FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round: Chelmsford City FC vs Barnet FC

Chelmsford City FC vs Barnet FC

FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round

Saturday 25th October 2014

Melbourne Park, Chelmsford, Essex

I don’t have a great deal of managerial experience. I once stood in for my team leader on an evening shift at Sainsbury’s. I spent a brief period of time as an assistant to the duty manager of Currys during my university days. I look back on this time fondly as the Tony Parkes period of my career.

I do, however, have a great deal of Football Manager experience. With a background of promoting unfancied sides into the Premier League, (the Dave Bassett era, if you were wondering) I discovered the downside of going on an unbeaten run.

Unbeaten runs generally breed false confidence. Mid-table also-rans dream of promotion, league leaders become complacent and relegation fodder get ideas above their station. So it was with reserved optimism and a little trepidation that I made the trip south to Chelmsford City on Saturday. On paper, at least, my 100% record would surely be in for its biggest test to date.

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Wheel ’em in Chelmsford!

While the 34 places between the home team and Vanarama Premier leaders Barnet was marginally smaller than the gap between Warrington and Colwyn Bay in the last round, the Bees were already beginning to open up a lead at the summit of the fifth tier in their quest to return to League football just two years after relegation.

Joining me this afternoon would be my very good friend Mark. A Derby County fan based near Peterborough, he’ll form one half of a strong Best Man partnership at my wedding, a role I also played when he got married last November. This ‘you rub my back, I’ll rub yours’ agreement is very much the George Graham/Rune Hauge period of my marital arrangements.

Admitting that he too felt nervous, given my tendency to go to games with fellow comedians, Mark had spent several weeks learning every line up to series three of popular 90’s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, which he recites on our drive down. His look of expectancy every time he mispronounces the word ‘Bucket’ is as endearing as it is deeply chilling.

As underdogs go, Chelmsford have pedigree. Last season’s Second Qualifying round defeat to Biggleswade Town was in stark contrast to reaching the Second Round proper in the previous three consecutive seasons. Games against Macclesfield, Crawley Town and Colchester have all boosted the Club’s bank balance in recent years, but they’ve never quite managed to extend their involvement to early January and the millionaires of the Third round hat.

It’s the furthest south I’ve been so far, and with good reason. With one eye on the clock, we need to be in St Neots in Cambridgeshire for a fundraising comedy gig later this evening and time is tight – there’s no contingency in place for another floodlight failure.

We arrive in plenty of time and grab food at a local chip shop. The man behind the counter audibly sniggers when I ask for gravy on my battered sausage before telling me they don’t have any; it’s fish and chips, Jim, but not as we know it.

We make our way down a long road towards the ground, and past a ‘Car Park Full’ sign. Dozens of fans stream across the public fields towards Melbourne Stadium wearing the colours of both teams. A large, seated stand comes into view and it already looks full. We pay £13 each for a ticket (it’s £25 for a family ticket for two adults and two children, so we make a conscious decision to bring kids next time for thriftiness if nothing else) and make our way into the ground.

An ever-moving queue awaits food as people stream in and out of the bar. We both buy a raffle ticket and take in our surroundings. Behind each goal is a terraced area, one of which is undercover, and the far side of the pitch hosts a small stand with some sheltered seating. The large main stand must hold over 1,000 supporters and it’s close to being full.

We take our place behind the goal with several hundred Chelmsford fans. It’s not undercover, but with blue skies and temperatures still in double figures, it’s a great place to soak up the pre-match atmosphere as the players warm-up in front of us.

In goal, Niklas Freund, the teenage son of former-Tottenham midfielder Steffen, is warming up. A group of six boys aged about ten are also taking shots. We’re unsure if these are ball boys or an indication that our Conference South hosts are using the Cup to push forward with the youth team.

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Niklas Freund warming up for The Clarets

On the opposite touchline, a parrot mascot makes his way around the running track that borders the pitch. We’re struggling to think of the connection, other than it rhyming with Claret?

