McKimm: Bradford were excellent on the day

This week I caught up with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm after his side’s FA Cup exit to League Two Bradford City at the weekend:

TK: Looking back to the FA Cup tie on Saturday, were you a little disappointed or frustrated maybe that the boys couldn’t quite get to grips with Bradford?

SM: No, not really. I knew it would be a tough game and they would have had to have 4 or 5 players having an off day and we would have needed everyone to have a stormer. Bradford were excellent on the day but my lads never gave up.

TK: Did you see it as a compliment to yourselves that they felt they needed to field a full strength team to ensure they progressed to the next round?

SM: Most definitely, they made a host of changes against Oldham on Tuesday night and lost so maybe if they hadn’t had gone so strong on Saturday we may have had a better chance. That will always be a question that can’t be answered unfortunately.

TK: It certainly wasn’t as if Tonbridge didn’t have their chances to score at crucial times in the game, did you feel you had to go for it a bit at times which opened you up at the back?

SM: We had a couple yeah. The free kick which led to their 3rd goal, if that was given to us as it should have been right on the stroke of half time we’d have loaded the penalty area and possibly had a decent chance from that.

That was the goal which really killed off the tie for us and it seemed from then every time we went forward we left ourselves exposed and they punished us for it.

TK: A great occasion for the club, yourself and the players live on TV, but unable to have spectators inside Longmead to watch first-hand, are you hoping that after lockdown we see some progress towards their return?

SM: I hope so for everyone’s sake, supporters need their football. The players and the clubs need them back too, we want to see this happen.

TK: A mention for Bantams fan Jonnie Carrington, a fantastic gesture to set up a JustGiving page which has raised in excess of £6000 at the time of writing for your club, it just goes to show the strength of the football family.

SM: It’s something we didn’t ask for or were expecting to happen, but an unbelievable thing to do that we are grateful for. I’ve spoken to Jonnie a couple of times, he’s an absolute diamond and welcome to Longmead Stadium any time.

TK: How pleased were you to go to Chelmsford 48 hours later and return to Kent with three points give the short turnaround between games?

SM: It was great to get a positive result on Monday night and pleasing that we had a game straight away so the lads didn’t have any time to dwell on Saturday’s result, very pleased.

TK: With a lot of football still to be played this season especially midweek, do you think it’ll be a while until the league table settles down a bit?

SM: After the first ten games are done it starts to give you a bit of reflection in the way things might turn out, but with squads being stretched with a lot of games on top of each other it might take a little longer this time around.

McKimm: Let’s just say we’ll be doing our homework on them

This week I caught up with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm ahead of the visit of Bradford City this coming weekend in the FA Cup:

TK: A bit of a mixed bag of results so far this season, are you reasonably satisfied with how things have gone so far?

SM: Yes I think so, 1st Round of the FA Cup and more points out of our first three league games than last season so it’s an improvement for sure.

TK: How have you and the players found not having fun inside to watch games?

SM: Different. I’m pleased to be playing obviously but you always love the banter, grief, and support you get from the terraces, so it does seem very strange at times. #LetFansIn

TK: I managed to get to watch you and the team in action at Chichester in one of the earlier rounds where there were fans, was that a bit surreal in a way?

SM: Most definitely it was a bit, it’s what we all love though, watching a game and we want fans back close to the action ASAP as it’s not the same without them there.

TK: How pleased were you to get the club through to the 1st Round for the first time since 1972, a long time to wait?

SM: Very proud! It’s something that myself and other managers/players have tried to do in the past and it’s finally happened. I’m so pleased for everyone involved in the club from the chairman to the board members, supporters, volunteers, absolutely everyone.

TK: And now selected for the BBC live game as well announced as we chat, do you hope the players rise to the occasion and show the watching public what Tonbridge Angels are all about?

SM: I do, but it’s all on the day. I hope and believe the players will not freeze on the occasion but we will be right up for it.

TK: Has there been a ban on any FA Cup talk until league games are out of the way?

SM: The game is actually our next one as because of less numbers in the National League South this Saturday falls as our week off so it’s worked out quite nicely.

TK: With the current restrictions have you managed to get out and scout Bradford City?

SM: Let’s just say we’ll be doing our homework on them.

TK: As a club have you felt having to play in empty stadiums that’s it’s brought you, your staff, and the players closer together?

SM: Not really, I always make sure we have a changing room that sticks together, hopefully you will see that this coming weekend. With our recruitment of new players they have to fit in with what we’re about on and off the pitch.

