After their narrow 1-0 victory over Hastings on September 27th, Ryman Premier Division side Grays Athletic sit just 180 minutes from the First Round of the FA Cup, the oldest competition in the world – the best one, too.
Standing between them and the Fourth and final Qualifying Round are Conference South outfit Bromley FC. But, with home advantage, the Blues will feel confident of getting the result needed for progression.
The Lillywhites are one of the highest-ranked teams in the competition at this stage, currently occupying 5th position in the sixth tier and are a strong side. After their 5-1 win in the last round over Uxbridge, Mark Goldberg’s men will be looking to avoid slipping on the proverbial banana skin in Grays.
Glyn Jarvis, Life President and Assistant Programme Editor at Mill Field, responded with caution when asked about his sides prospects of advancement – is he confident? ”Not really! Conference South is a big step up from the Ryman League – just look at how Wealdstone are struggling at the moment after their promotion last season. Having said that, Cup football is ‘random chance’ and if we compete all over the pitch, I think we have players who could cause problems for Bromley. Eight years ago they came to us in a 4th Qualifying Round game when we were in the Conference and they were the underdogs from the Ryman Premier. They won 2-1 and our manager at the time was unceremoniously sacked after the game!”
As previously alluded to, Athletic are in the Third Qualifying Round courtesy of a single goal victory over Ryman Division One South side Hastings United – a game that Jarvis felt should have been a draw: ”It was a tight game. We started and finished well, but Hastings gave a very good account of themselves, especially as they parted company with their manager a few days before the game and they play a division below us in Ryman Division One South.’
”Cup games are one-off affairs and a draw probably would have been a fair result. I would like to think that our superior fitness carried us through and had we needed a replay, I feel we would have come through eventually.”
The Grays squad is packed full of names, but one star man will be missing this Saturday – Glen Little. The former Reading and Burnley winger will miss a few weeks of action after picking up a suspected broken toe, but that still didn’t stop Mr Jarvis singing the praises of the wing wizard.
”He is probably the best player I’ve ever seen in a Grays shirt – and I’ve been a supporter since 1958 and must have seen us in over 2,500 games! He is 38 now, but still displays a fantastic appetite for the game. It’s a shame he sustained his injury in our 1-0 win over Bury Town on 24 September as we will miss his silky skills, passing ability and vision on a football pitch.”
The signing of Little came about due to his solid friendship with Blues manager, Jody Brown. A resident of Buckhurst Hill, the winger moved to Brown’s former club, Heybridge Swifts from Wealdstone and then followed the boss on to Essex and Grays Athletic.
Other names in the hosts’ squad include Leroy Griffiths, a former QPR front-man, most known for scoring in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea, and Mark Bentley, who played 175 times for Gillingham over a five-year spell, sealing the runner-up trophy in the Player of the Year category in the process.
Hotshot Freddie Ladapo, on loan from Kidderminster Harriers, will look to act as Grays’ main goal threat in their attempt to overcome Bromley – the winger has netted five goals so far this season, including the last-gasp strike against Hastings in the previous round.
As is so common at Ryman League level, the vast majority of the Gravelmen’s players are part-timers and have in the past included postmen, teachers, builders and accountants, but as far as the current crop goes, Jarvis is still getting to grips with who’s who – ”Having appointed a new manager in pre-season, we have 17 new players in our 22 man squad. In terms of the jobs they do, I’m still working out which player is which, so I haven’t got round yet to finding out what they do for a living!”
In addition to new recruits Ben Sampayo and Joseph Zerafa, Grays have bolstered their ranks further this week with two more signings. Aaron Wickham, a young winger, has re-signed for the club on a dual registration deal with Banbury FC, whilst goalkeeper Lamar Johnson is back at Grays following the end of a 9-month ban from all football.
After the FA ruled Johnson to be in breach of Rule E3, stating he was in or around the tunnel area after the end of the fixture and exhibited violent conduct and/or threatening behaviour, the ‘keeper was banned for a calendar year, which was reduced to nine months on appeal. After the completion of the suspension, Johnson is back at Mill Field and determined to push Conor Gough all the way for the number one jersey.
So, what of the Ryman League? Whilst the Cup will provide a welcome distraction from league activities for both teams, the bread and butter of the league remains the priority amongst the Athletic camp this season. Speaking on the standard of the Premier League, Jarvis said: ”Well it’s not the Conference! 10 years ago, we were spoilt on success after we won Conference South at a canter in 2004/05 and made the play off semi-final in our first season at Conference National level in 2005/06. We also won two F.A. Trophy finals in 2005 and 2006.’
