I’ll get it out the way straight away. Whitley Bay are still in the cup, beating Congleton Town 2-1 last weekend at Hillheads. A money-spinning tie against National League North side Chorley, three tiers higher, awaits. Haway the Bay!
Actually, in many ways, it is Chorley who have the more interesting story here, through their manager. Fans of turn of the millennium Premier League will know all about Matt Jansen. In the 2001/02 Premier League, he was the top scoring English player, slamming them in for Blackburn Rovers. A call up to the 2002 World Cup squad was surely inevitable.
To the shock of the press, his friends, and particularly Jansen himself, he was overlooked by Sven-Goran Eriksson in favour of defensive cover in Martin Keown, who didn’t play a minute in the tournament. So instead of flying to the Far East, Jansen instead took a summer holiday in Italy with friends.
In Italy, he was involved in a horrific moped crash, which broke both his legs and required the removal of his spleen. He missed almost all the following season, and never recovered his form. He was released by Blackburn, dropped through the leagues and even took a three year break from football. It’s good to see him back as player-manager of Chorley, aged 37. If Whitley Bay do lose to anyone, I won’t mind it being his team.
Back in the Cup, we saw the second qualifying round, with three sides from the tenth tier, the low cut off point for entrants, still fighting the good fight. All succumbed at this stage, but none without doing themselves proud, giving their players and supporters some fine memories, and earning their clubs enough money to finally finance the repainting of the groundsman’s shed.
Both Hook Norton and Bodmin Town had home fixtures against sides ranked four levels higher, Weston-super-Mare and Bath City respectively. The equivalent of National League sides hosting a Premier League outfit, and for the residents of Hook Norton and Bodmin, just as big a deal. Both sides played well – for Hook Norton, in front of an all time record crowd of 533 – but both suffered the same fate, 1-2 reverses.
The phoenix club Hinckley were the other tenth tier team taking on a titanic tussle with trepidation. Truly. They lost 5-2 to a non-league side with real FA Cup pedigree, Chasetown. This Northern Premier League Division One South (confusing name) side remain the lowest ranked side ever to make the third round.
They became the first eighth tier side to make it to the iconic stage, beating League One Port Vale 1-0 in a second round replay, before succumbing to Cardiff City 3-1, with Cardiff making the final that season as a Championship team.
Can Chasetown match their historic run this year? Will another team beat them to it? Perhaps Coleshill Town, Sporting Khalsa or Spalding United? Maybe Hartley Wintney, Hoddesdon Town, or Blackfield & Langley? The beauty is, of course, is that it could be none of them – or all of them. We simply do not know.