TK: Has the chairman promised a trip to anywhere not on the government’s quarantine list should you win?

SM: Haha! No he hasn’t, but a mate of mine, Paul, who sponsored a board around our ground this season (tables or businesses) said he’d take all the players and staff to Vegas if we get to the semi-finals!

Bloor: It’s a fantastic tie for the whole football club

I caught up with Eastbourne Borough manager Danny Bloor this week ahead of their FA Cup tie against Blackpool:

TK: Four league games into the season so far, how pleased are you with the start to the season?

DB: Yes, I’m satisfied and particularly pleased with the team spirit but there is plenty to work and improve upon as the season goes on.

TK: And the goal scoring form of Chris Whelpdale is impressive so far, was that something you tried to encourage to take the burden off the strikers?

DB: Not particularly, but of course it’s a major bonus when goals come from all over the pitch and not just one or two players.

TK: How easy or difficult is it to get the players mentally prepared to play in empty stadiums?

DB: It’s not been easy at all but it has meant really getting the boys fired up in the changing room. We have had to make our own atmosphere which so far seems to have worked.

TK: Do you feel that it has created a real togetherness amongst you, your staff, and the players?

DB: 100% as a whole group

TK: Turning attentions to the FA Cup, what was your initial reaction when Blackpool were drawn out of the hat to come to Priory Lane?

DB: It’s a fantastic tie for the whole football club and we are delighted to host a club with such an outstanding FA Cup pedigree.

TK: Is it tempered with a slight disappointment that spectators won’t be close to the action on the pitch?

DB: It’s the way the world is now in all aspects of our lives, we just have to get on with it but I know our supporters, the best in Sussex, will be supporting us from a distance.

TK: Bearing in mind the restrictions currently, is there a plan to scout the opposition before the tie?

DB: We had them watched on Tuesday night at AFC Wimbledon and we will watch them again at Burton on Saturday, I may go myself to watch them at home to Wigan on Tuesday night.

TK: Are you confident you can spring a surprise and take the club into the Second Round for the first time ever?

DB: How can you be confident, they’re a football league side! What we can be is very well prepared and committed to trying to cause a shock result. The pressure is all on Neil (Critchley) and his Blackpool team, they will be massive favourites to progress but in every round there are one or two upsets.

TK: Have the players been fairly grounded despite this big tie looming on the horizon?

DB: Honestly, before our win at Hampton on Tuesday night I banned all talk of the Blackpool game until after 5pm this Saturday following our game at home to Welling.

TK: What would it mean to the club as a whole to have a good cup run this year?

DB: Well I think we have already had a very good cup run so far this season but now we want more, we want the icing on the cake.

*Since speaking to Danny on Thursday afternoon Borough’s game has been selected for TV coverage on Sun 8th November ko 2.30pm live on BT Sport 1.

Angels take cup plaudits

FA Cup football once again took over midweek action, and for me the first time ever that I’ve managed to watch a game in every round so far, however depending on how kind the draw is on Thursday for the 4th qualifying round, that might be it for me this season given the inclusion of the National League Premier clubs and still no fans allowed in at that level.

My Tuesday night game saw me take in Chichester vs Tonbridge Angels, my first ever visit to Oaklands Park despite living down here in West Sussex for fourteen years, but also a chance to catch up briefly with Angels manager Steve McKimm who was kind enough to give me a blog interview over the lockdown period and as we are unable to enter Longmead Stadium currently with the restrictions this was the next best thing.

I used to live a five minute drive from that stadium before moving here and even played on the pitch in a cup semi final for my school a long time ago and also spent some junior years watching a very good Angels team smash their way through the Winstonlead Kent League.

The FA giant-killers of last season were a team McKimm was wary of when the draw was made despite Tonbridge hailing from two levels higher, Chi having also started their season a few weeks earlier than their visitors that might have given them the edge.

The game began on a damp pitch from the afternoon rain but both sides were set on passing the ball and not resorting to long channel balls which was pleasing to see, wing backs from Chi and wingers from Tonbridge were the name of the game.

The early chances fell the way of the hosts but were unable to find the target and as the visitors began to get a foothold in the game, they took the lead. Panic in the Chi defence after allowing a ball to bounce caught the home keeper Steve Mowthorpe in no-mans-land and Joe Turner nipped in between the keeper and defender to slot home the opening goal.

