This Saturday (September 27th), Grays Athletic will take to the field with their sights set on progression in the FA Cup.
The Ryman Premier Division club – currently sitting in ninth place – will take on Bury Town tonight (September 24th), but once the final whistle is blown, all eyes will be on the clash with Ryman Division One South side Hastings United at the weekend.
Founded in 1890 after Grays Juniors merged with Grays United, Athletic now play their games at Mill Field, Aveley FC’s ground. They have been ground-hopping since 2010, due to their New Recreation Ground being sold off to developers. Since then, they have pitched up at East Thurrock United’s Rookery Hill ground, as well as Rush Green Stadium – which they shared with West Ham United’s reserves – before arriving at Mill Field.
Grays were among the original members of the inaugural Conference South in 2004, after a 20-year stint in the Isthmian League. In their first season at the new level, they took the crown of champions, winning the FA Trophy to boot. The Gravelman nearly completed back-to-back promotions in the following campaign, but fell short despite a 15-game unbeaten run, losing out in the Play-Off Semi-Finals to Halifax Town. The FA Trophy was retained, however, with a 2-0 victory over Woking.
Mark Stimson left the club at the end of the 2005/06 season and his successor, Frank Gray, lasted just 14 games – a 1-0 home defeat to Bromley proving the final straw for the board. Micky Woodward, Jamie Stuart and Andy King also took charge in what was a tumultuous season for Grays, before Justin Edinburgh took the reins, steering the club to a 19th place finish, just avoiding relegation.
With the club sitting in 14th place in 2008, Edinburgh departed the club. After a few changes, Athletic resigned from the Conference in 2010. An attempt was made to gain entry back into the Isthmian League and, after first being accepted, the decision was reversed, forcing Grays to play in the Essex Senior League. Merely a week later, however, the decision was reversed again, allowing the club to play in the Ryman Division One North.
In their second season back at that level, Enfield Town defeated them in the Play-Offs, but they went one better the following campaign, winning the league with 102 points, losing just four games out of 42 in the process. An 105-year old Isthmian League record was smashed, too, with the club winning a whopping eighteen matches on the spin, from February 9th to April 27th.
Some big names have plied their trade at Grays – none more notable than the name of Gary Hooper. The Harlow-born striker begun his career with the Essex side, bagging 24 goals in 90 appearances, before moving on to Southend United, Scunthorpe United and, of course, Celtic.
The biggest name in the ranks these days is that of Glen Little. The former Burnley and Reading winger now operates on the wing for the Gravelman, having followed manager Jody Brown to Grays after he left Heybridge Swifts in 2014.
Other notable names to have played for Grays include Carl Leaburn (former Charlton striker), Danny Cadamarteri (formerly of Bradford) and Michael Kightly (previously at Wolves, now at Burnley).
As far as this season goes, results have been up and down for Jody Brown’s men. The first two games ended in defeat (0-2 v Billericay Town (a) and 0-2 v Margate (h)) before the ship was steadied with consecutive draws (1-1 v Leatherhead (h) and 1-1 v Witham Town (a)). Three wins in a row followed, over Hampton & Richmond (4-0 (a)), AFC Hornchurch (1-0 (h)) and Peacehaven & Telescombe (1-0 (h)), before a a 3-2 defeat at Lewes punctuated the run of victories. Normal service resumed at Harrow Borough on September 6th, as a Freddie Ladapo brace helped Grays to a 4-1 triumph.
A narrow 1-0 defeat of Dulwich Hamlet sent the Blues into their FA Cup tie with Harlow Town in good spirits and after a replay, it was to be Brown’s charges that would emerge victorious. A 1-0 loss at home to lowly Bognor Regis Town has darkened the mood ahead of this weekends tie, however.
The additions of Ben Sampayo and Joseph Zerafa have this week bolstered the Grays squad. Sampayo, a former Chelsea trainee, operates on the right-hand side of defence, whilst Zerafa, a Maltese international arriving from Birkirkara FC, pulls the strings in the middle of the park.
Athletic will look towards striker Jamie Guy to fire the side into the next round, whilst captain Kenny Beaney will attempt to rally his troops.
They will take on a Hastings United side reeling from the resignation of their manager, Terry White, after the clubs 3-0 home defeat to Tooting & Mitcham on Monday night.
White, who took the hotseat in January of this year, decided to tender his resignation after guiding the club to a second consecutive home defeat in the space of 48 hours, with the Tooting loss following on from a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Carshalton Athletic last Saturday.
Despite a six-match unbeaten run at the start of the season, in which it seemed to look as if Hastings would carry on the form that saw them reach the Play-Offs last year, the loss to Tooting, coupled with the ‘abject’ performance saw White leave the club. Nigel Kane, White’s assistant, will take charge of the FA Cup game with Grays this coming Saturday.
Speaking to me before the news of White’s resignation broke, Hastings United Programme Co-Editor and Hastings Online Times Sports Correspondent, Liam Willis, explained how his side would go into the tie confident of victory: ”I would expect us to go in to the game full of confidence. All of the players are aware of the prize of going in to the third round and are all aware what the side did a couple of years ago. I have no doubt that the two sides have been planning how they will go about it. Along with going in to the game full of confidence, I would expect the team to push high for the majority of the first half.’
Grays Athletic take on Hastings United in the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round this Saturday, September 27th, at Mill Field. Kick-off is at 3pm.
Grays Athletic expected line-up: Conor Gough, Aaron Best-Riley, Jey Siva, Mark Bentley, Manny Parry, Jay Leader, Glen Little, Kenny Beaney (c), Jamie Guy, Chris Bryan, Joao Carlos.
Hastings United expected line-up: Josh Pelling, Richard Rose, Sean Ray, Jahmahl King, Sam Cruttwell, Taser Hassan, Tim Olorunda, Dave Cook, Ronnie Dolan, Frankie Sawyer, Ade Olorunda, Subs: Sam Adams, Bright Temba, Jordan Johnson, Lekan Bankole, Bryce Masters.
Check out the full FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/
Find out how it finished between Grays Athletic and Hastings United HERE.