On the day of the pre-lockdown 2020 FA Cup final, we revisit the club's massive achievement of reaching the 2nd Round proper.
To say that Chichester City’s FA Cup run all the way to the 2nd Round proper was a surprise is an understatement, so much so that a Clairvoyant would have had trouble predicting this one!
But happen it did.
From Saturday 10th August the adventure began with an entertaining 3-1 win against Erith Town from the Southern Counties East League Premier Division (step 5), at Oaklands Park. A brace from Callum Overton and one for Jamie Horncastle paved the way for entry into the next round.
Little did the club and its supporters know on that day, that they would play on an EFL ground, be televised live by BT sports, have a FA Cup draw televised live from their clubhouse, and generally capture the imagination of the national media and so many football supporters around the country.
Before we run away with ourselves, rewind back to the Erith game, the club and its supporters were rejoicing the fact they had won the game, and that the next round would probably be where it would end. The reason for that is simple, Chichester City’s record over the last ten years in the FA Cup had been dreadful, with eight extra preliminary round exits out of ten.
Fast forward again to the preliminary round, and the draw pitched City against Bridon Ropes away in London. Bridon play in the Southern Counties East League Division one (step 6), which is two steps lower than city on the league pyramid. In the past these sorts of games would catch city out, but not on this occasion though, a very professional performance from the players ensured a 7-2 victory, with 2 goals each for Scott Jones, Gicu Iordache, and Kaleem Haitham, together with a single from Callum Overton.
The reaction to the amazing fact that Chichester City had won two consecutive games in the FA Cup, and more amazing in one season, fell flatter than a lead balloon dropped from the top of Chichester Cathedral. Apart from a match report on the club’s website and in the Chichester Observer, the country at large remained blissfully ignorant of this massive achievement.
The last time City reached the first qualifying round was in 2001, on that occasion they lost 3-0 away at Hastings United. Eighteen years later they received a home draw against Isthmian League South Central side Chalfont St Peter. Chalfont were at the same level as City but played in a different regional Division within the same league.
The first half was workmanlike with limited chances, although both keepers were worked, the front lines didn’t quite find their feet. Whatever the manager and coaches said to the Chichester players at half time, it had the desired effect because they came out a totally different side. Inventive moves from the defence and midfield allowed a lot more width, and with it a lot more chances. Chichester broke the deadlock from the penalty spot after Corey Heath was fouled in the area, Iordache converting.
Chalfont didn’t have the best of luck, losing 3 players to injury during the game, including their Captain which unsettled the balance of their side for much of the second half. Chalfont did test the City defence more in the last ten minutes, which made the supporter’s nerves jangle, but on 87 minutes substitute, Emmett Dunn eased the nerves by running to the near post and scoring with a glancing header. With a ticket to the 3rd qualifying round assured, the supporter started to dream of what might be.
In 1987 Chichester City reached the FA Cup 2nd qualifying round and lost 4-0 at Bracknell Town. It would be 32 years before they would return. This time around City were drawn away at Hartley Wintney from the Southern League Premier South, who are a step higher (step 3) than City. The hosts and the visitors both had good chances to win the game, and both enjoyed spells of dominance. The team had to be at their best defensively toward the end of the game but held out to record a 0-0 draw.
The replay played the following Tuesday, attracted a good size crowd of 235, and City started the brighter of the two teams, with good movement in midfield and the forward line, but the shots were often hurried as if the early nerves needed to settle. The Row did score midway in the first half, but it was ruled out for an infringement. City broke the deadlock in the 50th minute when Jamie Horncastle fed the ball to Iordache who crossed from the right and Horncastle beat Williams with a delightful touch to send the Oaklands Park faithful into raptures.
The lead nearly didn’t last long, Hartley Wintney thought they had equalized, but it was ruled out for offside. Although Wintney had more of the play in the last half hour, and Mowthorpe was the busier of the two keepers, they failed to convert their chances, and City had done it, they were though.
During the 1950s and ’60s, Cowes Football club on the Isle of Wight seemed to be a regular away day for Chichester City. Between 1955 and 1965 they would play them six times, four times on the Island and twice at Oaklands Park. They were usually high scoring games and Cowes usually won (Cowes 5 wins, Chi 1). It was at one of these games in 1957 that City played Cowes on the Island in the FA Cup 3rd qualifying round. Sadly, their bid ended there as they were beaten 3-1, so close to the first round proper, the players must have been gutted.
But spare a thought for the players from the last time City participated in the 3rd QR happened in 1971, the team drawn at home to Hastings United, drew 1-1 at Oaklands Park and were then unceremoniously walloped 9-1 in the replay at the Pilot Field.
