FA Cup 2nd Round
Meadow Lane, Nottingham
When you are a merchant advertising nothing but verbose hyperbole on a weekly basis in the blogosphere’s big Exchange & Mart you operate, particularly when dealing with your own club, at a certain level of rose-tinted quixotic enthusiasm. When it comes to documenting H&W’s progress in the FA Cup, it is a given that the further we go, the more one has to ratchet up the fevery pitch to accurately document it. As such, should the magnificent Hawks soar into the 4th round proper next month; I imagine the buzz-like-hummingbird-wings emanating from these pages may well cause the entire Internet to explode.
So, yes, more than we ever dared dream; Havant & Waterlooville have made the 3rd Round. We’re in the papers and everything. We feel like Princess Diana. Except I don’t imagine we’ll be the main story in the Daily Express every third day for the next ten years though, of course, we should. Then again, Princess Diana was never on the front page of the Non-League Paper, so I guess that means we’re just as famous; our player’s faces adorn decorative plates and bone-china mugs in retirement flatlets across the nation.
However, as overblown as I get, there is always the warnings there to keep things in check. I remember two summers ago during the last World Cup, Alan Shearer was commenting on the progress of the tournament, and said “the last 16, it doesn’t get any better than this.” With that gaffe in mind, I’ve been keen to keep my counsel in my FA Cup reportage thus far so as not to tempt fate. Three weeks ago I talked of the uncharted waters of our club reaching the second round proper but, as enticing as it may have been, I avoided the notion of it not getting any better as, you know what, it turns out it does.
It is the gift that keeps on giving; it is the tiger in the tank; it is the icing on the cake, only this is no longer just an brandy-fed, artexed Christmas effort, this is a wedding cake ever increasing in its number of tiers. Speaking of which, a heavy mist certainly descended over the hobo eyeballs after the final whistle at Meadow Lane, I’m not ashamed to say. Pride that’ll be, because not only is it a grand and rare achievement for a team two promotions away from the Football League to reach this stage of the Cup, it’s also not as though we’ve gone about it the easy way.
You might argue that the qualifying rounds weren’t all that tricky but I tell you, when we went 1-0 down at Bognor two and a half months ago, the FA Cup 3rd Round seemed as distant as peace in the Middle East. Considering that very same team, at the very same ground, turfed us out of the FA Trophy a week ago, it really could have been a lot different. The Town’s of Fleet and Leighton had also done well to reach the 3rd and 4th qualifying rounds respectively, were going well in their leagues, and we were certainly glad not to have had to play them anywhere other than West Leigh Park. We would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think that the serendipity of the big money balls had been kind to us in those early stages.
Yet in the proper rounds, we’ve been more thoroughly tested than an aeroplane engine, the draw throwing dead chickens into our motors to examine what we can sail right through untroubled. Away to a former league side from the division above? Job did. Then away again to a genuine Football League side, and not only any Football League side, but the oldest one, in fact the oldest professional club in the whole worldwidey world. Job did again, despite our captain being suspended, our star striker only just back from a broken toe lay-off, and a number of red-hot new stars cup-tied due to appearances for their previous clubs in the qualifying rounds. Without those extras it’s still astonishing, as a non-league side you usually want sides like yer York Citys and Notts Countys at home to give you a chance. We, a semi-professional side, took our chances regardless and caused two fully pro clubs to be despatched. Pretty good, I would hope you’ll agree.
You know it’s not a million years ago, about sixteen years in fact, since I watched Notts County play in the top flight of English football. At the dingly Dell on 20th December 1991 it were, and they held Southampton to a 1-1 draw, Neil Ruddock getting sent off for presenting a Notts County defender with a less than amorous Glasgow kiss. Since falling head over heels for the handsome Hawks, never did I think that one day we would better the Saints’ result, and without the need to descend into Yates’ Wine Lodge at kick-out time slapsies either. Then again never did I think I’d be able to say that the H&’Dub had gone two rounds further in the FA Cup than Leeds United but, well, here we are.
I write this bit before the 3rd round draw and it all seems a little unreal, like the sort of thing that happens only to other people. Indeed, a lot of it seems a little hazey right now. Not so much the game, which went exactly as you might expect, some sharp defending (small ‘s’ and capital ‘S’ – cheers Neil Sharp for another great effort), more top drawer saves and tip-overs from the great Kevin Scriven, and brilliant stuff again from Mo Harkin down the right. Indeed, ten minutes into the second half, Mo almost scored, taking the ball around a couple of defenders before bringing a save out of County keeper Kevin Pilkington. Had Mo scored, considering his winning goal at York, I imagine we’d have had to make him Mayor or something.
It was one of those days though, where everything seemed right and in place. For example, today was designated as ‘Tony Taggart Day’. We’ve had a Mo Harkin day before, when some our supporters turned up at Lewes in Elvis masks, and in one case the full jumpsuit garb, to celebrate Mo’s middle-name being Presley. These things usually occur during the last big away day of the season, but if you can’t get amongst it for the FA Cup second round, when can you? Why focus on Tony Taggart, though? Well, after the York victory the players were pictured, by our club photographer Dave Haines, celebrating in the dressing room. While the other players were largely shirtless, Tony was there in a soft white dressing gown that looked as marshmallowy as a Moomin’s handshake and clearly as nicked as a car-radio being sold for cash in a pub. Whoever does the washing at the hotel our players stayed at before that game had a slightly lighter load that afternoon, I imagine.
