the real fa cup

No Future Islands

Guernsey 1-2 Phoenix Sports
FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay Wednesday 2nd September 2015

“We’re all going on a European tour, a European tour, a European tour”. A few of the Rooks fans were getting a tad carried away at the news that Lewes would be playing Guernsey in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.  Who wouldn’t want a trip overseas to watch your team play? The sun, the sand, the sea.  One dark cloud?  They had to beat Phoenix Sports first.  As luck (and it genuinely was luck from our end anyway) would have it, if the first game between the two Ryman League sides was drawn, they would replay at The Dripping Pan.  Why? I hear you ask.  Well, here is where the fun starts.

Guernsey aren’t allowed to play any replays on the island because that would mean a midweek trip that could be subject to travel problems.  So whilst “away” teams aren’t expected to travel to the island, the islanders are expected to travel to the mainland … at their own cost.  Guernsey are still awaiting their first home FA Cup game after being drawn away again, so the news that if they beat Phoenix Sports, they would finally get to make their island debut, was another angle to this game.

After trips to Peacehaven & Telscombe and Hythe Town in the space of a few days, the team arrived back at Gatwick for the game against Phoenix.  With seconds left it looked like we would get our European Football Weekend until Yacine Gnahore equalised. Guernsey would be heading back to Gatwick Airport once again, this time heading down to The Pan.

So that’s why we were watching the rainbow arch over The Dripping Pan on Wednesday night.  It was very strange being in the ground, yet being a guest of another team. Without official duties bar the odd announcement on the microphone I could enjoy the game, choosing one of our Beach Huts as my vantage point with a pint of Harvey’s and a sausage, mash and baked bean pie.

After two minutes the free-scoring Guernsey centre-forward Ross Allen had a golden chance, shooting straight at the Phoenix keeper after a flowing passing move.  Big Deaksy almost had one foot on that plane already. Two minutes later Phoenix opened the scoring when Gnahore turned the ball in from close range after a decent counter-attack.  Before anyone had an opportunity to draw their mind’s eye away from St Peter’s Port it was two-nil when Freeman scored.  Seven minutes were on the clock. The small band of Lewes fans standing on the Philcox Terrace were in tears.  Any thoughts of a trip to the land of Le Tissier were rapidly disappearing.

The small band of Phoenix Sports fans and officials smiled knowingly.  They came with a game plan, and had executed it perfectly.  Guernsey hadn’t known what had hit them.

The Guernsey team had the privilege of having their games screened live back home.  Technically, another first for the Dripping Pan and a God-send in the second half when I had a second pair of eyes on the dugouts to show the substitutions to announce – well most of the time when I was too busy chatting with the rest of the Lewes Football Group, drawing diagrams on every available surface on how either team potentially lined up and executed every possible set piece or counter attack.

With fifteen minutes to go the Guernsey pressure finally paid off when Dominic Heaume scored from close range.  If I was a betting man I’d had put the kids pocket money on them scoring again, especially when their centre-back rock Scott Whibley was sent off for a second bookable offence with ten minutes to play.  But I can’t and they didn’t.  Phoenix had weathered the storm and would now host The Rooks.

Now the silver lining for me is that Phoenix Sports is actually 15 minutes down the road for me.  Of course I would have liked to make the trip to Guernsey and whilst there is still pots of magic in the FA Cup, Phoenix Sports earned the right to host Lewes this weekend because they executed their game plan perfectly, riding their luck at times for sure. That’s the magic of the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup. There’s always next year where there wouldn’t only be Guernsey but the possibility of a hop across to the Isle of Wight.  That counts as playing abroad, right?

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

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