Friday, 31 August 2007

Holiday season

In an earlier post I mentioned how introverted Chertsey is when it comes to it's football team. On the eve of their tie at Sittingbourne, it's true to say that Chertsey is not sweating with an FA Cup fever. Hardly surprising, the kids aren't even back at school yet.

Today I paid good money for a copy of the local paper, the Surrey Herald. Chertsey Town did get some coverage in the back pages with reports on their last two league games (a 3-0 home win over Raynes Park Vale and a 4-1 tonking at Bedfont).

But no specific preview of the cup tie.

One thing did catch my eye though. I know that football at this level is a million miles removed from your Chelseas or Man Uniteds. But buried in the report on the Bedfont defeat, without any sense of surprise or bemusement, was the following quote about the understrength Chertsey team:

"Injuries and non-availabilities had decimated the Chertsey side. Four key members of the squad were away on holiday"

Come again? On holiday?

Imagine Arsene Wenger's reaction if Theo Walcott phoned in to explain that he would miss the Sparta Prague game 'cos he had a week booked in at Butlins (pretty good creche there Theo).

But this happens in the lower leagues. The bread and butter games are the league games against the likes of Ash United, Cove or Dorking and in many cases family commitments come first. The FA Cup is a diversion. But a welcome diversion. Up and down the length of the country this weekend, from Consett to Wootton Bassett, there will be players of all ages and experiences getting excited about playing in the FA Cup. For many, just to play in an FA Cup match will be the fulfilment of a dream.

And on this first weekend in September, numerous teams will be playing in their own cup final. I just hope the Chertsey lads are back from the beach in time for theirs.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

What AM I doing?!!

The enormity of what I am planning to do is slowly sinking in. Call me stupid (most people do), but it takes a while for the grey matter to register. If I am to see this through, I'm talking about 14 ties in total, including the final. The earlier rounds are regionalised, so travel shouldn't be too much of a problem. But what about the First Round Proper and onwards? Carlisle v Wrexham on a wet Saturday in November? Nuts.

But these are, surely, more excuses. Aren't they?

Anyone know a good divorce lawyer?

All the FA Cup round dates are available on TheFA.Com website.

Thanks to Sittingbourne FC

I've had a great response from Sittingbourne FC with respect to this blog, a link now sits proudly on the home page of their excellent website. Thanks to Peter Pitts, you're a star! For any Sittingbourne fans out there, I welcome your feedback about this blog or about Saturday's tie, or the FA Cup in general. How far do you think Sittingbourne will go? Are you confident about beating Chertsey and then either Dartford or Leatherhead in the following round?

Good luck for Saturday!

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

A new path

Sittingbourne play in the Ryman Isthmian Football League, Division One South, which is one level above Chertsey in the non-league pyramid. This will be a tough test for Chertsey, particularly as Sittingbourne have made an unbeaten start to the season. Take a look at their website. Sittingbourne is over in Kent, between Maidstone and the Isle of Sheppey. I've never been that way before, it will be a bit of a treck for me (about 120 miles there and back?), but I'm on for it.

Oh dear.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Sittingbourne, where are you?

And so to the next round. Next Saturday, 1st September. Sittingbourne v Chertsey Town.

But where is Sittingbourne? Anyone got a map?

Friday, 24 August 2007

Game 1: Chertsey Town 3, Wick 0

Extra Preliminary Round (replay)
Tuesday 21st August 2007
Kick Off 7:45pm

Attendance: 138
Weather: Cool, dry

Distance travelled: 500 yards (and back)

Chertsey is a small town tucked in between the Rivers Thames and Bourne and the Motorways M3 and M25. You don't pass through Chertsey, nor end up there by mistake. You only go to Chertsey if you plan to go there. Chertsey is not a football town. The ground is hidden away, out of sight, at the foot of Alwyns Lane in amongst the Victorian terraces. The town makes no boasts about its club; it does not get any mention in the free local newspaper (that honour goes to Walton & Hersham). Its shop windows do not advertise its games. There are no pubs displaying the team colours (blue and white). The only way a stranger would know there is a football team here was if he spied the sign pointing (with hope rather than any real purpose) to the ground or if he happened to spot the photo of Chertsey Town youth team in the chippy.

