Midweek fixture: FA Cup 1st Round memories

On Sunday we head off on another FA Cup adventure with the trip to Hayes and Yeading. Previous 1st Round ties have conjured up a range of emotions from record highs to record lows. Here are seven of the best, and worst, from the last 24 years.

2016 – Merstham 5-0

Six months after promotion, we were the epitome of a team in a good place. A draw away to unknown commuter town Merstham was a great opportunity to try out our new status. TV cameras were there baying for an upset, but even with key players rested, we strolled to a classy win.

2013 – Gateshead 1-0

By 2013, our post-promotion glow had worn off and further progress up the divisions seemed just out of reach. The malaise tested the loyalty of the biggest fans. Following a desperate 2-2 draw with Gateshead at the Kassam, we travelled very very north for the replay. A postponement minutes before kick-off left fans stranded hundreds of miles from home. Still, two weeks later a Dean Smalley penalty sealed a workaday win.

2009 – Yeovil Town 1-0

An often forgotten and somewhat insignificant game in the context of the rest of that season, but important for other reasons. We were on a roll in the League, regaining confidence lost over a 10 year period. We were raucous off the pitch and aggressive on it. It was only the 1st Round, and it was only Yeovil, but it was also our first win over any league team for four years. We were on the way back.

2006 – Wycombe Wanderers 1-2

The significance of this game was the fact it happened at all. Relegated from the Football League we’d started the season well. For the first time in a generation we were required to qualify to the FA Cup. We did, with a win over Dagenham and Redbridge, drawing Wycombe Wanderers in the first round. A solid display and narrow defeat wasn’t as satisfying as the knowledge we registered our existence in the competition for another year. 

2005 – Eastbourne Borough 3-0

Labouring to a 1-0 lead at little Eastbourne Borough in the FA Cup, they introduced, to the obvious excitement of the locals, a whippet quick van driver from Nigeria. Yemi Odubade ran our lumbering centre-backs ragged, winning them a last minute penalty and earning a replay. In the replay, Odubade ran amok, but somehow a Steve Basham hat-trick saw us triumph. The result was a travesty. Days later Brian Talbot brought Yemi to the club, where he became a rare bright spot in a bleak time.

1995 – Dorchester Town 9-1

God we needed this; having failed to gain promotion the previous season, the 95/96 campaign was faltering. When Dorchester Town arrived in November some were doubting our credentials. The avalanche of goals was cathartic, keeping the baying hordes at bay, a major stepping stone towards finding our feet and heading for promotion.

1994 – Marlow Town 0-2

Perhaps the grimmest day in the club’s history. We were top of League 1 and looked to be heading for promotion. We drew the architects and IT consultants of Marlow Town, which featured Les Phillips and Peter Rhodes-Brown in their number. On a potato patch pitch we put on the most fancy-dan performance and were out battled. It popped any bubble of positivity. 

Eastbourne Borough 1 Yellows 0

“Enjoy this one, it’s the last one you’ll enjoy this season” said Jerome Sale prior to the meaningless defeat to Eastbourne. In saying this he revealed one of football’s secret conspiracies.

Some people enjoy the football’s aesthetic, but Tennis has a similar eye-catching quality. The game has some residual benefits of being out in the fresh air, and grabbing a beer or two. But so does rugby.

Sky would have you believe that football is about families gathering around the TV punching the air and patting each other on the back while maintaining big grins on their faces.

This myth means that people who hate the game believe that people who love it do so to spite them. That we go to games for some giddy hedonism and that we watch Soccer Saturday to get out of going to the shops or mowing the lawn.

We perpetuate the lie by convincing people that football is exciting. It helps us justify the illogical investment of time, effort and money. We’re rational normal human beings, but not when we go to football.

The truth is far, far different. Look around the stands of a real game and you’ll see grim faces and hollow eyes. People attend big games, because the only thing worse than being there, is not being there, waiting for sketchy news from the frontline.

A win, of course, brings its own ecstasy, but the process of football is agony. Big games, games of any meaning, are approached with a sick fear of failure.

Nobody enjoys meaningless games because they’re dull, but the idea that big games are enjoyable because of their high stakes misses the point completely. We’re football fans, good things don’t happen to people like us. Should we dare to hope? Should we prepare to despair? Should we just say ‘fuck it’ and deal with whatever is thrown at us?