The stand fills up as kick-off approaches and a group of fans take their place in front of us. It becomes clear that one woman in the group is at her first ever game, while another, Mehmet, is something of a football tourist himself.

“I bet you’ve never seen a game with this many people, have you Mehmet?” says one man, jokingly. “Who are your local team again?” Mehmet is a Galatasaray fan. This must be some experience.

The game kicks off with Chelmsford attacking our end. A cagey opening quarter of an hour is capped by a great chance for the home side, with Rohdell Gordon picking out Michael Cheek from the left. His first shot blocked, he then saw his second effort hit Graham Stack’s side netting on the turn.

Stack is one of several experienced players in the Barnet side and is also assistant manager. A squad member of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ side, he’s also played for Wolves, Leeds, Hibernian and Beveren during something of a journeyman career.

He is also one of a select few footballers whose virtual career on Football Manager perhaps outshone reality for a legion of loyal gaming fans.

As Barnet’s John Akinde flicks the ball into the path of Luisma Villa at the opposite end, the Spaniard screws his shot horribly over the crossbar. Even Stack can afford a rueful smile as he jogs back towards his goal for a drink.

“Oi, Stack! Didn’t you used to be half decent on Football Manager?” shouts one fan.

“Once upon a time…” is his good humoured response.

“What happened?” enquires the same supporter. Stack gestures heavy drinking and receives the applause his sporting reaction deserves.

The size of the Barnet backline is immediately obvious as they dominate play in the air. Bondz N’Gala and David Stephens both have plenty of League appearances under their belts and look strong and in control, despite the latter’s tendency to use his head after slicing several clearances out of play throughout the match.

Clarets captain Mark Hughes, a former Tottenham youth player and Northern Ireland international, is pulling the strings in midfield against his former side. Bees boss Martin Allen spoke highly of the player pre-match, and he’s still a hero at Barnet, having scored the goal that kept them in the Football League in 2012, temporarily at least. Allen described him as one of his all-time favourite players and revealed he has a framed photo of them at home after that game against Burton Albion.

Allen is in his fourth spell in charge of Barnet after an eventful couple of seasons under the guidance of former-Champions League winner Edgar Davids. Dressed in a white shirt and armless black jumper, his booming coaching style is in evidence, giving him the appearance of a slightly rotund, short-tempered head waiter.

“Sit down Allen! You’re not on the Football League show anymore, ya bellend!” shouts the same fan, before stopping short of asking for the wine list.

Chelmsford survive a couple more close calls before the break, which is greeted by four jets flying overhead in formation; it’s good to see no expense has been spared as both sides chase the £12,500 prize fund available ahead of the next round.

As the whistle blows for half-time, our entire stand begins to disperse. We hear several fans around us discuss whether or not Barnet will catch on with the unspoken plan, which appears to be for both sets of fans to swap ends for the second half.

Mark and I agree that we’ve never experienced this before but, sure enough, we make our way past a stream of away fans as we head towards the opposite end of the field. Within minutes, both stands are full again with opposing sets of fans fully stocked with beef burgers and hot dogs.

Chelmsford thoughtfully patch up the first half 'away end' with Barnet-themed tape

Chelmsford thoughtfully patch up the first half ‘away end’ with Barnet-themed tape

Barnet make a change at half time, and it’s an impressive one, with former Southampton and QPR midfielder Lee Cook introduced for the second half in the place of Villa. Still only 32, he was signed by Fulham for £2.5m in 2007 – it’s a clear demonstration of Barnet’s strength in depth at this level.

Barnet start the second half well, carving out chances for Weston, Gordon and the lively Akinde in the opening quarter of an hour. On-loan Rotherham United goalkeeper Tony Thompson keeps the home side in it on more than one occasion, after what we’d felt was a slightly shaky looking first 45 minutes. He went on to become Man of the Match.

A dangerous Chelmsford corner/Spot the Ball teaser

A dangerous Chelmsford corner/Spot the Ball teaser

On 73 minutes, Stack ventures out of his own box, keen to show off his ball skills after receiving a pass back, and is quickly closed down unfairly in the eyes of the referee. This decision is greeted with anger by the fans behind the goal, as Stack gratefully readies himself to line up the freekick. Perhaps he momentarily forgot which career was reality for a second.