Forty-Eight years later Officials, players, and supporters tuned in to Talk Sport on their radios and online at 1 pm for the draw. The FA handed City a home tie against Enfield Town, a very tough opponent from the Isthmian League Premier Division a step higher (3), and a Division higher within the same league. Enfield were also on a good run of form and were unbeaten in eight games, winning seven. The game was a huge task.
A crowd of 515 packed inside Oaklands Park hoping to see City advance to within one game of the first round proper. The two sides started slowly, but City had three chances in the first ten minutes from Scott Jones who blazed over the bar, and a couple from Lloyd Rowlatt, one-half chance put wide, and a shot well saved by the keeper.
As the half wore on, Enfield started to get on top of the play, but the defence and keeper Mowthorpe soaked up the pressure, and both teams went in at half time goalless.
The second half opened up; chances were being created at both ends, but amazingly not converted. Then on 86 minutes the deadlock was broken. The ball was fed into Lloyd Rowlatt and having gone past two players he squeezed the ball between the keeper and his near post.
The crowd erupted. Enfield threw everything forward and there were a nervous few minutes until the final whistle blew, and the celebrations started. City were just one game away from the first round proper.
Suddenly there was a bit more of a buzz around the City, whenever I wore my Chichester City beanie, people would come up to me and ask how things were going. Radio stations in Sussex and Hampshire now mentioned our achievements in their news bulletins, now five rounds, five wins, and the word was finally getting around.
Reaching the FA Cup 4th qualifying round for Chichester City is certainly not an everyday occurrence. It has happened twice in the clubs 146 year history, the first and most famous was in 1960 when the club reach the first round proper, and towards the end of the decade in 1967 City reach the 4th QR for the last time, when they came up against Guildford City at home, drawing 1-1, and losing the replay 3-0.
The sense of being so close to the first round was now very real at the club, and they must have hoped that they wouldn’t have the same feeling as their 1967 counterparts must have felt.
The draw pitted us away to another Isthmian League Premier side, this time Bowers and Pitsea from Essex, this was another tie the team would have to be at their best.
The club’s committee decided to run coaches for supporters, so they could be part of the day.
The team stopped at Clacket Lane services on route to the ground, their mood was about a normal as you could get, added together was a bit of excitement busily recording their experiences with their friends on social media. It was also where the clubs media spoke to 1st team coach Darin Killpatrick about his experiences in the FA Cup with Bognor Regis Town, where he had experienced both sides of reaching the first round, and the agony of losing out which he told us takes a bit of time to get over. The conversation suddenly brought home to us that unless the game needed a replay, the whole club would be experiencing feelings that would last for quite a while, good or bad.
The team reached the ground at 12.30, to go through their various routines, morale was high and there was a sense that the players couldn’t wait to get the game started. The game would be played on a 3G pitch, which some thought might make a difference, but after the warm-up the players felt comfortable using the surface.
Before the game, Assistant Manager Graeme Gee stressed the importance of the right balance between confidence and respect for the opposition.
“There’s a fine line” said Gee, “We can’t be overconfident just because we beat Enfield Town who are at the moment considerably higher in the same division as Bowers & Pitsea – there’s no doubt we caught Enfield on a good day”.
“At the same time, there’s nothing to fear. We’re definitely underdogs again and well aware it will be a very tough game but we’ve proven we can compete with teams from this level already so we have to believe it can happen again”.
The game started and within 15 minutes City had taken the lead, when Matt Axell put them ahead with a 15th-minute penalty after Josh Clack was impeded by Bowers skipper Martyn Stokes.
A powerful Ryan Davidson header gave Clack something to run on to. Stokes got there first but didn’t get enough on the ball to play it back to keeper Callum Chafer and pulled Clack down. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Axell stepped up and calmly converted.
Seven minutes later It got even better as City increased their lead, through a freak goal after a Bowers defensive clearance cannoned off the back of Kaleem Haitham and looped beyond a hapless Chafer.
Bowers did lots of pressing, and had large amounts of possession, but failed to take their chances, the team defended with their lives determined to hang on to their two-goal lead.
When they lost possession the team quickly got in front of the ball to stop supply lines, but when these lines did get through, the defence, in most cases literally put their bodies on the line. Bowers did eventually get a goal in the 90th minute through Max Cornhill, but apart from a few anxious minutes of injury time, Chichester City were in the first round proper.
The players embraced each other as the realisation of the achievement sank in. For a couple of players, the emotion of the achievement was too much with tears in their eyes, but this is what it meant to the players who were so determined to reach their goal.
Manager Miles Rutherford was carried shoulder high by his players, and for people who say he never smiles, laughter lines were most definitely revealed as the smile shone all over his face.
There followed scenes that probably haven’t been seen since City won the RUR Cup in 2018. The players went over to the large crowd of City supporters, and they celebrated together, singing and dancing as the tension of the game fell away to be replaced by euphoria.
