The trip to Lancashire was one of luxury, traveling in an executive coach with Sky TV, a posh toilet, and coffee served courtesy of Ian Madgwick. The first stop on the magical mystery tour was St Georges Park, the FA’s National Football Centre at Burton on Trent. After an afternoon training session in freezing fog, the players thawed out inside with dinner,
before traveling on to their hotel. After an evening meal, the players got an early night, trying to get as much sleep as the could before the massive day that was to follow.
Fortunately, this rule didn’t apply to committee members and their families, and at one point a committee meeting was held at 03.00 am, not that much got approved of course.
At 8.00 am Chi officials left for Prenton Park to prepare the dressing room, hanging the new yellow FA Cup shirts and stocking the fridge with water and energy drinks. The coach was loaded and departed for the short journey to the ground.
On arrival, the coach was met by a mixture of cheering Chichester and Tranmere fans, which was superb to witness. Then through to the dressing room to complete the pre-match formalities.
Then out for the teams’ warm-up session mixed with an interview or two, in the bright sunshine of a lovely December day
At 2.55 pm as the players took to the field, the City officials, and supporters had never been prouder of their team, they had gone through six rounds to get to this stage, and everybody hoped for a performance that would put the team on the map.
And they certainly didn’t disappoint.
This is how Ian Worden reported the game from the Tranmere pressbox.
Miles Rutherford & Co made just one change to the starting XI last time out in the cup – Jones coming in for Matt Axell.
Ahead of the game Chi boss Rutherford was concerned about the occasion overwhelming his side with players not getting as much of the ball as they’d like.
He need not have worried about that early doors – it was Roy of the Rovers stuff from the start as the visitors forged the first real chance of the game when Jones got on the end of a super cross from Josh Clack only to head wide of Scott Davies’ left hand post with barely ten minutes on the clock.
Jones had almost got in earlier after a neat exchange between Gicu Iordache and Rob Hutchings and a cheeky Clack flick. Darren Potter’s timely interception went out for a corner that Lloyd Rowlatt whipped in only for Davies to punch clear.
Ryan Davidson then fed a ball through towards Kaleem Haitham but it was too strong for Chi’s top scorer.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy got a shot off on the turn for the hosts on 12 minutes after good work from Blackett-Taylor before Jones met a Rowlatt free-kick.
Dave Perkins’ shot was charged down and City’s keeper Steve Mowthorpe gathered a low cross from Jake Caprice. It wouldn’t be the last time Caprice caused Chi problems.
Next Corey Heath recovered brilliantly to deny the home side an opportunity and Iordache drove into the box at the other end only to lose control and concede a free-kick.
Tranmere, no strangers to the latter stages of the FA Cup having made the quarter finals in 2000, 2001 and 2004, were being matched by opponents some 100 odd places below them in the league pyramid.
Captain Connor Cody and Ferrier were involved in a number of duels and Cody did well mid-way through the half to divert a Morris effort for a corner.
Then on 32 minutes Blackett-Taylor clipped the bar with a fierce drive before Morris tried his luck from distance. Mowthorpe gathered this easily enough and then pulled off an excellent save tipping Hepburn-Murphy’s effort over to ensure it was level at the break.
The players came in at halftime a little tired but exuberant, they had just match a professional league outfit for 45 minutes, and could have been 1-0 up. Darin Kilpatrick, and Grahame Gee gave them encouragement that if they kept that display up, they could win the game.
Tranmere brought on Connor Jennings for Hepburn-Murphy. It was Jennings’ goal in the last minute of extra-time in the League Two play-off final at Wembley in May that helped Rovers to a successive promotion.
And Jennings was soon in the thick of it and Chi had defending to do.
Davidson cleared a Morris cross and then made an excellent challenge on Ferrier.
Blackett-Taylor had an effort blocked as the home side pressed and then headed straight into Mowthorpe’s arms.
A long range attempt from Iordache popped up off the surface and gave Davies something to think about before Horncastle picked up the first yellow card of the game when he impeded Ferrier.
And then with Cody off receiving treatment Ferrier headed a Caprice cross against the woodwork. Blackett-Taylor was first to the rebound and steered the ball into the back of the net.
It was 2-0 two minutes later when a mistake at the back let Ferrier in for his first of the day – a composed finish.
Haitham’s shot on 65 minutes was to be his last involvement of the game as Rutherford changed it up bringing on Axell into midfield.
Ferrier forced a smart save out of Mowthorpe before Chi were undone by route one and another mix-up that allowed Ferrier to grab his second with a clever lob.
Moments later Mowthorpe was called on once more denying Morris who cracked one with his left foot.
Ferrier then completed an 11minute hat-trick turning in Caprice’s delivery.
Cody was replaced by Ryan Peake with 15 to go and Paul Mullin came on for Ferrier who left the field to a standing ovation from the Rovers fans.
Horncastle’s speculative effort was wide of the mark and a nice piece of skill from Iordache got him away but he tried to do too much and the move broke down.
And then Chichester, separated by five tiers of English football from Tranmere, were five goals adrift when Blackett-Taylor turned in another cross from Caprice on 85 minutes.
Blackett-Taylor might have been the second Rovers hat-trick hero after a Mowthorpe mistake but the Chi shot-stopper redeemed himself with a fine save.
Mullin blasted one over before another history making moment in this cup run when Peake, an 88-1 outside bet to score, glanced in an Axell corner in the last minute of normal time in front of the away supporters.
The Chi fans went nuts.
Inflatables – a cow, a palm tree, a surf board, a beach ball or two, bounced around between the 450 City supporters who burst into a rendition of “Let’s all have a disco” and the players all raced to celebrate with the club’s first ever scorer of a ‘proper’ round goal.
The fans hung around for as long as they could after Darren Drysdale blew the final whistle to applaud the team before heading towards the coaches and a long drive back to Sussex.
Plaudits poured in from the football world for the Chichester players, management and staff.
Phil Annets of FA Fact File commented on Twitter, “Bad luck today guys, but everyone involved with the club can be mightily proud of your FA Cup achievements this season”, Bognor Regis Town FC tweeted “Great effort, you should be proud, well done!” and a Tranmere supporter added, “Credit to you. Gave us a good game”.
The players went out into Liverpool that night to celebrate their achievements and thoroughly deserved to do so.
The club were out of the FA Cup, but they matched Tranmere, a team 8 tiers higher in the football pyramid at 0-0 for 60 minutes, and of course scored their first ever proper round goal and could have had two.
A lot to celebrate for a long time to come.
Special thanks to Ian Worden, Dan Harker, and Jordan Colbourne for the use of their words and pictures.