Chertsey ply their trade in the Combined Counties League Premier Division and any attendance over 100 is good. I imagine their ground is typical at this level, but I can't say as I haven't been to many games at this level. A single turnstile into the ground (£6) and (although it goes without saying) it is soon evident that there is no Abramovich or Shinawatra here to throw the big bucks around. The ground has a slightly run-down feel to it, flaking paint and ageing concrete.

However, the passion is there. Clubs at this level rely on the many who work tirelessly in the name of the club. And they were out in force tonight for the big cup game. The turnstile operators, the bar staff, the 90 year old groundsman, the suited club officials.

And a reasonable crowd (138), of which (I'm guessing) 4 were from Wick (near Littlehampton).

3-0 was a fair result. Chertsey were strong on the night, solid at the back and gave Wick few sights of goal. The standard of football was good; speed and strength most important, with glimpses of skill thrown in for good measure. Tackles were uncompromising, it certainly wasn't a game for the feint-hearted and to prove the point Wick had a player dismissed late on for a challenge that catapulted a Chertsey winger into the crowd.

And I think the locals were happy. We even had renditions of "We're all off the Wembley, we're all off to Wembley, na-na, na, na...".

The romance of the cup.

Just don't tell anyone in the town.

A full match report can be read on the Chertsey Town
website. There are also a large number of photos from the game. I am actually part of the "crowd" scene in a number of the shots, but I'm not saying which ones! The Wick FC website also carries a match report, you will need to scroll down the page to view.

A twist of fate

This may never have happened. All the FA Cup Extra Preliminary round games were played out over the weekend of 17th, 18th and 19th August.

And I was busy.

So, another year of saying "You know, one year....". And that Extra Preliminary round had so much to offer. Glossop North End (my place of birth), Bedfont (close to work), Marlow United (a nice trip up river). Ho hum.

But wait. Chertsey Town (where I now live) were 2-0 down away at Wick, a small community outside Littlehampton on the South Coast. 2-0 down with 6 minutes to play. Two late goals forced a replay, a relief (no doubt) for the Chertsey Town club and their fans but no less than a twist of fate for me.

No late goals from Chertsey, no road to Wembley this year. No blog. No this. Nothing.

Isn't life weird at times?

The road starts here (at the end of my lane)

First ever blog, first ever post, and an apology already. It's my title, you see. "Wick to Wembley?". It's not quite right, slightly misleading. But I'll come to that in a bit.

Ever since my Dad took me to my first ever FA Cup game I fell in love with the competition and I'm still in love. Don't ask me to explain why, I don't know. My wife regularly reminds me it is football, a game, nothing more, nothing less. Twenty two people chasing a pig's bladder around a field. What is there to love?

I'll watch any football game, always have, always will.

But the FA Cup is special. Every season I look forward to it. The small clubs in the early rounds, the First Round proper where there is always an upset, the Third Round where the "big" clubs join in, the excitement of the Semis and then the Final itself, steeped in history. And don't get me started on the draws. Even better when they are live draws. The balls in the bag, the team numbers, the anticipation, excitement and then disappointment when your team gets Darlington (away). Fantastic.

And every year I hear myself saying the same thing "You know, one year I'm going to do a Road to Wembley type thing....". Every bloody year. It drives my wife mad, I'm sure it irritates the hell out of my friends, it is even starting to annoy me now.

So, just do it.

You know the thing, don't you? Go and watch your local club in the Extra Preliminary Round in August. Whichever team wins, go and see them in the next round, and so on, until you arrive at the Final. Wembley. Easy. Job done.

And so here I am, and I've been to the first match:

"Football Association Challenge Cup (sponsored by e.on) Extra Preliminary Round, Chertsey Town v Wick, Tuesday 21st August 2007 Kick Off 7.45pm."

Kind of by accident really. A Tuesday night, nothing on the TV. Chertsey Town's home ground only a stone's throw from home. At the end of my lane, to be precise. Why not?

And this is where my apology enters, stage left. This was actually a replay, the first game was at Wick (a 2-2 draw). I thought "Wick to Wembley" sounded a little snappier than "Chertsey Town to Wembley". Sorry.

But why the question mark(?) in "Wick to Wembley?". Well, I'm not sure if I can do it. It's a tall order. Obscure grounds in places (or even parts of the country) I've never been to before. The distances to travel. The cost. The availability of tickets in the latter rounds. My wife. My child. The inane sadness of it all.


Who knows? In the meantime, come on in, the water is lovely.