36th minutes respectively. Pearson’s goal was a simple affair – the defender following up on Ryan Crossdale’s saved shot. The second, however, had a stroke of good fortune about it. Sonupe raced onto a through ball and pulled the trigger at the same time as he was tackled by a City defender. But he got the rub of the green as the ball was diverted goalwards beyond the onrushing keeper.

York made a game of it when Amari Morgan-Smith curled a superb effort beyond Harrier’s keeper Brandon Hall from wide of the penalty area right into the corner with around 10 minutes to play.

That goal set up a frantic finish, and York will be wondering just how they failed to secure a replay, as Jon Parkin’s half volley was tipped over the bar in one of many City attempts to take the tie back to Bootham Crescent.

But alas, they couldn’t force their way past the Kiddy defence so it’s Harriers whom I follow into round 2.

Stockport County are the visitors next, another team from the same league. So it should be another even affair.

I’ll report back on just how good that famous cottage pie is.

Pics from the game

Holders Progress Thanks to Good Parkin

FA Trophy, Third Round Qualifying

York city 3 – 1 Coalville Town

Bootham Crescent is one of those classic-sounding grounds with oodles of character and history, apart from the PR disaster that was the KitKat Crescent era.

Of course labeling anything classic automatically dates it, and Bootham Crescent is certainly dated. That’s not a criticism, well, not too much of one anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I love a ground steeped in history and dripping with nostalgia. But at York, it’s as though time has stood still. Again, not a bad thing, and they are potentially moving into a purpose-built stadium, but my first experience of Bootham Crescent was a strange one.

There was an oddness to its layout. Once through the away turnstiles, and having reached the top of the stairs on the second tier of a two-tiered stand, a small but noisy gathering of Coalville fans were ushered into an area consisting of old wooden seats (not that anyone was actually sat on them much). Nothing wrong with that, but it soon became apparent that once in, there was no bar or food stall. I asked the steward if there was a bar. He seemed unsure. “Er…I think so. You’ll have to go down the stairs and out that door”, was his uncertain response, pointing to a door down the stairs next to the entrance but with no exit sign. So he gave me a slip of paper with ‘Admission’ printed on it – so I could return later – and I made my way through a door I wasn’t convinced I had permission to go through such was his uncertainty. But he was right. And out into the surrounding complex I went, where there was a food stall, toilets and a club shop. But where was the bar? Well actually you can’t get to it from the ground. You have to leave the complex, under the ‘Welcome to Bootham Crescent’ sign and onto the road. Turning right I spotted the door. Blink and you miss it, as many Coalville fans did, instead choosing a local pub for their pre-match beers.

Returning to the ground, I handed my ‘Admission’ slip to a steward who let me through the ‘exit’ and back into the stand. It was all very odd, and for punters with weak bladders, a thirst or a hunger, it’s certainly not ideal as you have to collect the admission slip and repeat the process every time you wish to pee, drink or eat.

Anyway, to the game. York, who managed to get back into the league a few years ago, are now playing in the National League North. Their visitors, my Trophy Quest team Coalville, are two steps below them in the non-league pyramid, playing in the Evo-Stik Premier Division. With The Minstermen being the Trophy holders, they were odds on favourites to win this Third Round Qualifying tie.

But the game is not played on paper, and it was fairly equal for large parts. But York eventually began to look slightly the better side and took the lead on 36 minutes through striker Gary Martin.

After the break they went further ahead when they were awarded a harsh penalty. Coalville midfielder Kyle Dixon was adjudged to have handled a cross from Sean Newton, but it was certainly more ball to hand than hand to ball, and the midfielder had every reason to air his frustration at the ref. However the decision stood, and Journeyman striker Jon Parkin tucked away the spot kick with consummate ease.

You’ll remember Parkin. He’s a striker who has always carried a bit of weight, even when he was playing league football. I remember being at Preston for a FA Cup tie with Liverpool and noticing his impressive beer belly. He’s still got it. But he also got his 16th goal of the season with York’s third goal, which sealed the game after Coalville had quickly gotten back into the game with a sweeping goal from Daniel Creaney, straight after Parkin’s spot kick.

Substitute James Gray was tripped by defender Dean Freeman and the ref once again pointed to the spot. Up stepped “Big fat Parkin” – not my words, but the words of a Coalville taunt – to seal the win for the home side.

So I now follow the holders as they go in search of a win at Kidderminster.

I’ll end by saying how excellent the Coalville fans were at Bootham Crescent. They hollered chant after chant, with some humour added in, with Parkin’s belly being the target for many a chant. He’ll have heard it all before though, he won’t mind.

I was pleased they had a goal to cheer because they deserved that, and, at 2-1, there was a real belief that their side could perhaps earn a replay.

So good luck to them for the season ahead. Meanwhile I’m off to the land of carpets on Saturday.

Pics from the game