The goal however didn’t knock the home side out of their stride and they were level just five minutes later, a ball from Josh Clack squared across the box to Kaleem Haitham found it’s way into the back of the net to give the capacity 400 crowd something to cheer.

The remainder of the half was a trade off of chances but neither side were able to make the breakthrough to go in front before the half time break.

The first chance of the second half came immediately for the visitors, the impressive Khale Da Costa forcing Mowthorpe to tip the ball round the post within two minutes of the re-start. Both sides certainly appeared more intent in an open game this half as play swung from end to end, and the midfield area seemed a lot more stretched.

The Angels once again took the lead on 65 minutes, Da Costa appearing to score straight from the corner with no Chi player on the front post to attack the ball. The hosts did have the ball in the net four minutes later but Scott Jones comfortably fouled the keeper at the same time.

Chi made a couple of substitutions to try and change the nature of the game, the young impressive Ethan Pritchard arrived just before the goal and was involved after trying to get his back into the game down the left wing, with Lewis Hyde replacing Matt Axell to drive the team forward.

Tonbridge had their chances on the counter attack to add a third, but seemed unable to hold onto the ball when they attacked the final third of the pitch which gave their hosts the chance to put pressure immediately back on the visitors defence and goal for the final fifteen minutes.

McKimm’s defenders dealt with everything thrown at them including stoppage time, Sonny Miles marshalling the back line alongside Rian Bray headed, kicked and put their bodies in front of everything to give the Angels victory and a place in Thursday’s draw.

Very impressed with Chi and the way they played throughout the game, will definitely be making another visit there this season, facilities look pretty good for this level.

I caught up with the Angels boss on Wednesday morning and here are his thoughts:

‘It was a tough game as I expected, a proper game of cup football. Despite all the pressure towards the end I was comfortable with my defence dealing with all the crosses coming in and with a touch more quality we could have had another goal.’

‘It was really nice to hear other voices than just the players shouting at each other, good to see a crowd watching football again.’

Ten wins from Wembley

For the third Saturday in a row I decided on a little road trip for my choice of game. I had two or three in mind for differing reasons, local, nostalgia and Step 3 vs Step 2. In the end I plumped for nostalgia and headed up the M23 to Chipstead.

It’s so far turned out to be a game in every round of the FA Cup for me and Chips hosting East Grinstead Town was to be the latest port of call. The reason for nostalgia, around 30 odd years ago I was involved with my late father in the Tandridge Youth League, which took in Kent, Surrey, part of South London and a bit of Sussex.

The league held a lot of the end of season cup finals at Chipstead so come the end of April and beginning of May, many a night was spent there under lights well looked after by the then chairman Keith Rivers. The club were always challengers in those days at the top of the Combined Counties league and eventually did take the plunge into what is now the Pitching In Isthmian League.

Two defeats from two in the league hasn’t seen the Chips start too well in the South Central Division with just a single goal scored, cup success of course has been slightly better. Their opponents have only played one league game so far, a resounding 4-1 win whilst knocking out Premier Division opponents Worthing on penalties in the last round to set up this tie.

Having been present at the Worthing game, I knew what to expect from the Wasps on Saturday afternoon, strong across the back four, pacey and strikers who make a nuisance of themselves, Chipstead very much an unknown quantity to me.

The early running so to speak came from the visitors, Jerry Amoo willing to take on his full back at every opportunity and with the hosts struggling to get a hold of the ball the attacking threat was limited. Indeed, Grinstead thought they were in front on 13 minutes with Chipstead just about clearing the ball off the line to keep the scores level.

It took until the 34th minute for the breakthrough to be made and came very much against the run of play for the hosts, Tom Collins sent clear, rounded the keeper before jinking back and slotting home between the two defenders on the line. Jack Beadle almost made it a second for the home side moments later but his shot deflected wide of the target.

The second half followed a pretty similar pattern, the home side content to concede possession and play on the counter while the visitors worked their way through midfield out wide to get the ball into the box. The task got harder for Grinstead on 64 minutes after Jerome Beckles picked up a yellow card from a poor challenge with it being his second of the game his afternoon was over.

Despite the numerical advantage, Chips still struggled to string some movement together and really had to defend their one goal lead resolutely, the visitors were handed a lifeline on 71 minutes, Amoo’s spot kick though well saved by Chips keeper Oliver Pain. Grinstead though almost getting themselves back on level terms with 12 minutes to go but that dogged determination kept the visitors out once again.

