FA Cup 3rd Round
Liberty Stadium, Swansea
The London Branch extends by one with each cup round ‘proper’ we partake in. Two in the 1st, three in the 2nd, and now one further joining up with our Paddington party – the Fantastic Four, where back at the start of December we were just a t’riffic three. So, basic arithmetic suggests that our conclave will number nine by the time we get to Wembley. And we are going there. Quite clearly.
Once again, the start of the day begins with the usual FA Cup traditions. Listing omens out loud, by way of straw-clutching, working our way through all the potentials for the coming weeks, months and seasons; and road-testing chants we’ll never be brave enough to try out in the crucible that is the terrace itself. Besides we never did quite satisfactorily finish our tribute to hero of the last round, stealer of bathrobes, and now celebrity refuse collector, Tony Taggart. We got as far as “Tony Tagg’s a bin man, he wears a dressing gown…” but eventually gave up, knowing it was pretty moot anyhow.
Another thing that unified us was a lack of over-confidence but that’s no bad thing. I have approached every round thus far with a modestly pessimistic outlook, virtually trudging around as though barefoot in wet mud, tolling a hand bell and proclaiming “the end of the cup run is nigh” on a home-made sandwich board. Believing that we will be on the end of a 3-1 defeat each time has served us well so far, so why deviate from a successful formula?
Speaking of formulae, our cup run does appear to defy conventional mathematics or, indeed, the rules of any of the sciences. In our two games against Football League opposition a combination of circumstances has meant we have been forced to play a side which isn’t really first choice. Playing away from home at professional sides about 50, and then 83, places above us in the football pyramid would be difficult enough, but being closer to the bare bones than a team of grass snakes on an archaeological dig has made that task harder still.
First the dispute between our club, Eastleigh and want-away Tom Jordan has meant he has been despatched from the squad for fear of disrupting the sides team spirit, while his replacement Gary Elphick is cup-tied having appeared for St Albans City in the qualifying rounds. On top of that Neil Sharp suffered an injury in our 4-0 away defeat at Lewes and failed a fitness test. Which meant our defensive four consisted of two right backs and two left backs, one of the left backs (Justin Gregory) being stationed at right back. I do hope you’re following this. At the centre was Jay Smith (whose “such-a-polite-young-man-isn’t-he” hairdo gives him the look of an apron-string-attached son of a marriage guidance counsellor and a Duplo road sweeper) and ferrety Phil Warner, the latter starting only his third game this season.
On top of that Charlie Henry, Nathaniel Peprah-Annan, Craig Watkins and Chemal Fenelon were also cup-tied, Brighton didn’t want Gary Hart to become the same and we had also further reduced our midfield by allowing Andy Gurney to leave. Gurney had a vital part to play in our cup run, scoring the equaliser at Bognor Regis Town on the start of the journey and performing brilliantly both that day and against Leighton Town in the fourth qualifying round. After that though he began to remind me of Milton Jones’ joke: “About a month before he died, my grandmother covered my grandfather’s back in lard. After that he went downhill very quickly.”
So it was with Gurney, well greased at the rear, as it were, by a struggle to cope with the travelling and, it seemed, the pace of the Conference South. However he remains in it, having returned to Weston-Super-Mare, possibly so he could be closer to home, or possibly because he wanted to get his name down quick on a choice beach hut and a sheltered flat. It was like an elderly police steed being put out to pasture. Which is just as well, as the ire inspired by his performances had begin to rise to a level where some would have been quite happy to have him taken out of West Leigh Park and shot. For those performances against Bognor and Leighton alone however, I would like to think we now wish him fairly well.
Being in his mid-30’s and retired from the professional game didn’t put paid to assistant manager Charlie Oatway’s involvement however, even despite the fact his knee injury looks likely to put paid to his semi-pro playing career sometime soon as well. However, no one can argue with his desire to be part of it, and get amongst it. Even if from now on he’ll be freebasing ketamine and horse tranquillisers in the dressing room just to get him through it, one imagines he won’t allow himself to become a liability on the field. He has too much class and professionalism for that.
So, a pretty ramshackle XI to compete with the likes of Swansea and not long into the game it looked as though we might be in for the real hiding you always fear in games like these. From early on, we were looking every inch the semi-pro side against much fitter opposition, although you would expect us as a 12th in the Conference South side to look a little bit leggy against the side clear at the top of League One. Certainly we were riding our luck (the luck having been obtained from rubbing Adrian’s lucky hat - well it worked at Notts County), Swansea hitting the bar more often than a narcoleptic pub landlord with an iron head. The most comic of which was the one which bounced straight back into the hands of keeper Kevin Scriven, Scrivs reacting like he’d just picked up a recently discarded sparkler with his bare hands, but thankfully without the tears and mummified mittens to follow. That heavy head image I mentioned before also works in describing Swansea mascot Cyril the Swan, whose flaccid neck gives him a permanent recently-admonished-and-sent-to-bed-by-his-mum look. I’d imagine it’d be hard to be hyped up by a bird that looks continually disillusioned.
