Before we begin, a small confession about why this round’s blog is a little different. In July, I got married to my long-suffering partner (and now wife). It was a wonderful day filled with lots of fantastic people we care about including our two beautiful children.
After the wedding, we headed off to Disneyland Paris with the kids for our ‘honeymoon’ and had a fantastic time with Mickey, Minnie (both big FA Cup enthusiasts) and Goofy (more of a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy man). We did, however, promise ourselves a more adult-themed break without the kids once autumn came.
My wife loves me. She appreciates and adores my every fault and foible. She understands and appreciates my commitment – perhaps obsession – with football, the FA Cup and more recently non-league. She was not going to plan our honeymoon around the fortunes of Droylsden, Whitley Bay or Bamber Bridge.
There was a potential reprieve for a while in the shape of Marine vs Northwich Victoria. I can say with some confidence that I was probably the only person on the island of Crete with a vested interest in the outcome of the delayed Third Qualifying tie ending in a draw.
With our break covering both the weekend and midweek’s fixtures, Tuesday’s match represented the brief window of opportunity for a replay on my return until Josh Amis’ injury time settler made it 4-2 to the underdogs and helped Vics progress into the Fourth Qualifying Round. Bugger.
Had I been in the country, though, it’s possible I wouldn’t have spotted the actual story of the round. Sporting Khalsa, of the 9th tier Midland Football League, moved within one game of the opportunity to face Coventry City, Sheffield United and half of the Football League for the first time in their short history with a 2-1 replay win over Spalding United.
Ahead of their historic game against FC United of Manchester, we caught up with Media Officer Mat Danks for a quick chat to find out more about their journey so far and the aspirations for the rest of the season:
Underdog: Mat, ahead of Sporting Khalsa’s biggest ever game, how has this week differed from the average?
Mat: We’re expecting perhaps 50 times more than an average crowd so it’s all hands to the pump. The Aspray Arena is brilliant and the facilities excellent for this level, but we’re going above and beyond on this occasion. We’re putting up marquees, bringing in more staff, going the whole hog.
U: You’re now the lowest ranked side left in this season’s FA Cup – can you go one step further and beat FC United on Saturday?
M: Miracles happen in football. We know it’s going to be tough. Really tough. But we prepare and we have to believe. The lads have done brilliantly and it’s going to mean topping all of that once again to succeed.
U: What does a run like this do for a Club like Sporting Khalsa? And how much would it mean to reach the First Round and land a tie with a Football League side?
M: It would be huge– we’ve only been at this ground for six years and a lot of people don’t even know what we’re about. They’ve certainly not seen the massive investment and work that’s been done here. So, we’re making new friends all the time. That’s the important thing going forward.
U: It’s been an incredible rise for a small community club formed less than three decades ago to now be just one game away from the FA Cup First Round – can you tell us a little more about the Club’s history from inception to this point?
M: The lads formed the club in the early 1980s from the Sikh temple in Willenhall as a Sunday side. It’s grown from there. The Sikh influence is there but this is all about diversity and football. After moving around a bit they finally settled at the Aspray about six years ago.
U: Tell us about the moment Simeon Townsend’s winning header went in against Spalding?
M: It was bedlam. We rode our luck a little but these lads don’t know they’re beaten.
U: What aspirations does the Club have for the future?
M: There’s a view that the infrastructure exists to push for Conference football but it’s all about organic growth, little by little, season by season.
U: Can you tell us a little more about your involvement with the Club?
M: I’m the club communications drone. I do comms for a living so writing, doing match reports and all that stuff come natural. This has been great over the last few weeks as it means I can really add value to the team and club.
U: If you were to dare to dream of the First Round, who would be your ideal draw and why?
M: Walsall. I think everyone here would go into meltdown over that!
U: And finally, why is the FA Cup special to you? What’s your favourite memory?
M: I’m 37 so the Coventry v Tottenham final is the special one for me. What a day that was and won by a goal of true quality. You’d just not see something like that these days!
U: Thanks for your time, Mat. Best of luck for Saturday.