Yellows 4 Eastbourne Borough 0

I’ve always felt a quite paternal towards Eastbourne. In 2005 I took a long and pointless trip to the coast to watch us play them in the FA Cup. It was the pointlessness that appealed; to win would have been a shrug of the shoulders; to lose would have been a miserable embarrassment.

In the end, ironically, we drew. A moment of class from Steve Basham was followed by a twice taken penalty for the hosts that was greeted by the locals as if they’d just seen a giant mechanical bird in the sky. With 10 minutes to go they introduced Yemi Odubade to wild applause and much waving of pitchforks. They loved the ‘little foreign fellow’.

Yemi ran us ragged in the replay and Basham got a hat-trick which raised talk that he was finally going to fill his boots with goals. He didn’t. Again. I patronised Borough with thoughts of being a well run club that was sweet and parochial but would never trouble us in a meaningful way.

We met them yesterday as peers, but really only in name. They had no more than 60 in the stands and some players that would have looked out of place in a pub team. We looked a class apart.

But this is the talk that’s driving Chris Wilder mad, and he has a point, but whether marching the team off after the game was a good idea is yet to be seen. There seems to be a feeling by some that the manager shouldn’t get in the way of the relationship between the fans and the team. Somehow they both deserved the love-in at the end. If we wobble in the next couple of weeks then Wilder could be seen as the Yoko in the relationship. If the streak continues then he’ll be pronounced as a tactical genius. Personally, I think he’s right; it’s his team and his job is on the line. He needs as much freedom as possible to get the job done; if he thinks the players are letting standards slip and if he feels that mutual masturbation with the fans will reinforce the complacency, then he has the right to take them aside and give them a rollocking.

Eastbourne Borough 0 Yellows 3, Forest Green 3 Yellows 3

During the death throws of our league days it was hardly unusual for us to enter the last twenty minutes of a game a goal down. I, and many others, would look out longingly as the cars parked in front of the Vue cinema began winding their way home.

Part of me wanted to join them but my principles said stay. A corner would raise my interest and hope, yet in my head I knew, by every logical measure possible, that victory was a near impossibility.

Which neatly summarises my attitude to this season as a whole. I want to be excited by our form and unlikely push for promotion, but every objective assessment tells me that it will all come to nought. We will end mid-table and some distance from the play-offs. Our post-Christmas form has given us some fleeting excitement. Fleeting and ultimately meaningless.

Then, of course, we give Eastbourne a good stuffing and I get to thinking that maybe destiny is with us after all. Then the draw with Forest Green brings me to my senses. The midweek games cause us to fall a further 3 points behind. Doubtlessly, our noses will be blooded further before there is a true picture of where we sit.

So, I want to walk away from this season and my head is telling me to do just that. But the sheer bloody enjoyment of the last three months wants it all to continue.

Yellows 0-1 Weymouth, 6-3 Eastbourne, 0-2 Wrexham

In isolation, the defeat to Wrexham was predictable and shouldn’t, in itself, be a cause for worry. There is likely to be a renewed vigour surrounding them at the start of the season – that curious phenomenon of any relegated team – and, well, we’ve never really excelled at the Racecourse Ground.

What was less predictable is that we would fail to pick up points against Weymouth or Barrow. This has left us in an odd position. Statistically, we should be worrying – this is relegation form and we’ve been playing relative lightweights. More considered analysis would suggest that this can’t last.

Having not seen a single kick of this season, I’m probably not in a position of great authority to judge, but objectively it would appear that there is a serious problem in defence. Especially given that the only points we’ve got have come from the 6-3 bizzare-athon against Eastbourne.

The bellowing form of Billy Turley, who I still suspect is not that far from tipping over the metaphorical hill, is perhaps more influential in marshalling the defence than it would sometimes appear. He always seems to me to be an irritant – but that’s probably because I would want to punch someone at work who yelled at me constantly for 90 minutes.

Patterson’s observation about Luke Foster appears well made too. Jim Smith was hardly backwards in his criticism of Foster this time last year. He appears to summer badly and perhaps it’s his attitude rather than ability, that needs keeping in check.

Fear not, I join the relegation battle on Monday against Woking which is surely set to be a humdinger, if past encounters are to be considered.