By the final 10 minutes, Chelmsford were beginning to create the better chances, having soaked pressure up from their opponents in an open and competitive game. Cheek had a great chance to win in it on 85 minutes, but his snapshot goalwards was blocked well.

There’s no sign of the home side playing for a replay. As the ball goes out for a throw, our feathered mascot friend almost knocks a ballboy out of the way to get play moving again. The main trouble with avian costumes is their lack of peripheral vision.

“I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be one more moment of quality and it’s going to be from Barnet” says the man next to us, nervously. Instead, it comes from the home side, and Tony Thompson.

Lee Cook and Mauro Vilhete both test him late on again, but he’s up to the challenge. Vilhete’s curled shot in the final minute gives reason for a sharp intake of breath, as it cannons off the top of the crossbar, but the referee calls time and Chelmsford are officially in the main draw for the fourth time in five seasons.

The home side take the applause of their fans

The home side take the applause of their fans

The players applaud their fans and are given a warm reception. We make our way around the pitch in the direction of the exit, where the parrot has become dismembered as its incumbent announces that he’ll “see if he can get Tuesday off” to make the replay.

Four games in, and two of the underdogs are in the First Round draw proper, with one of them guaranteed a place. We’ve not even conceded a goal.

For Warrington, it’s Skybet League Two’s Exeter City at the HG Driver Recruitment Stadium, while Chelmsford will be rewarded with a home tie against famous recent FA Cup giantkillers Wycombe Wanderers if they can overcome Barnet. It’s been thrilling to share a small part of their journey so far.

The Underdog Blog Record 2014/15

P 4 W 3 D 1 L 0 F 4 A 0 GD +4

Chelmsford City FC vs Barnet FC

FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round

Saturday 25th October 2014

Melbourne Park, Chelmsford, Essex

Chelmsford City FC        0 – 0         Barnet FC

Chelmsford City: 1. Tony Thompson, 2. Rob Girdlestone, 3. Leon Redwood, 4. Mark Hughes (C), 5. Mark Haines, 6. Yado Mambo, 7. Lee Sawyer, 8. Joe Ward, 9. Rohdell Gordon, 10. Michael Cheek, 11. Christian Smith

Subs: 12. Harry Morgan, 14. Evans Kouassi (On for Joe Ward, 73), 15. Luke Callander, 16. Marvin Ekpiteta (On for Mark Haines, 65), 17. Nicky Nicolau, 18. Jack Barham, 19. Niklas Freund (GK)

Barnet: 1. Graham Stack, 2. Andrew Yiadom, 3. Elliott Johnson, 5. Bondz Ngala, 6. David Stephens, 8. Curtis Weston (C), 9. John Akinde, 14. Sam Togwell, 15. Lisma Villa, 16. Mauro Vilhete, 24. Sam Hoskins

Subs: 4. Jack Saville, 11. Lee Cook (On for Villa, 46, 12. Sam Cowler, 18. Luke Gambin, 20. Jonathan Nurse, 23. Adam Mekki, 29. Matt Stevens (On for Sam Hoskins, 71)

Referee: Mr Craig Hicks

Attendance: 1,844

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8 thoughts on “FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round: Chelmsford City FC vs Barnet FC

  1. Pingback: Welcome to The Underdog Blog | Supporting the FA Cup's underdogs

  2. Nice article Carl! I am one of the group that arrived with Mehmet. Although a regular at Galatasaray when in Turkey he has really enjoyed watching Chelmsford City over the last couple of years while a student here. The game was a great advert for non-league football and that game and replay (Barnet won 4-1) have been a massive credit to both clubs and their fans.

    Like

    • Hi Andrew. Glad you enjoyed it. We were discussing in the car on the way home just how different an experience it must be on so many levels.

      Hoping to go to Norton United next…hopefully I’ll continue to be a bit of a lucky charm!

      Like

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