FA Cup blog: Long road to Wembley starts . . . in Cornwall!
PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 August 2019
Football supporters up and down the country will all have their favourite FA Cup memories, no matter which club they cheer.
No fewer than 736 clubs were accepted into the most prestigious knockout competition in the world this season, with the long road to Wembley starting for a handful of them last Friday (August 9).
I've been fortunate enough, as a supporter, to see my team win finals at Wembley and Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, but I have also witnessed some great drama in the very early rounds over the past three decades and more.
It started at Mayesbrook Park in the early 1980s, when I was taken to see Barking for the first time - my dad having made a handful of appearances for them as a teenager in the late 1960s.
And after getting my first job in journalism in the mid-1990s, I have been able to report on the fortunes of various local clubs across east London in those early rounds, including Hornchurch's memorable run to the second round proper, when they lost to Brian Little's Tranmere Rovers, after beating Darlington at Bridge Avenue in the previous round..
Now, with editorial responsibility for more than 30 weekly newspapers across London, Kent, Hertfordshire and the South West, I have the chance this season to cast the net much wider in the hope of following a different club of ours in each of the 13 rounds up to the final.
And so, my own personal Road to Wembley in 2019/20 began in the extra preliminary round in Cornwall, where Toolstation Western League Premier Division outfit Clevedon Town - as covered by the North Somerset Times - were taking on Saltash United, members of the Kitchen Kit South West Peninsular League Premier and nicknamed 'The Ashes'.
After a wet and windy drive down the M5 and A38, the sun came out as I crossed the Tamar Bridge and took the first turn onto the high street of Saltash.
Having parked up in the leisure centre car park next door to the ground, another heavy downpour greeted the Clevedon Town coach as it pulled in a few minutes behind me.
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But I received a warm welcome from the gents on the gate, who had been 'warned' to expect me by the club secretary following my midweek request for a press pass, and surveyed a decent-looking playing surface for the host club's first outing on their own turf this season.
What developed was a pretty committed cup tie, in difficult conditions due to the swirling wind and showers it has to be said, and a late win for the Seasiders.
Archie Ferris had an early shot cleared off the line, but the Ashes - great nickname for Saltash during this particular summer! - then enjoyed the better of things before the break, without finding a way through as they were also denied by a goalline clearance.
One of the biggest cheers in the second half, as the scoreline remained blank, came when Clevedon's Glen Hayer -played in the CONIFA World Cup for Panjab - hammered the ball clear out of the ground, off the roof of a surrounding townhouse and into its back garden.
Apparently the home fans in front of me had never seen that happen before.
The deadlock was finally broken when the white-booted George King, who looks a player, smacked a left-footed shot home from distance, just as I was belatedly scribbling down a note about a missed substitution.
Clevedon's joy was shortlived as Saltash levelled less than two minutes later with a fine free-kick from Chris Mechanick and the hosts were inches away from taking the lead when Jason Vincent's header dropped just past the far post.
But the visitors won it six minutes from time when Lucas Vowles, who worked tirelessly all game, cut in from the left and sent a low shot into the bottom corner, although they had a very late escape when Tom Creed apparently denied Robin Trott at close range as he attempted to bundle home an inswinging free-kick.
The word from the terraces was the ball had crossed the line - but without VAR to check, Clevedon got the benefit of the doubt from the officials, pocketing the £2,250 prize money and earning a home tie with local rivals Bristol Manor Farm in the next round on August 24.
I'll be keeping an eye to see how they get on, but now face the tricky choice of which game to pick next, with up to 20 options available.