As a young lad, in 1971, waking up with eager anticipation to watch the Cup final between Arsenal and Liverpool, little did I realise that one day I would be Chairman of a club in the same competition. Admittedly my dreams were to play in the final for West Ham and score the winner but yesterday I was more than happy to settle for an away trip to Crowborough FC in the extra preliminary round. Our opposition play one step higher than us in the Southern Counties East Football League making us clear underdogs. Steve booked a 52 seater bus to accommodate all our travelling fans... who was Nick.
Arriving at the ground I was impressed by the set up and the pitch was in very good condition. Kev knew a lot of their players and prepared our players for a competitive match and asked his brother Joe to kick up the slope with the wind. Joe struggled to take this on board and a sibling discussion ensued which gave an insight to life at home when they were kids. 'This way Joe' as Kev pointed at the window in the changing room.
A line of trees fortunately sheltered the pitch from the strong wind and it was with a positive attitude we walked out the tunnel with some mascots for company. Our first choice goalie Tom Bradford was away on holiday so Kev called upon our reserve goalkeeper Keen Ancell to go between the sticks. It shows the strength of our squad in that we had 7 subs with some quality players unlucky not to make the starting line up.
The V's started the game well with Lol Edwards and Joe Keehan dictating play in the middle of the park. Josh Gould fired in a couple of early long rang shots which troubled the stand roof more than the goal but good to show intent. We were certainly playing well with Matt Ford connecting up well with both wide players. Matt Waterman hit a crisp freekick which caused their goalie problems as he parried it away. Crowborough meanwhile were of course a dangerous side with some good players including the number 9 Luke Leppard, who was a robust, artisan type of a player with a physical presence but both Charlie Farmer and Ollie Blackman were coping well and we were playing the ball out with calmness from defence, despite the work rate of their forwards and were utilising both our full backs Alfie and Luke who both had solid games.
The Crowborough goalie gave a loose pass to Scott Packer who missed the opportunity to strike the ball early so the chance slipped by as quickly as it came. After 25 minutes and a flowing move, Joe Keehan made an incisive pass from midfield to Waterman in the penalty box, who controlled the ball, turned, only to be tripped for a penalty. Joe stepped up and drilled the ball underneath the goalie (just) into the net. History made, our first FA Cup goal.
Crowborough tried to up their tempo but gave the ball away to cheaply and we maintained our passing game to create a good chance for Scott whose header hit the underside of the bar and was deemed by the ref to be unfairly bundled in by Waterman, so no goal. We began looking towards half time, but Crowborough had other ideas and a lovely ball delivered into the box was met sweetly by the number 9 who volleyed the ball into the net from 4 yards. They then followed this up with a golden chance as their wide player drove into the box and clipped the ball past an on rushing Keen who did enough to put the player off and the ball rolled past the post. It looked like we would be going in at 1-1 but then the V's deservedly took the lead after another good pattern of play as Joe fed Waterman who laid the ball back to the on rushing Josh Gould, who this time smashed the ball into the back of the net for his first goal for the club.
It's fair to say we had an upbeat dressing room at half time and we could hear the shouts from the home dressing room team talk. We knew the next 45 minutes would be a huge challenge and Kev demanded a clean sheet. No pressure.
As half time was about to start Ollie Blackman spotted a dead rat on the pitch and picked it up by it's leg and threw it over the fence. He wiped his hand on the grass so no chance of Wiles disease but he was seen gnawing at his food later.
And so to the second half. Crowbrough played a very direct game getting the ball forward as early as possible and winning free kicks out wide but despite constant pressure they actually weren't creating any clear cut chances. Ollie, Lol and Charlie were heading every set piece clear and most of them seemed to drift past our far post as we man marked their players tightly.
With the clock ticking the tackles began to get a bit more robust and Charlie Farmer headed the number 9's elbow as he bravely went for the ball. This caused a commotion on the pitch and I was called on with the first aid bag to deal with the injury, which was a nasty cut to the eyelid, the sort that Henry Cooper used to get back in the day. Blood was flowing from the wound and it took me a while with my magic water spray gun (whatever happened to the magic sponge) to clear the blood to see the gash to his lid. Vaseline wasn't going to do the job so like Terry Butcher playing for England I taped his head back together while their forward received a yellow card.
The volatility of the game went up a notch, as a few late challenges were made on us which was to the detriment of Crowbrough as it broke up the flow of the game. The number 9 (he seems to be mentioned a lot) was lucky to escape a second yellow for a clumsy challenge.
Still we held on and in fact were creating the clearer chances with Charlie heading the ball from a free kick against the underside of the cross bar and Joe marginally missing a header. Our defence stood firm with Ollie Blackman winding up their baying supporters as he fell to the ground clutching his head.
And so the pivotal point of the second half, with ten minutes to go a header from a corner was goal bound only for an orange arm to stretch out ,as Keen with quick reactions clawed the ball away with the fans shouting goal. It was an excellent save and rounded off a very good performance from him. I think the Crowborough bench realised at this point it wasn't going to be their day and after 6 agonising minutes of added time the whistle went and we celebrated the clubs first ever FA Cup victory. The Crowborough manager sportingly wished us luck in the next round and I replied 'If it's any consolation I don't think we are going to win the cup.'
The journey back on the coach was lively to say the least and our coach driver, who had watched the game, seemed as excited as us. He's already booked for Guildford FC away on the 24th August.