‘We then fell on some hard times and lost our ground to development in 2010, so we have been ground-sharing since then. There are plans to move to a new stadium soon, but in the meantime, we have to cut our cloth. We were placed in Ryman Division One North after we lost our ground, but were promoted as champions in 2013 and are in our second season in the Ryman Premier for the first time in since 2003. It’s a competitive league with some big-spending teams, most notably Margate and Maidstone. The football is fast and furious, but I enjoy the spectacle. The level below, which we won in 2012/13, was more ‘thud and blunder’, so the Ryman Premier is a better footballing experience.”
The FA Cup, meanwhile, allows teams like Grays to dream big – and there is no bigger than Glyn’s dream tie. ”Sorry, not very original, but it has to be an away tie at Old Trafford in the Third Round!”
”My son is a Manchester United supporter and is one of those who may have been to Manchester once in his life, so he would enjoy the trip! The financial rewards from such a game would be enough to set us up for years to come and as we are looking to move into a new ground, the money would be very useful indeed. Mind you, to get there we would have to win in the Third and Fourth Qualifying Rounds, as well as Rounds One and Two Proper. It has been done before as Exeter and Crawley have found in recent years, but that sort of ‘random chance’ is very, very rare.”
It’s the FA Cup, Glyn – you never know!
When asked about the realistic aim in league and cup this season, Jarvis added: ”Looking at our opponents, the target for the FA Cup is the Third Qualifying Round! A few clubs at our level get lucky with the draw, or are good enough on the day to get through the qualifying rounds and reach the competition proper. It would be good to reach the Second Round again as we did when we appeared on Sky TV in 2005, but lost to Mansfield after we had a man sent off very controversially early in the game. They went on to play Newcastle in the Third Round and only lost 1-0, but made a fortune out of their share of the gate. That’s what FA Cup dreams are made of!’
‘As far as the League is concerned, we’re only in our second season at this level. After finishing a creditable 14th last season, it would be nice to improve on that and I’m sure the club have ambitions to get up among the top six, or even five, which would put us in play-off contention.”
The Blues bagged £4,500 from defeating Hastings in the Second Qualifying Round, and Glyn told me of the need for pay-packets like that for clubs like Grays Athletic: ”We’re without our own ground, so we miss out on so many fundraising opportunities such as bar takings, private pitch bookings and hall lettings, so the FA’s Prize Money is a great bonus. It will help towards general running costs, like match officials, after match food for our players and our visitors, as well as travel costs for away games. These sorts of costs, and many others, are often met through the kind generosity of a number of our loyal band of supporters.”
Meanwhile, the view from the opposition comes from Tim Hutton. The Bromley man spoke to me of his desire to see the Lillywhites do well in the Cup and also talked about the need for his side to treat the Grays tie like any other game: ”I’d imagine we’d treat this game like any other, as the FA Cup has always been an important competition to the club. We were beaten at this stage last season by Heybridge Swifts, so I’m sure those that were in the squad last year will remember that, as well as reminding our newer signings.’
”We’ve had some great memories in the cup, reaching the first round on a number of occasions and taking on Gillingham, Colchester United, Leyton Orient and Fleetwood. One of our best memories was as a Ryman Premier Division side when we beat Grays Athletic – then a very strong Conference side – 2-1 at their old ground the New Rec in the 2006 FA Cup run, so Saturday’s game brings back a lot of great memories for supporters and manager Mark Goldberg, who was in charge that day. We seem to have played a lot better away from home this season and are unbeaten, so we’ll be sure to guard against any complacency and aim for a place in the Fourth Qualifying Round.’
‘We have no game this Saturday (October 4th) so it’ll give the players a bit of a break.”
Grays Athletic take on Bromley FC in the FA Cup Third Qualifying Round on Saturday 11th October. Kick-Off is at 3pm.
The game will take place at Mill Field, Aveley FC. Ticket prices are £10 adults & £6 OAP’s.
Grays Athletic expected line-up: Conor Gough, Aaron Best-Riley, Jay Siva, Mark Bentley, Manny Parry, Jay Leader, Jordan Wilson, Kenny Beaney, Jamie Guy, Chris Bryan, Freddie Ladapo. Subs: D. Dumaka, J. Carlos, J. Glowacki, J, Zefara, L. Dark, B. Sampayo.
Bromley expected line-up: Seb Brown, Paul Rodgers, Joe Anderson, Ali Fuseini, Jack Holland, Adam Bailey-Dennis, Louis Dennis, Danny Waldren, Duncan Culley, Jordan Robertson, Moses Ademola.
Check out the full FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/
Article featured on Grays Athletic’s website: http://www.graysathletic.co.uk/news/mark-litchfields-blog-fa-cup-v-bromley-1307629.html
Find out how it finished between Grays Athletic and Bromley HERE.