The hosts looked the more likely to add to their tally in the final ten minutes and George Membrilera thought he had made the game safe in the last minute, but his powerful drive was superbly tipped over by Adams in the Grinstead goal.

The Chips held out through stoppage time and were rewarded with a trip to Hayes and Yeading in the Third Qualifying Round next Tuesday evening. A couple of players stood out for me throughout the game, Amoo with his pace and direct running should have created a few chances for striker Louis Theophanous, but the extra touch taken more often than not resulted in the ball not reaching the middle of the box whilst Chris Boulter marshalled the home side’s backline to keep the clean sheet intact.

So, the first game of October in the bag, great to get back to a ground I’ve not been to for so long and whilst things looked a little different from three decades ago, it’s still a lovely little club to visit and another doing all they’ve been asked to do for fans to be inside their ground watching their team……….

Haven sunk by later winner

The final game for me of a busy seven days took me to Newhaven on the way home from Langney Wanderers, the first time ever being able to catch two games in one day.

I’d only ever been to the Trafalgar Road ground once before, a painful 10-0 Sussex RUR Cup defeat with just 11 fit players in my time as Wick FC Secretary, not one of the finest moments. The visitors on Saturday afternoon were Southern Counties East League side Corinthian, seven days earlier on the end of last season’s FA Vase semi-final defeat to Hebburn Town.

Both sides were in the top five of their respective divisions when things halted and neither had the chance to get promotion to the Isthmian League and you would expect these two clubs to be in the mix again this season.

On a bright sunny afternoon after witnessing a 1-1 draw and penalties to decide Langney’s fate against Harrow Borough, I expected a tough, close, battling game and possibly a similar result between these two sides. And it almost turned out to be that way.

Haven, missing regular keeper Jake Buss, started the quicker of the two sides although didn’t manage to create a clear-cut chance to worry the visiting keeper. Corinthian however then started to get a foothold in the game but it took until right on half time to get the opening goal, Jack Billings a name synonymous with the Kent outfit heading home from a few yards out to alter the team talk I suspect for both managers.

Whilst there were a few crunching committed tackles in the first half, it cranked up a notch in the second half and threatened a couple of times to boil over, referee Ffion Eade did her best to try and keep the cards in her pocket.

As per the first half Haven had some very decent spells of possession and you felt they had to make one count sooner rather than later and they did when Henry Watson rose highest to head home a corner with around 20 minutes left to play.

The feistiness continued throughout the remainder of the game with the Corinthian bench spoken to although no further action taken. The Kent side took the game to the hosts once again after the equaliser and looked the more likely to score and indeed they did, substitute Frankie Morgan arriving at the far post unmarked to steer the ball past Dane Tasker with just four minutes plus stoppage time left on the watch.

That goal did break the Haven resistance and with so little time left they failed to trouble Corinthian keeper Aiden Prall and the Kent side left with a place in Monday’s First Qualifying Round draw and some more prize money in the bank.

Two quite different games watched, and both clubs had done everything to keep guidelines in place, Langney of course following whats been put in place for the National League South. Social distancing was evident everywhere you looked at Newhaven, totally safe, markings everywhere and as per all the games I’ve been to track and trace and hand sanitising being followed and not even the full 300 people inside the ground.

A bit of a calm down coming in the next seven days, just the two games for me, East Preston vs Alfold on Tuesday evening and a few destinations up for grabs next Saturday afternoon at the moment. Games are safe, there’s more than enough room for 300 in any of these grounds, next time I must remember bring five other people……….

The FA Cup is in town

This weekend for the first time ever I went to a double header of senior games, amazing what changes in your personal circumstances can do! The early kick off was never in doubt, the Emirates FA Cup tie between Langney Wanderers and Harrow Borough.

The timing of that at 11.30 gave me scope for a second game of the afternoon and my choice was a second FA Cup tie between Newhaven and Corinthian, but more about that one in the next blog.

My last trip to Priory Lane where Wanderers share with National League South Eastbourne Borough was many years ago before the days I could drive, well that’s what I remember! Langney have managed to become a fairly stable Southern Combination Premier Division side and have plans to move back to Langney with their own ground once again, for now they enjoy a ground with enough grading should they win promotion.

They are also the first club to feature my work. Last season Steve Roberts invited me to interview a few of their players and the then first team manager Simon Colbran, all of which featured on their website increasing viewing traffic and this season that work has moved into their online matchday programme.

