the real fa cup

50 Shades Of Orange

Erith Town 2-4 Horsham YMCA
FA Cup Preliminary Round, 30th August 2015

There’s something smugly satisfying about being able to walk from home to a game.  In the case of the infamous Danny Last and Cynical Dave walking to a game means they will travel as far afield as Crawley from their Hove mansions. For me, a normal 40-something who has his own arse-shaped dent in the sofa, 30 minutes is far enough to require access to my emergency pint. So when not one, but three clubs within my comfort zone were drawn at home in the Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup I could potentially end the weekend losing more calories than I could consume. Nurse!

But fear not, I wasn’t going to waste away. Friday night’s action saw Seven Acres & Sidcup from step 6 narrowly lose to Ryman South Sittingbourne, having upped sticks from down the road to Thamesmead Town (not in the Top 5,000 list of London’s best walks). With the two other clubs, Cray Valley Paper Mill and Erith Town, both of the South Eastern Counties League sharing the Badger’s Mount ground, tucked neatly behind the Yorkshire Grey roundabout on the South Circular, one would be pushed onto Sunday. No guessing for who that would be when the landlords, Cray Valley drew a plum tie against moneybags Hastings United.

“It should be Badger’s Set not Mount” Kids today are far too quick to try and correct us adults as I explained where I was off to over “brunch”. Littlest Fuller had a point but I was far too hungover after over indulging at the Meantime Brewfest to argue. Brunch in our household happens when The Current Mrs Fuller and I are in a Mexican stand off as to who will get out of bed to make a cup of tea, whilst the kids who are hungry, help themselves to ice cream. So when we finally get up its really lunch time. I was offered a lift but stuck to my guns that I’d walk. Heck, I could have even cycled but that would have been excessive.

The club was heaving when I arrived, not due to an influx of Groundhoppers, although there were a fair few of them too clutching their plastic programme wallets and discussing the merits of Britain’s smallest Wetherspoons (The Banker’s Draft up the road in Eltham apparently). There was a wedding reception on.  South East London’s finest with 50 shades of orange, had taken over the club. I would imagine when they booked that they had no idea they’d be sharing their big days with a bunch of Dockers and Christians.

With a home tie against Burgess Hill Town at stake for the winners as well as £1,925 this is the round that step 5 clubs, like Erith Town and Horsham YMCA will have targeted to get beyond. Most Non-League clubs will build in the expectation to win a minimum of two games in the competition each season. Horsham would have been favourites at kick off, coming into the game sharing a five-way lead in the Southern Combination League and still unbeaten, whilst Erith had two wins from three games.

With every visit to The Badger’s (as it shall be known for the sake of family relations) you can see how landlords Cray Valley PM are slowly building for the future. Whilst the facilities for spectators are modest, with one covered terrace and a small stand, the modern clubhouse is a 7 day a week affair, as the out of tune wedding singer would attest to. Erith’s arrival on the scene gives them additional funds to make their dream of Ryman League football happen. The Dockers of Erith used to have their own stadium, in Erith, called, bizarrely, The Erith Stadium. A relatively impressive multi-use facility owned by the council. And therein lay the issue. The club used to turn up to find grass unmowed, goal posts absent and huge holes in the pitch from shot put competitions.

Happier times indeed here and within touching distance of welcoming The Hillians. All that stood between them and a potential £3k in prize money was the Young Man’s Christian Association of Horsham. Not that you’d have known that’s who they were judging by the language from their bench during the game, which included an impressive three-hyphenated swear word at the linesman at one point.

And so to the action. First thirty minutes it was all square with little to write home about. Then Horsham took the lead when midfielder Dave Brown struck from close range. Erith’s response took ten minutes when Tom Garrick beat the offside trap, dance round the keeper and slotted home. Horsham should have gone in at half-time in front but for Sullivan’s powerful goal-bound shot hitting an Erith player on the line squarely on the chest, knocking him into the net in the process.

Ten minutes into the second half Horsham took the lead from one of the many free kicks awarded on the edge of the box, Dan Evans’ strike clearing the wall and the keeper. Number three arrived soon after, centre-back Matt Crane headed home from a free-kick then Brown made the tie safe with his second and Horsham YMCA’s fourth. Despite a late Garrick goal for the Dockers, poor discipline in the second half in conceding so many free-kicks had been their undoing.

With rain looming overhead and an approaching bus that runs to the end of my road it was just too tempting. Of course I hopped off one step early and stepped up the pace so I arrived home all of a fluster.  My reward for my healthy afternoon, a beer or two “because I’d earned it”. Who doesn’t love the FA Cup?

Words & Pictures: Stuart Fuller at The Ball Is Round@theballisround

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