Brackley, Bamber Bridge, Brett, Burgers and Berger

IMG_5226There are some big fixtures this weekend. The ‘Manchester Derby’ takes place at Old Trafford on Sunday, and the fierce ‘Wear-Tyne Derby’ between Sunderland and Newcastle is played on the same day. There’s even a ‘Lancashire Derby’ on Saturday when Blackburn and Burnley meet.

But forget all of those, because the biggest games are in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round this weekend, as non-league teams – including West Midlands minnows Sporting Khalsa who have made it through all 7 qualifiers to get to this stage – have desires on reaching the First Round Proper, and securing a hefty win bonus – in non-league circles anyway – of £12,500.

Our team Brackley Town face Northern Premier League Division One North side Bamber Bridge. The Lancashire side, based near Preston, overcame another Northamptonshire side in Kettering in a 3rd Qualifying Round replay for the opportunity to play at Brackley’s St James’ Park on Saturday.

The tie should pit two ex-football league players together in Brackley’s Pablo Mills (once of Derby and Rotherham) and Brett Ormerod, who owns a FA Cup Runners-Up medal from his time at Southampton. He’s played at every level of English league football and his experience and know-how could be a major threat for Brackley’s defence. If he plays, that is. There are rumours that he will not be fit for Saturday’s game. If true, that is a huge blow for Bamber Bridge, who have been bolstered by his goals already this season.

The tie sets up the first ever meeting between the two clubs, and with 2008 winners Portsmouth and 2013 winners Wigan – plus the likes of Coventry, Blackpool, Millwall and Sheffield United – as potential opponents in the First Round Proper, it could be a well-contested affair.

Brackley manager Kevin Wilkin has been busy since the last round, bringing in loan players to propel the team up the league table. Most notably is Burton Albion keeper Sam Hornby. He’s been drafted in to replace Ben Crane who decided to leave the club, despite Wilkin’s best efforts to keep him. Crane’s penalty save in the replay with Rugby in the last round ensured he leaves with no hard feelings.

Finally, did you know that Bamber Bridge played a part in Euro 96? Ok, so it was prior to the tournament but it’s a moment in the club’s history the fans will recall fondly.

The Czech Republic, who had qualified for a major tournament for the first time since Czechoslovakia split in 1993, were due to play Germany in their opening group match at Old Trafford. Based nearby to Bamber Bridge, and in need of a friendly, they initially approached Preston, who declined the invite but gave them the number of the then Bamber Bridge secretary, grounds man and kit man, Russ Rigby. So the Czech manager checked the facilities and formalised the details of the friendly. And so, after the pitch was relayed, bunting had been hung on the streets to welcome their European visitors, a stand and bar had been erected and an agreement for Bamber Bridge’s players not to be too physical was rubber stamped, the likes of Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Patrik Berger performed in front of a capacity crowd of 2,200 and a live audience on Czech TV!

imageThe Czechs comfortably brushed their amateur opponents aside, winning 9-1, but there aren’t many non-league sides who can boast that they played a European Championship side.

Anyway, we’ll be back at Brackley tomorrow focusing on the Saints, eating the locally-sourced burgers and wondering who the victor will be playing in the First Round Proper. Bring it on.

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