Before the game I caught up with Wanderers boss Alex Walsh who I spoke to during lockdown not long after he was appointed as the new manager to find out how things had gone in the first few games. I also managed to catch up with Boro’ chairman David Blackmore during the game, nice to put faces to names of people I’ve spoken to in the past few months and to hear about some the things clubs are now being asked to do in the wake of the Covid-19 issues.

The game itself was a real test for both teams, the visitors playing their first competitive game of the season while for Langney pitting themselves against a side two steps higher on the 4G surface. Borough certainly had the better of the opening exchanges with a combination of blocking from defenders and keeper Neil Di Lucia making some crucial saves stopping them from opening the scoring.

As it was Wanderers came closest to breaking the deadlock, Harry Ducatel crashing a shot off the bar on 17 minutes and Langney not looking too out of place against their higher placed opponents, a draw the fair scoreline at half-time.

Borough looked to have come out with more purpose early in the second half and certainly looked the more likely to score, sustained spells of pressure left Wanderers playing out on the counter-attack more often than not.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 68th minute, a fine finish from full back George Moore to give the Southern League side the lead. The visitors should have added a second not long after, their turn to smash a shot against the bar with Di Lucia well beaten.

With Wanderers needing to push forward in search of an equaliser Borough began to open the game up more and should have added a second and even a third to kill the game off, but being the first game in action there was a hint of pre-season rustiness shooting.

As it was that failure to put the game beyond the hosts came back to haunt them as a clumsy foul given away outside the box gave David Smart the opportunity from the free kick and he duly obliged in the 89th minute sending the ball through the wall and past the out-reached hand of keeper Matthew Hall to send the game to penalties, no extra time in any FA games this year.

Whilst both keepers saved penalties, Hall with three and Di Lucia with two, Borough went through to the First Qualifying Round winning 3-2. Wanderers to their credit matched their opponents for a good percentage of the game, Ian Lagwai looking impressive in his positioning and all-round play from right back while Tim Bennett made sure the two centre halves didn’t have an easy afternoon.

Borough can now look forward to Monday’s draw while Wanderers head up the A22 to face AFC Uckfield in the Southern Combination Premier Division on Tuesday evening looking for a first league win of the season, if they put in a similar kind of performance and add goals to it then three points won’t be too far away.

Fans return to live football

During the lockdown period, I had a few guest bloggers produce some articles for me which were pretty well received and it’s always nice when people email you and ask if you would promote their writings, even if their not bloggers themselves.

This one comes from Richard Edwards who is an Essex exile living in Yorkshire  where he juggles allegiances to Colchester United and Bradford City where he now attends regularly. In a distant past life he produced Cool Notes music fanzine in the 1980’s, one of the few at the time to feature football. 

It was a warm evening and I was positively buzzing with anticipation passing through a rough car park in the village of Wrose on the Northern boundary of metropolitan Bradford to arrive at The Mitton Group Stadium, home of Eccleshill United FC (abbreviated to ‘Ecky by many home fans) 

Like many fans I was grateful for the return of live football on our TV screens, but I soon realised that I could not embrace it with any genuine passion. Grounds devoid of fans and matches injected with a fabricated “audio carpet” to simulate the presence of fans represented by cardboard cut outs. It had to be a sci fi nightmare! 

Finding it sterile and hollow my gratitude soon wore thin as I pined for the real thing in any form and you know things are desperate when you start urging your wife to slow down during car journey’s as we passed  a playing field kick about! 

Salvation arrived on the 20th August when the English FA announced  plans to admit a limited number of  fans to lower tier leagues based on a rather complex calculation involving thresholds of ground capacity . Initially this was set at 15% (150) and after a week it rose to 30% (300). This would allow fans to be admitted to the Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup which traditionally starts its marathon journey to the Wembley final in August , an event all too many fans will be oblivious to but which comes with potential financial rewards for competing clubs  

Clubs were reminded that these steps were conditional on all clubs undertaking the FA’s guidance and fans following the Social Distancing measures. All clubs had to complete a risk assessment uploaded to their website and ensure test and trace systems are in place. This is part of a repeated narrative which should be allowed to admit we are all bored with without dismissing its importance.    

