the real fa cup

Harry Potter And The Magic Of The FA Cup

Neil Cotton comes down from the lofty heights of Row Z to witness Horndean v Brockenhurst in the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup.

1.55pm on Saturday the 11th August and I’m on the road to Wembley. Well, one of the roads which eventually leads to Wembley; The A3(M) begins just past Portsmouth before it becomes the A3 and meanders on past Petersfield, Guildford, Chessington and New Malden. If you then join the A306 at Putney Heath, turn onto the A205 at Barnes, pick up A406 at Gunnersbury and finally take the A404 at Tokyington the road will deliver you to Wembley stadium – the spiritual home of the FA Cup final.

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But, today I’ll be turning off the A3(M) at Horndean a village on the northern tip of the Portsmouth conurbation which grew up along the old turn-pike road to the capital. Reading ‘The Real F.A Cup’ blog has inspired me to explore the earlier rounds of the cup and my destination is Five Heads Park where Horndean FC, ‘the Deans’ are playing host to Brockenhurst in the very first round of the cup, the Extra Preliminary Round.

Like the cup itself the clubs taking part in today’s contest boast long histories. Brockenhurst can claim 114 years of existence, whilst Horndean are currently in the midst of celebrating their 125th anniversary year. Quite rightly the club is proud of its history and in the club-house can be found a wall decorated with team photos stretching back over decades. Capturing all the changing fashions in hair styles and facial hair before turning into a grainy black and white the hundreds of faces looking out underline how many people have been involved in the club, and not just on, but also off the field. One such character particularly revered at the club was a Mrs Gladys Berry who ran the club for a number of years and was by all accounts such an instrumental figure that the club house bar has recently been named in her honour – women’s involvement in running football clubs did not it seems begin with Karren Brady.

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As part of their anniversary celebrations a Horndean side recently took on a team of ex-Portsmouth players led by the former Pompey goalkeeping legend, and one-time Horndean manager, Alan Knight. Both clubs have known tough times, but whilst Portsmouth – FA Cup winners in 2008 and runners-up in 2010 – continue to endure turmoil and uncertainty the future for Horndean looks quite good at this juncture; a recently completed £20 000 refurbishment of the club house (and rather nice it is too) is backed-up by a vision to play a central role for all in the local community, Club Director Ian Sheppard speaking ahead of the game underlined the clubs approach when he told the Portsmouth News “We want people to know that we are an inclusive club, not exclusive.” Positive stuff indeed.

Horndean also start today’s game as favourites playing one step above Brockenhurst in the Wessex Premier though according to the programme notes Brockenhurst have something of a cup pedigree defeating Kingstonian in the 2001-2 competition and embarking on a run in 2004-5 which saw them impressively reach the 3rd Qualifying Round – you have to wonder what sort of attention-frenzy the equivalent achievements in later rounds would garner but, like an ant lifting 50 times its body weight, the achievements in earlier rounds, no-matter how colossal, seem to escape our attention. One thing which doesn’t escape attention is the smell of cooking coming from ‘mother tuckers’ mobile catering unit just behind me. I follow my nose and order an egg and bacon bap along with a can of coke just before kick-off. It’s delicious. The sun is shining. It’s a perfect day for watching football.

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The first 20 minutes pass by as uneventfully as a lazy afternoon. Neither side produces anything much with the best early chance falling to Horndean who, attacking uphill, send in a swerving shot, drawing a good save from the Brockenhurst goalkeeper who athletically tips the ball over the bar. Gradually, like the gradient of the pitch, the balance of the game tilts towards Horndean who look increasingly dangerous as the half draws to a close. Their pressure is rewarded with a penalty following a good move up the right, involving a nice dummy from the tall Horndean centre-forward, which rattles the Brockenhurst defence. The penalty is duly dispatched into the bottom left corner to make it 1-0 to the home side.

Brockenhurst do manage to threaten Horndean’s goal a handful of times in the second half, but the game was effectively put beyond their reach around 60 minutes when a low shot escaped the dive of the Brockenhurst goalkeeper to make it 2-0. Brockenhurst almost get one back straight away after a defensive mix-up led to two Brockenhurst players being played onside, but blushes were spared as the first attempt was blocked and the second sent skyward from short-range.

Coming up to 80 minutes Horndean unleash their secret weapon. With a stylophone-like jingle the P.A cuts in to announce the entry of substitute forward “the wizard” Harry Potter. Has he made a switch from Quidditch – or is this another publicity stunt? Alas it is not the Harry Potter, or even Daniel Radcliffe, – else there would be more than a handful of spectators at the ground most of whom would be aged 12-15 and who would have queued through the night in fancy-dress.

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Having a name similar to (but not quite the same) as a long-running soap character I’m inclined to feel a little sorry for Harry. Harry is, according to the club website, 23 years old so when his parents decided on a name the J.K Rowling hadn’t even conceived of Harry Potter. Harry would have spent his early years in blissful ignorance of the writer bashing the keys on her old typewriter. Then in 1997 when Harry would have been around eight years old the first Harry Potter book was released before going on to becoming a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a lot to deal with for an eight year old kid having your whole identity suddenly overshadowed by a fictional boy-wizard. But is it all bad? After all without the name would Harry Potter even warrant a mention let alone being the focus of the title?

Apart from a testing cross just after coming on – and I apologise for this pun – Harry produced little in the way of magic. Comedy was the order of the finale as, having made a mess of the offside-trap once again, the Horndean defence stand with their hands in the air as lofted ball bounces over the beleaguered Horndean goalkeeper. A Brockenhurst player who can scarcely believe his luck is left with the job of scoring into an empty net. Sadly for Brockenhurst it comes just too late to inspire a comeback and the final whistle sounds shortly after. 2-1 to Horndean.

For Horndean the win nets them £1000 prize money and a place in the preliminary round. A little further along the road to Wembley.

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