Back in the small away dressing room, the noise was deafening with a rousing version of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, and in the Bowers bar, club officials and supporters were finally free to talk about experiencing the FA Cup 1st round proper instead, of just dreaming of it.
Plaudits poured in across social media platforms for Chichester’s achievement. The Emirates FA Cup tweeted “History made, congratulations Chichester City”, and also messages from The Isthmian League and Bognor Regis Town applauding our efforts.
The club waited for news of where the 1st round draw would be held, and as the club were the only team left that started back in the Extra Preliminary Round in August, many felt that City had a good chance. The draw eventually would be held at Maldon and Tiptree who together with City were the lowest rank side still in the competition.
Manager Miles Rutherford and Goalkeeper Steven Mowthorpe represented the club at the draw in Essex, and everyone else watched on the TV at the clubhouse. The BBC South Today cameras were there recording the reactions
This year the draw would be different due to the removal from the competition of Bury, after they did not have to required finances to start the season. This created an automatic bye to the second round, and a guaranteed income of a £36,000 winner’s prize money. Chichester City’s draw number would be 71.
Everybody had an opinion of who they wanted the club to get team-wise, but in the back of their mind they were hoping for a bye, but the odds of being drawn out last were very slim. The draw started and a lot of the teams that supporters wanted came and went, and there were a few groans when teams were picked that weren’t fancied.
The longer the draw went on, hope started building that receiving a bye might be possible. At one stage former Women’s footballer Karen Carney had ball 71 in her hand but dropped it and drew another number so the luck appeared to be on our side.
The draw was down to the last three, Chichester City, Peterborough United, and Stevenage Town. By now everybody in the building was hanging on the edge of their seats, as Karen Carney picked Stevenage as the home team to a loud cheer from the City faithful.
Now it was just down to two balls, City and Peterborough, a 50/50 chance to make a new chapter in the Chichester history books, as well as earning vital extra money to help stabilise the club for a few years. Jermaine Beckford the former Leeds United striker, drawing the away team reached in and drew Peterborough. The Chichester clubhouse exploded with euphoric players and officials, some still disbelieving their own eyes, but it was true, Chichester had got the bye and were through to the 2019/20 Emirates FA Cup 2nd round.
Chichester City, speaking through the club Official Twitter Account announced
“The club would like to place on record that we will be making a donation to the appropriate organisation involved with the continuation of @buryfcofficial. Someone had to get the bye, maybe after 6 wins already we deserved it?”
Chi coach Danny Potter said, “We’ve said it as a club that we will be donating to Bury. It’s been very unfortunate circumstances for them. If they start a phoenix club from last year, they’ll need that money to go on their next journey to get back up the league.”
Potter added, “Going into the draw some people at the club were thinking could we get a league side here. I don’t think anyone thought we were going to get the bye”
Fellow coach Darin Kilpatrick added, “On a personal note…I’ve been beaten in the last game of the season, lost titles by one point on the last day and I kept thinking – is football ever going to give anything back? And today it has and it’s incredible for everyone. This journey continues. We want to stay on the train and not get off, but we’ve got to keep the players grounded.
We’ve got league games to play. You have to enjoy these moments though because they don’t come around that often. I want everyone to enjoy this occasion However, we still need to concentrate on the league.”
Manager Miles Rutherford who was at the draw at Maldon & Tiptree told the BBC, “It’s what we wanted, it’s what we got. Fantastic for the club.”
Keeper Steve Mowthorpe who accompanied Rutherford said, “It’s amazing. It’s fantastic to be in the next draw and still get the prize money. Except for a big, away day or home draw it’s the best result.”
The draw was held live at City’s Oaklands Park ground and was conducted by former professionals Mark Bright and Dion Dublin, the latter picking out Chi’s ball, number 40 to set up a second-round tie away at Tranmere Rovers, the biggest game in the club’s history.
The setup of the draw by the BBC was truly eye-opening. A mini stage complete with enough lighting to light a small town, cameras, and of course the real FA Cup on loan for the night from current winners Manchester City. The draw itself is conducted with military precision, whenever they showed a video sequence another shot would be set up and ready in a few seconds.
Dion Dublin’s face shone a huge smile as ball number 40 came out, and a cheer sounded around the room. Tranmere away, our second visit to a league ground in the FA Cup, It would be a day to remember.
City boss Miles Rutherford said: “It’s a great draw. For most of these players to go from playing county league to visiting a League One team in such a short space of time is unbelievable really. It’s still sinking in.”
Chairman Andy Bell said: “It’s going to be a hell of a three weeks building up to it and it’s a tie we can all really look forward to immensely.”
City captain Connor Cody added: “The whole squad will relish taking on a League One team.”
A Special thank you to Ian Worden for use of his match reports
Tomorrow the Club make history, in the biggest game in their history.