We’ve made it.
On Saturday August 16th, 368 teams started on the Road To Wembley, all with the same hope – reaching the 2015 FA Cup Final.
My journey started with Spartan South Midlands Division One side Baldock Town, who made light work of Hatfield Town in the Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round, winning 3-0. Unfortunately for Baldock, their journey ended in the next round, courtesy of a 3-0 home defeat to Ryman League Division One North outfit, Harlow Town. The Hawks could not get past Grays Athletic in the First Qualifying Round, eventually losing 4-2 at home in a replay, but Grays’ passage to the big time only lasted two rounds, as after defeating Hastings United 1-0, they met Bromley in the Third Qualifying Round, losing 5-0 after a replay at The Fortress Stadium.
After their narrow 2-1 victory over Evesham United in the Fourth Qualifying Round, the Ravens have joined 79 other clubs in the First Round Proper. Now just two rounds from a possible tie with a Premier League club, things are getting serious.
Remarkably, out of those 79 other clubs, Mark Goldberg’s men have been paired with neighbours Dartford. In a draw that could have seen Bromley travel to the extremes of the round such as Blyth Spartans, AFC Fylde or Exeter City, just 15 miles separate the two Kent clubs, in what is sure to be a mouth-watering derby.
How did each club react to the draw? Was there a feeling of sadness, considering that much more lucrative ties such as Coventry, AFC Wimbledon and Sheffield United were available, or was there a feeling of joy, with the prospect of a derby on the horizon – and a real chance of making Round Two?
Matt Hall, PA Announcer at Hayes Lane and co-presenter of the Bromley FC Podcast, told me of his ‘great shock’ as the two were pulled out of the velvet bag (I’ll go with that – it sounds better than the ‘bowl thing’, doesn’t it?) together: ”The draw came as a great shock to me and many others, as you can probably imagine! I’m sure the fans of Dartford were equally surprised. It’s not one we expected, and to be paired with one’s local rivals when there are so many possibilities is just astonishing. My immediate reaction was disappointment, I’ll admit that. I’ve said in the past how I longed for a big home draw, but it wasn’t until later that I realised what this tie could mean. It’s a winnable game, let’s be honest, and one which should attract a large crowd. Let’s hope we can seize the opportunity and make it through to the Second Round.”
David Cooke, the other co-presenter of the Bromley FC Podcast, added: ”First off I was a bit disappointed we did not get a bigger team, however when the draw sunk in, I thought that it’s a winnable game and we have a great chance to make the Second Round.”
Furthermore, Tim Hutton, Bromley’s media man, weighed up the pros and cons of the draw: ”The immediate reaction to the draw was a real mixed bag. People were disappointed to not get a money spinner against a Football League side but at the same time see it as an extremely winnable game. I think on reflection it will still be a large crowd and the game is a real chance to progress to the Second Round for the first time since 1945.”
Rob Swaine, Bromley FC captain, gave me his thoughts on the draw: ”In total honesty I was a little disappointed with the draw at first. But after the dust settled, I’ve looked at it positively – it’s a home match and for me I think it’s certainly a winnable game. Dartford are a very good side and are obviously in the league above, but we are also a strong team and have a lot of experience in the side. It will no doubt be a close match but hopefully we can come out on top and progress even further.”
From a Dartford point of view, co-chairman David Skinner spoke of his disappointment at the draw: ”We are slightly disappointed not to have drawn a league club, but the next best thing is a home game against lower opposition. After that comes a local game against a team from a lower division, so we are not that far away from a good draw. We have met Bromley on a few occasions recently and they have always been quite tight affairs, so I don’t expect this one to be any different. It’s local, so I expect a good following of Darts supporters to make the relatively short journey to cheer us on – this should ensure a good crowd and noisy encounter.”
As stated above, Bromley are here courtesy of a tight 2-1 victory over Evesham United on October 25th. A brace from Danny Waldren sent the Ravens into Round One for the fifth time in eight years – and it was a game that the Bromley boys were extremely glad to get through.