Only brought on when big Richie Pacquette went off three minutes into the second half feeling a twinge in his thigh, Taggs nevertheless did his excellent running-like-a-chicken-tethered-with-elastic-to-a-fence-post thing from the get-go and none more so than when twelve-year-old Alfie Potter, who we currently have on loan from Peterborough United IV’s scout group, brushed the Wotsit crumbs off his mush before hooking a deft pass behind defenders Lee Canonville and Adam Tann.
Taggs steamed his piston legs between the pair of them, and while both of the Magpie doggers kicked at his ankles like toddlers taking at swing at a ball of socks, Taggs weathered their fouls to the point where he was felled between Tann and Pilkington and would have got a penalty had the ball not squeezed off his shin and underneath the keeper’s arm. In real time the ball took about three seconds to dribble over the line and nestle in the back of the net next to one of our yellow balloons, but in our minds and through our collective intake of breath, it felt like about three weeks. After that, weirdly, the five minutes of injury time seemed to fairly fly by, despite a couple of scares, and referee Mr Singh may well have cut it a little short. I’ve always liked him. More so now.
“Where’s your Robin Hood?” sang a small group within our 261 supporters at points. No taking-from-rich-to-give-to-poor analogy really works here though as County are struggling in League Two and are not exactly cash laden, even if they may be history-rich. Nor was it ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ either, more ‘Men in Pants’, our defender Jay Smith having to remove his shorts on the field during the first half, having had them ripped in amongst a vigorous challenge. Rather than continue like a kid who’s forgotten his PE kit, a new set was, thankfully, found in the bag.
To continue the partial nudity, after the final whistle and after all of our players had, once again, thrown their shirts into the crowd, Jamie Collins thought, as captain for the day in Tom Jordan’s absence, he should give also of his shorts. Flinging them in, the crowd parted as quickly as if the shorts were a 30 stone stage-diver, rather than they be tainted by JC’s 90-minutes-of-running scrotal hum. Eventually sashaying off the field wearing only his black kecks and his yellow socks still pulled up to his knees, it appeared his win bonus would come in the form of a guaranteed audition for the part of the Narrator in a touring production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Wiping away the eyeball mist, and hugging more men than if I’d recently got into amateur sumo, I returned to the top of the away stand, a stand with a safety certificate for more people than our entire ground, and had a bit of a sit. For a moment or two I stared intently at the scoreboard at the far end, a scoreboard containing all the magic numbers, and in the right order. Notts County - 0, Havant & W - 1, second half minutes elapsed - 45. In all honesty, I had to have a bit of a lie down too, amongst the tickertape residue, before catching the train back to London with the rest of the SmokeHawk party. Decorating our seats with a plethora of scarves, we were proud and full of wide-eyed wonder at the possibilities of what the 3rd round could bring; Havant & Waterlooville FC, for flump’s sake, in the hat with yer Manchester Uniteds and yer Arsenals but also, mind you, yer Burtons and yer Cambridge U’s.
Mind you, one of our supporters suggested that getting Man United away was perhaps not as ideal as all that. What then would we have to dream about in future, where would be our motivation if we’ve been and done the really big once-in-a-lifetime Big 4 action? I can understand that point of view, the chase being better than the catch an’ all that.
I guess it's just as well that the chase is better then as the dream draw for both us and football romantics everywhere didn’t come to pass. Instead we shall be sent to either Horsham of a league below, or Swansea City, most likely the latter. Being that we could have drawn either of them in the prior two rounds, it’s certainly anti-climactic. It means neither big TV money nor much in the way of a lucrative gate slice, although should it turn out to the be the likely trip to Wales, it could be worse in that respect.
All that said, let’s look at it this way. We’ve beaten Conference National on their turf, we’ve beaten League Two on their turf, so I guess we’ll just have to go and beat the leaders of League One at the Liberty Stadium then. Havant & 'Ville - taking liberties in 2008! Our ability to dream about playing Manchester United sometime in the future remains intact. Old Trafford in the 4th round then? Well, we’re already off the map, so all I can tell you right now is that I’m not planning any holidays over the weekend of 17th May just yet.
Road to Wembley
F: Portsmouth 1 Cardiff City 0 (att. 89,874)
SF: Barnsley 0 Cardiff City 1 (att. 82,752)
QF: Barnsley 1 Chelsea 0 (att. 22,410)
5R: Liverpool 1 Barnsley 2 (att. 42,449)
4R: Liverpool 5 Havant & Waterlooville 2 (att. 42,566) [HOBO]
3Rr: Havant & Waterlooville 4 Swansea City 2 (att. 4,400) [HOBO]
3R: Swansea City 1 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 8,761) [HOBO]
2R: Notts County 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 3,810) [HOBO]
1R: Notts County 3 Histon 0 (att. 4,344) [BBC]
1R: York City 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 2,001) [HOBO]
4QR: Havant & Waterlooville 3 Leighton Town 0 (att. 378) [HOBO]
3QR: Havant & Waterlooville 2 Fleet Town 1 (att. 386)
2QR: Bognor Regis Town 1 Havant & Waterlooville 2 (att. 426) [HOBO]
the Hobo off-Road 2007/08
click here for links to all 2007/2008 FA Cup pieces
Dave Haines' photos of the game
Notts County website
Havant & Waterlooville website