Eccleshill United had drawn Silsden another West Yorkshire club close to my home if not quite my heart. This was more than enough to fuel my naive passion for the FA Cup and the prospect of live football. Both teams reside in the Premier League of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League , 8 levels below the pinnacle of the Premier League. I was both grateful and anxious to see a queue, a pre-match queue of any size  gives the match added status , not quite Valley Parade but certainly more than park football. It reminds us that we are not alone in a passion forged in childhood memories. 

Our queue briefly had the unlikely drama of not knowing how near the crowd was to its 300 capacity. Our fears were allayed by a friendly steward who generated non-league banter and gossip on the way in, where we were subjected to test and trace procedures. There were very few masks in evidence and no taped off areas or seats, or bottles of Gel, and thankfully I wasn’t sorry. The attendance looked to be around 150, about 25%  of them Silsden fans. 

‘Ecky started the stronger team in the first half with the Sils under pressure from a confident high paced performance. Luke Aldrich notched their first shot on target within two minutes shortly followed with a close range missed header. 

Silsden fought off this sustained pressure and went 1-0 up just before half time after Matthew Britton connected with a well-timed header from Joe Mitchell’s perfect cross to the far post. 

Silsden were an unstoppable force in the second half scoring two goals within the first six minutes, Britton hurtled down the right wing to deliver perfect pass to allow Anthony Brown to shoot home .Brown then settled the tie two minutes later to make it 3 – 0, a bitter pill for home fans given Brown had previously been an Eccleshill player . A number of them began to drift away, resigned to the £375 runners up award and better hopes for the FA Vase. Silsden will took a hard earned £1,225 from the tie and go on to play Oldham based Bootle in the next preliminary round at home. 

The resumption of live crowds was far more important to me than the score .If COVID has reminded us of anything it’s that we are at our core social animals, personally the spectacle and rituals of going to a match often overshadows the game itself. This match was never going to match the atmosphere at Valley Parade let alone the Premier League, but it was about getting back to those rituals that we might have taken for granted, pies and pints, and the smell of the burger stall, youth team players nearby bragging about how many scouts they’ve attracted and the incessant flow of random bits of  football gossip . The brazen banter and outrageous wind ups from a worldly braggart to your right, the midweek glow of the lights coming off the pitch.

The decision to readmit fans followed the #letfansin  Twitter campaign by supporters and followers of non-league football, at the moment its looking like the right result all round. 

One step closer

Competitive football finally kicked off on Tuesday evening as the FA Cup rolled into town and for me in particular into Tunbridge Wells FC and the Culverden Stadium. I have an association with the Wells going back a number of years, my youngest brother had a spell playing for a few years back in the early 2000’s and my late father was the club shop manager and programme editor until his death in 2011.

He missed out on the famous run to the FA Vase final in 2013 where they finished as runners-up which of course saw pop-up shops and everything selling merchandise, he would have loved to have seen what he had started blossoming into something special around that time.

Back to the present day and my reason for heading up to Kent was not only to catch up with a couple of very good friends of mine but also to see the gaffer Richard Styles who was good enough to take a little time to do an interview for this blog during lockdown, as were a few others managers, one physio and one club chairman.

As these guys (and Ally) have supported me during that period, I feel it only fair to pop along and support their club and them for a day at least in return. As it is with the current restrictions the home side are using the clubhouse as their changing room so that beer went out the window! Needless to say, I will be back sometime this season, I grew up around that area during my childhood so have many friends that way.

As per my games last week, everything was Covid-safe, and I was just as fine there as at East Preston last week and the 300-maximum attendance can easily be accommodated in that stadium. Unfortunately, it appeared someone forgot between Saturday and kick off time that the pitch needed marking! A frantic effort finally saw the game kick off at 20.05, some 20 minutes later.

I’m really grateful I can watch live football again whatever level it is and wherever it is, I’ve found it more invigorating and taking in every minute, we know how much we hated not being able to watch a single moment of any game in the last few months, not one game will I take for granted this season, it can be snatched away in an instance.

Kicking up the Culverden hill, Wells certainly started the brighter of the two sides and should have been two goals in front before Erith had a sight of the hosts penalty box, two headers both missing the target when easier to score. The visitors then came into the game and with pace up front started to pull the Wells centre halves around the pitch forcing the Wells custodian into a couple of saves with his legs to leave the scoreline goalless at half time, probably a fair reflection.

The first half plan from Styles and his staff was to get the ball wide to both wingers, Regan Corke and Euan Sahadow, they delivered some beautiful balls into the box but a lack of bodies getting into the area the reason why the hosts suffered a blank first half scoreline.