Hutton: ”It was a proper FA Cup tie. You could tell from the first minute that both sides were really up for it and Evesham felt they had nothing to lose. Taking the lead early ticked the box for us and was exactly what we’d have wanted before the game, but United came straight back at us and deserved their goal. Our goalkeeper, Seb Brown, was man of the match, which tells you a lot about the game, but we had our chances ourselves and were delighted to get through. It must be said how welcoming everyone at Evesham was, before and after the game, with many congratulating us in the bar and wishing a good draw for us.”
Hall: ”It was certainly a tight affair – they worked their socks off for the entire match. I think they responded very well to our early goal and most certainly deserved their equaliser. All in all, they worked our goalkeeper a lot and I think a draw would have been a fair reflection on the game, although the quality in depth that we have saw us through in the end.” Cooke added: ”It was a hard game, Evesham’s support and home advantage really spurred them on. However despite being a close game we made our chances count.”
Captain Swaine spoke from the players’ point of view about how hard the game was: ”It was always going to be hard. We were playing a team two leagues below and with nothing to lose, away from home and in very windy conditions. It was a battle and in absolute truth I think a draw would have probably been a fair result. We missed a few great chances but Seb did make a couple of good saves. We defended well, though. Ultimately, it did feel great to progress through. I thought Evesham gave a good account of themselves and I wish them luck for the rest of their season.”
Having made the First Round four times before in the last decade, the novelty of going through the qualifying rounds and making the big time must be wearing off by now, surely? Wrong.
”For me personally? The FA Cup means a lot” said Hall. ”It’s not only a chance to put our name out there, but to have the honour of participating in one of the world’s most celebrated cup competitions is very special. I’d have loved a home draw against a big club and the opportunity to showcase our lovely stadium on TV, but who knows just what the future holds? Of course, the prize money is a big asset. The chance to have our name put out there as well as being 606 (5 live’s) team of the round is absolutely brilliant. Ashley Reading, our co-chairman has already been interviewed by 5 Live and BBC London news, in which we featured live on BBC 1 minutes before the First Round draw.”
”For me it is great, I love the excitement that anything can happen” added Cooke. ”We have a great chance of making Round Two – if we do then who knows what we can achieve. For Bromley, it is possible that we can get a lot more people down to the lane on match day to show support for their local club, which could mean them coming back for in the future.”
”It’s massive for myself – it’s the first time I’ve got to the First Round so it’s special for me” said Swaine. ”I just hope we can make the Second Round. It’s huge for the club, too, both for publicity and also financially. Just as importantly, it’s great for the fans. Our fans are brilliant – we have a good following at home and also away from home – you can tell it means a lot to them, so it’s nice to be able to give them something back!”
With a team consisting of teachers, plumbers, removal men, personal trainers and even a taxi driver, Bromley will be looking to make Round Two for the first time since 1945. The return of Rob Swaine will act as a massive boost for all concerned – the captain made his first appearance for months against Evesham after suffering a shoulder ligament injury.
The skipper tells me all about his injury and subsequent recovery: ”I ruptured the ligaments in my shoulder after falling directly on it. My mum, who is a physio, said straight away it would be an absolute minimum of 6 weeks out, but probably likely to be 9 or more. Luckily, with her help (and also Sean, our physio) I was able to play against Evesham, which was 7 weeks after picking up the injury. I was worried my fitness levels may have suffered, but I use a lot of Herbalife products which give my body everything it needs in terms of nutrition, energy and recovery after work outs.”
Mark Goldberg is the man charged with leading Bromley in their attempt to get out of the Conference South this season and the ex Crystal Palace man is held in high regards among the Bromley faithful. Goldberg is incredibly knowledgeable about the club and is the best man to lead the charge.
”It is most certainly comforting to have someone who cares so passionately about the club (and has done for many years) at the helm – his tireless work (along with coaching and behind the scenes staff) has played such an important part in the development of the club. He has made so much happen for this club and I know he’ll continue to do so.’
‘I have total and utter respect for Mark and he’s someone I have a lot of time for. Ever since I was a supporter here, before I knew him, I felt the same way. Having the privilege of being involved with the club like I am now has meant I’ve got to know Mark a little better and that’s something I’m very grateful for. He’s a top gentleman and will always have the club’s interests at heart – it’s an absolute pleasure to know him.” said Hall.
