I am new to all this. This FA Cup thing. Sure I have been to FA Cup ties before, I even went to the final back in 2003, but the real FA Cup, well that started as an illicit liaison at Lye Town on a lovely late August Friday evening. After watching Coventry Sphinx’s comprehensive second half 5-0 demolition of their Black Country hosts, it left me lusting for more.
Family commitments stacked up and looked like circumstances would conspire to killing this passion at the Preliminary Round stage, even with the very easy to reach Stourport Swifts playing at home. However I wasn’t counting on Gornal.
Gornal Athletic of the West Midlands (Regional) League recorded a very credible 0-0 draw at Rugby Town of the Evo-Stik League Southern Division One Central and therefore presented me with a very easy trip to the town hanging on to the coattails of Dudley. And despite it being my Wedding Anniversary, I was permitted this illicit liaison.
Gornal’s Garden Walk Stadium is tucked innocuously away in a quiet residential area, but reveals a large open terrace with small uncovered seating section, open ends behind the goals and a cowshed along the far-side that runs about ? of the pitch length.
In the early exchanges Rugby’s loftier position towards the peak of the pyramid was definitely apparent and Hamilton did well inside the Gornal box for a clinical finish to make it 1-0 to Rugby inside the first 10 minutes.
Then the rain fell and oh how it fell and so Gornal woke up. Around the half hour mark Athletic equalised with a far post header that Green tucked away from a corner. Then the momentum of the rain and the home team matched each other and Gornal were 2-1 up. A long punt forward was met by the head of Martin and with the Rugby ‘keeper out of position, the Athletic player was able to take advantage.
Then the rain stopped and half-time came. Rugby must have had the hairdryer out during the interval and not just to dry their sodden hair,as they started the second half with renewed optimism and it wasn’t long before they equalised through Wesley. Rugby looked like they would take control and the home fans held their breath.
They need not have as on 62 minutes, a rather dubious penalty was awarded to Gornal when a Rugby defender was adjudged to have handled inside the box. Messe sent the Rugby ‘keeper the wrong way from the resultant spot kick and the home fans amongst the 100ish attendance went wild. In doing so, Athletic’s manager Ian Rowe ran on the pitch and for around 30 seconds carried out a faultless caterpillar dance. What’s a caterpillar dance? See here. Half the crowd were cheering, the other half in hysterics.
The goal of the game was to follow though when Rugby’s Fagan turned on a sixpence and fired a volley past the Gornal ‘keeper just six minutes later.
At 3-3, like a pair of pro poker players, neither side wanted to give anything away, until the Peacocks of Gornal went for broke on 87 minutes and the risk paid off. A break down the right side saw an inch perfect cross for Worton at the far post to head Gornal ahead and into the First Qualifying Round. What a kick in the Gornals for Rugby!
If the Gornal fans weren’t in high spirits before they were now and the final whistle was greeted with chants of “Wemberlee, Wemberlee …” and intended as a direct dig at Rugby manager Dave Stringer of “you’re getting sacked in the morning!”.
I thought my trip to Lye might have just been a one night stand with the early rounds of the FA Cup, but after Gornal, I am now very much in love.
You can read more of Steve’s thoughts on his Twitter feed @MagyarSteve