So, it was not a classic H&W performance, but then it was never going to be beautiful to watch, and while we didn’t look quite as up for it as in previous rounds, we did just about enough, and certainly were quite prepared to go about it not in the plucky-non-Leaguers-going-round-the-country-making-friends-isn’t-Charlie-Blakemore-nice-and-cuddly Chasetown way, but by getting stuck in and doing it ugly, even little teenage midfield wizard Alfie Potter sliding in like a veteran full-back. It was a little bit too ugly at times, based on Brett Poate’s tackle for which he was correctly tunnelled and which led to a mass brawl which resulted in the further dismissal of Swansea skipper Alan Tate.
By this stage, with Chasetown and Cambridge United despatched in earlier kick-offs we were, in terms of non-League sides, the last man standing. These men don’t tend to last long but, as it turned out, we would live to fight, possible in a number of senses, for another 90 minutes at the very least. In fact, and I do not condone the tackle nor the afters in saying this, but the adrenaline from the scrapping, combined with Swansea’s lack of organisation at the back, seemed to galvanise us, and thus in the 87th minute, an equaliser came.
Rocky Baptiste, in a very lean patch after two miracle seasons prior to this, rediscovered his goal radar and placed a mid-paced shot across keeper Dorus De Vries and into the far corner. Right in front of us travelling fans too. However, rather than celebrate with us, Rocky went on a mazy slalom to the halfway line. Perhaps typical for a man doing the Knowledge, he went all around the houses and still ended up in the wrong place. Not that we cared of course being as calm and collected as a Brian Eno box set behind the goal. Not really. We woz going nutty and stuff.
What is it about the 87th minute? Winners in the big games against Notts County and nasty Eastleigh arrived at this moment, and now an equaliser at Swansea. It’s like there’s some mystery deity up there operating the controls. A flick of the switch to the right and it’s like the players all suddenly jolt upright, take on a glazed, but focused thousand-yard-stare expression, and intone a “must score vital goal, must score vital goal” mantra. Possibly a flick to the left would be “must water the garden, must water the garden” or something so thank goodness whoever is sorting this all out has remained nice and alert so that we get late winners and equalisers rather than having to watch our players suddenly begin simultaneously, and involuntarily, weeing on the pitch.
Three more minutes of normal and four of extra time brought waves of Swansea pressure but ultimately no goals, and after much jumping about (but no nudity on the part of the players this time) it was a long but easy stroll back to the station. We awaited the train along with a collection of pubescent Swansea oiks who joined us in our carriage attempting to goad us into a sing-off which, and apologies to anyone else who happened to be on our part of the train, was a gauntlet we occasionally took up, but not always; their chant of “is that all you take away?” being met with a comically matter of fact “no, that was about ten times what we take away” from my old chum Mr Ketchup.
Sat one carriage ahead of this largely good-natured banter was Alfie Potter who was probably less bothered about being on a train with the chimpy Swansea teens as he was with the fact that the nine of us were on board. The congratulations and thanks we had offered while we all walked along the platform were met with a sheepish grin that belied his status as a youngster who is tipped for big things in the pro game. Indeed, our New Year’s Day home game with Bognor had seem him put in such an awe-inspiring skilful performance, that he earned himself a song; “Alfie Potter, taking the piss, Alfie Potter, taking the piss.” Naturally, when noticing him entering the toilet cabinet between carriages, we quickly ran up and gave him a rendition of it, in soft choral harmony through the vent in the door, artfully exchanging the words ‘taking the’ with ‘having a’.
Actually that didn’t happen. I just went up and gave him a version of Kiki Dee’s “Star! That’s What They Call You” in a piercing falsetto instead. Well, that’s not true either, but who can really tell by now what is genuine and what is artifice in this astonishing cup run? For example, I’ve provided three photographs of personal celebration in this piece, one posed post-game, and two slap bang in the moments after the equaliser. Two natural, one 'staged' after the fact but, as exhibitions of utter elation and gleeful disbelief, all entirely genuine.
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
2Rr: Swansea City 6 Horsham 2 (5,911) [BBC]
2R: Horsham 1 Swansea City 1 (2,731) [BBC]
2R: Notts County 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 3,810) [HOBO]
1R: Billericay Town 1 Swansea City 2 (att. 2,334) [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
Swansea City website
Havant & Waterlooville website
Some People Are On The Pitch report
Sunday Times report
Sunday Telegraph report
Mail on Sunday report
Sunday Mirror report
BBC Hampshire photographs