Tim and David continued to sing the praises of Goldberg, by adding: ”Mark’s had a great spell in charge of the club, having led us to our highest ever finish in our history last season. He’s now in what I believe is his third spell in charge of the club and has also had a great FA Cup track record with us. He’s done a great job as a manager and is a really nice guy to work with.”
”I love Mark – he is a great manager and loved very much by all at the club. He will always say hello and talk to me when I see him – I don’t believe many other managers would do that.”
Having met Gillingham in 2006, Colchester United in 2009, Leyton Orient in 2011 and Fleetwood Town in 2012, is the visit of Dartford perhaps their best chance to make the Second Round of the FA Cup?
”The FA Cup has always been a great competition for us with so many great memories. The trips to Football League sides have been great, but as you say, this is the best chance we’ve had of reaching the Second Round. It’s been a long time since we last did it, so the players will know how huge this game is for the club. Dartford aren’t in great form at the moment so it really is a massive opportunity” said Hutton.
Hall added: ”Absolutely. No disrespect to Dartford, but this is our best chance to get through to the Second Round – I’m sure they will be thinking along the same lines! The teams you’ve listed are all established league clubs and although anything can happen in the FA Cup, beating one of them is unlikely. But, I know that if we’re at the top of our game when we play Dartford, we’re always going to be in with more than a chance.’
‘I know Mark and the lads are looking forward to the match and I’m sure they’ll prepare well for it. It’d be a massive moment in this club’s history if we were to get to the Second Round. Not only that, but it’d mean remaining as 5 live’s team of the competition – the only problem being that their previous teams have all been knocked out straight after being chosen! We need to buck that trend.”
Bromley v Dartford is one of six all non-league ties in this seasons FA Cup First Round Draw – that means at least a half dozen sides outside the Football League will be just one step from a possible trip to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or Anfield. The beauty of the FA Cup allows these kinds of ties to happen. That’s why it’s the best competition in the world.
Who’ll come out on top in this Kent derby? ”2-1 Bromley” says Cooke, when asked for a score prediction. ”3-0 Bromley – very optimistic, I know!” added Hutton, while Matt Hall opts for ”a sneaky 1-0 to Bromley, with the goal coming midway through the second half, as well as hopefully a big crowd on the day. Bring it on!”
Bring it on, indeed. The First Round of the FA Cup is upon us. Let’s get it on.
Bromley take on Dartford at the Fortress Stadium in the FA Cup First Round on Saturday October 8th. Kick-Off is at 3pm.
Tickets are available prior to the game – head on down to the stadium or call 0208 460 5921 to purchase them. Adults are £12, Concessions £6, Students (with valid I.D.) are £5, whilst Under 16’s can enter for free.
A replay, if needed, will take place at Princes Park, the home of Dartford FC, on Tuesday 18th November, with kick-off at 7:45pm.
Highlights of Bromley’s 2-1 win over Evesham United can be found HERE.
Expected Bromley FC line-up: Seb Brown, Paul Rodgers, Joe Anderson, Ali Fuseini, Rob Swaine (C), Callum McNaughton, Pierre Joseph-Dubois, Reece Prestedge, Jordan Robertson, Moses Ademola, Louis Dennis. Subs: Jack Holland, Adam Birchall, Mitchell Pinnock, Damian Scannell, Duncan Culley.
Expected Dartford FC line-up: Jason Brown, Nathan Collier, Tom Bender, Rory McAuley, Mat Mitchell-King, Elliot Bradbrook (C), Peter Sweeney, Ryan Hayes, Luke Daley, Harry Crawford, Andy Pugh. Subs: Deren Ibrahim, Max Cornhill, Ebrima Adams, Ronnie Vint, Danny Harris, Lee Noble, Charlie Phillips.
Find out how Dartford got on in the Second Round Proper HERE.
(With thanks to Steve Kennedy for the Dartford line-up)
Check out the rest of the FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/.