The second half lacked a bit of excitement, flair and entertainment, chances were at a premium with both defences on top marshalling strikers and cutting off supply lines, scrappiness creping in as a first competitive game in months with such intensity and prize money on the line, tiredness came next as the game evolved into a counter attacking mission for both.

There were still a couple of chances for both sides, Aaron Lee-Wharton pulling off a superb mid-flight save to keep Wells in the cup. Just as we were expecting the final whistle to go and heading straight to penalties, a penalty awarded for a handball, the ball having bounced off the thigh of an Erith defender and onto his hand and a chance for the West Kent outfit to take their place in the next round.

Up stepped Brett Ince to coolly send the ball into the net in the final minute and with stoppage time at a premium, Wells stood firm and now host another league rival in Beckenham Town who comfortably beat Mile Oak 4-0 on Wednesday evening, tie to played on Sat 12th September at Culverden Stadium once again.

A great result for Richard Styles, a nice birthday present for Dan Morrin and me a lucky omen? The only time I saw Styles’ team in action last season was ironically on 1st September and also in the FA Cup, history repeats itself, does that mean I need to be in attendance a week on Saturday? We’ll have to see………..

The dream begins

This week sees the beginning of the 2020/21 FA Cup for non-league clubs just 31 days after the 2019/20 final took place. The Extra Preliminary Round kicks off with the first of the 737 teams taking part, 366 start this week in total.

For the winners there’s £1,125 up for grabs whilst the losers of each tie will pocket £375, much reduced levels due the impact of Covid-19 on FA finances. For any club at Step 4, 5, or 6 money from the FA competitions is a small godsend to help with club finances and much has been made of the fact that in the very latter rounds of the competition we still see levels of prize money that Premier League clubs and in some cases  Championship clubs too are merely a drop in the ocean.

Non-league has suffered horrendously since the lockdown began in March and I feel we are incredibly lucky not to have seen more clubs go under than we have lost recently. Maybe that is still to come during the season, time will tell on that score and I sincerely hope no-one loses their club during the upcoming year.

£1.8 million for the winners, a mere piece of pocket change for a Premier League chairman, but for non-league club chairman extending that first winners pot to £3,000 does make a big difference up and down the country. The argument against? The top clubs will treat it as an Under 21 competition apparently, but they’ve all been trumping the ‘squad’ game card for many years now, that’s a poor line to be trotted out from the FA in Sunday’s non-league paper column.

People won’t forget the campaign that clubs had to undertake to get their own fans back into grounds in August, that the FA didn’t do enough to help their member clubs and now once again they’re not doing their utmost to get a little more cash into the right areas of the game.

The FA Cup still means something across the world, it still means something to a non-league player to go into work on the Monday morning (Wednesday or Thursday this week) knowing they’ve played in the greatest cup competition of all. This year it kicks off the non-league season before league competition begins for most this coming Saturday.

Either 150 or 300 fans will be allowed in grounds depending on whether you’ve managed to host a home friendly at the 150 fans level prior to Bank Holiday Monday. That amount for most clubs at these levels will be enough and being the professional game hasn’t yet kicked off, yet a few clubs might find their average gate slightly inflated but with still enough room to fit everyone in socially distanced.

Having watched two games so far in the last week, I haven’t any issues yet in watching and don’t expect to find any when I venture to Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday evening as they take on league rivals Erith Town, ko 7.45pm. The Wells manager Richard Styles was good enough to give me his time for a blog interview over the lockdown period, as were quite a few, and in return I’m planning a visit to them all to support them and their clubs in return, least I can do I feel.

Ironically, the last time I saw the Wells in action was in last season’s FA Cup, an early season visit to Littlehampton Town saw them cruise past the hosts 4-1 on the day.  There should be a decent size crowd inside the Culverden Stadium and this despite the last few years times not being so good for the West Kent outfit although last season they sat in the top ten before null and void came along.

If you find you have a spare evening tomorrow, have a look at the following link (https://www.thefa.com/competitions/thefacup/fixtures) and see if you can pop along and support your local club, they’ll all be grateful to see you.  Also, check out the wonderful @FACupFactfile on Twitter, full of great stuff and of course facts and figures about each tie. Wherever you head to, enjoy it, keep the distance and before you know it we’ll be back at maximum capacity once again up and down the country, you never know we might even have fans into National League grounds before they kick off in four weeks’ time………