Monday morning brought the draw for the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup with the winners progressing to the First Round Proper and the chance of drawing a league side with potential for a giant-killing. In what is the tie of the round, the part-timers from Hebburn Town, 18th in the Northern League Division Two, go to the International Stadium to face their neighbours, Gateshead, lying 5th in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
Hebburn’s ground may only be separated from Gateshead’s home by three and a half miles, but a massive 125 places are between the teams in the non-league pyramid. With Northern League sides rarely taking promotion to the Evo-Stik League, and Hebburn having only played seven league games this season – compared to their division leaders, Team Northumbria, who have played double that number – there is a false position about Hebburn’s place, as Radcliffe Borough found out on Saturday when Hebburn matched them and won by a scoreline of 4-2.
Reacting to the draw, one of Hebburn’s heroes at Radcliffe and a goalscorer on the day, Dean Nicholson said: “We’re all happy after Saturday and we have the belief that we can go anywhere and get a result”.
With players on the pitch who have Premier League experience, such as Jamie McClen, once of Newcastle United and scorer of an FA Cup goal against Peterborough United in 2002 and who will be returning to a former club, and Nicholson’s brother Stuart, who took to the pitch for West Bromwich Albion, mixed in with “some very good players who have huge non-league experience” then Hebburn will travel the short distance with hope.
There was talk from the Hebburn camp before the draw was made that they wanted one of the big boys in the draw such as Luton Town or Stockport County, and that they would have an away tie, but according to Nicholson there is no disappointment in drawing against their neighbours. “We wanted a top team and why not be pitted against a side that’s flying high. If [our Cup run] ends then what a way to go out” he added.
The reason for wanting the away draw came after the experience of travelling to the north-west on Friday night and “acting like a professional set-up” with a hotel and the team bonding experience that came with it. “There’s already talk of us staying together the night before the game and acting as professional as we can” said Nicholson, “And we’re definitely hoping for a big crowd. I’ve been receiving text messages all day and everyone is excited for this. We’ll have some fans there and many Gateshead fans will be expecting an easy game and their team going through. We’ll be looking to prove them wrong”.
Before Hebburn can prepare for Gateshead they have other concerns. On the evening of the draw they take on Team Northumbria and on Saturday they travel to Newcastle Benfield in the FA Vase. Nicholson explained “We will begin to prepare for Gateshead at the final whistle against Benfield. We’ve got a tough Vase game and a Northern League game to get through first, and we’re playing very good sides with promotion being our major focus this season, but once we’ve played those we will turn our preparations to Gateshead. Their [Gateshead] players are professional and will be training every day. As we’re part-time we will all have to take responsibility for our own preparation by making sure we’re relaxed before the game; that we’re eating and drinking the right things. I’m sure all of the lads will do this as we all want to stay in this competition”.
For Hebburn to have a chance of progressing they will need big performances on the day from each and every player wearing their blue and yellow shirt. But remember, FA Cup upsets aren’t just reserved for the ‘proper’ rounds when league clubs enter and Premier League sides fall. On Saturday 29 October there will be 11 men playing against 11 other men just by the banks of the River Tyne and by 5pm, whatever has happened, everyone at Hebburn Town can be proud of themselves for creating club history with their best ever FA Cup run.