Sussex in the FA Cup: It's not just a wasps' net causing a Cup buzz in Sussex
Less than a fortnight after 382 clubs up and down the country did battle in the FA Cup's extra preliminary round, it's time for the preliminary round - and once again there is plenty of Sussex and SCFL interest.
For 24 Southern Combination Football League clubs there were moments of high drama, ecstasy, disappointment and a tussle with a wasps' nest in that first stage.
In the end 12 of our local teams made it through to join Sussex's seven Isthmian South East clubs in this weekend's preliminary round. Not only will they be eyeing up a coveted spot in the first qualifying round, but also a tasty £1444 in prize money.
Alford had the easiest of passages when putting nine past Shoreham. They joined Pagham, Langley, Broadbridge Heath and Newhaven by making full use of home soil to prevail. It turned into a feast of away wins as seven of our teams roared to victory on the road. Crawley Down Gatwick beat Crowborough, Little Common beat Uckfield, Eastbourne Town beat Saltdean, Horley beat Eastbourne United, Peacehaven secured a thrilling 5-3 win at Bearsted.
I had the honour of following Steyning Town to Cobdown Stadium in Mid Kent for their match against K Sports. Manager Gerry Murphy got his tactics spot on as his team faced a physical challenge from a robust and well organised outfit. Man of the Match keeper Sam Marsden made two vital saves and commanded his area well as Harry Heath and Joe Fitzpatrick both scored in the second half.
Then I watched as Mid Sussex side Hassocks travelled to Mayfield Stadium Croydon to face Balham. In a very exciting encounter, the hosts were awarded a late penalty to make it 2-2 and force the dreaded penalty shootout. After nine shoots it fell to Hassocks MoM Jack Troak to sweep home the winning penalty and exuberantly run to the posse of Hassocks fans to celebrate. He said: ‘ I just had to pick a corner and I was pleased it went in!’
Mile Oak played host to Beckenham on Wednesday. As the ground be began to fill up there was a real ‘buzz’ when someone accidenally stirred up wasps’ nest in the bushes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a sting in the tail from Oak as they went down 4-0.
So 17 local clubs go into FA cup action on Saturday - it would have been 19 but sadly the Broadbridge Heath v Haywards Heath game is off because Broadbridge Heath have had positive Covid tests, meaning they have to withdraw from the competition.
There is a good chance that many of our sides could go through. Please remember there are no replays this season.
Six clubs have the obvious benefit of home soil. Burgess Hill take on Holland and Blair, Steyning play Hanworth Villa, Newhaven play Corinthian, Hastings have a tough assignment against Herne Bay, Langley face Harrow Borough while Phoenix Sports travel from Kent to play East Grinstead.
As always, this column is focused on the away vibe. Pagham have to travel west to Eastleigh where they take on Stoneham FC. Last years Sussex FA Cup sensations Chichester face a tricky and lengthy trip north west to face Basingstoke at Winchester City's ground on Monday.
Jude Macdonald, Whitehawk’s brilliant young manager, will know he has a very stiff challenge when he takes his side to Ashford United. Last season United were up with the pace all season in the Isthmian South East division and were a difficult side to beat.
Eastbourne Town’s noisy fans will be descending on the pretty hop-picking town of Faversham in East Kent. It's sure to be an exciting occasion with Town looking for a ‘giantkilling’. Crawley Down Gatwick have a tricky afternoon facing Egham Town.
Peacehaven perhaps face the stiffest of tasks when travelling to higher league Whyteleafe in Surrey on their ultra-quick artificial surface. Three Bridges make the short trip to Cobham in Surrey. Horley also face stiff opposition when making an interesting trip King George’s Field in Tolworth to face Kingstonian FC. Both teams met in the recent pre-season friendly which ended 1-1.
High flyers Alford's confidence will be soaring after their previous 9-1 win as they travel north east to Erith Town. There may be‘plane spotters’ among the Hassocks travelling party to Bedfont Sports. Their ground is right on the final flight path to Heathrow Airport. The Sussex players will need to concentrate on football rather than anything passing overhead!
I will be traveling with Bexhill-based Southern Combination Premier outfit Little Common FC as they make their way to Foxbury Avenue, Chislehurst, Kent to face Stansfeld. While the hosts are from a lower league there are no easy rides in the FA Cup.
Please watch out for updates through out Saturday afternoon on Twitter - @bowmanomntheroad
It might still be very early in this year’s FA Cup campaign but there won't be a Sussex manager, player, chairman or fan involved this Saturday who won’t be dreaming of an elusive place in the first round proper later in the season.