A 240-mile trip into the unknown for Eastbourne Borough in the FA Cup

Action from Eastbourne Borough v Slough Town. Picture by Jon Rigby
Action from Eastbourne Borough v Slough Town. Picture by Jon Rigby

Never mind all that Eastern wisdom about the longest journey beginning with the smallest step. Eastbourne Borough’s FA Cup campaign starts tomorrow (Saturday) with a 240-mile round trip into the unknown, writes Kevin Anderson.

It is no slight upon opponents Brantham Athletic that, when the draw was announced, Sports officials and fans found themselves consulting Wikipedia, followed by the web pages of the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League (Premier Division) – followed by the road atlas! Simply, Brantham is not on Borough’s radar.

The Suffolk village lies a few miles on the far side of Colchester, and is just about as far as Borough could be sent, at this still-regionalised stage of the Emirates FA Cup. The clubs’ paths, of course, have never crossed.

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Not that the distance is an obstacle for Jamie Howell. “We are quite seasoned travellers,” chuckled the Borough manager. “When you’ve survived Truro, Bath and Weston super Mare, this one is quite a short hop! You always look for a home draw in cup competitions, but remember we are unbeaten away from home and we travel very well.

“By all accounts Brantham Athletic is an excellent club run by good people. They have a bit of momentum already in the Cup and they are sure to give it a go. But to be honest, every single player from County League upwards, through semi-pro and Football League, should be getting that FA Cup tingle when they step out on to the pitch. My players are no different.

“If we turned up tomorrow as Big Time Charlies, we would deserve to get rolled over. But we have enough humility to approach this one properly. If we want the win, we will have to earn it tackle for tackle, pass for pass.”

And if the players do need inspiration at Brantham, they need only peek into the clubhouse, where the FA Cup itself will be proudly on display for the day. Securely guarded, of course, but supporters have the chance to be photographed with the famous trophy.

Borough supporters are expected to travel in numbers to South Suffolk, including an executive coach run for the first time as a new Supporters Club venture (details on the club website).

Howell has no injury concerns, which means his squad will welcome back defensive bastion Harry Ransom and rocket-fuelled striker Lloyd Dawes. Both missed last Saturday’s match with Slough Town – and were indeed missed as the Sports fell to a 4-2 home defeat. “Looking back, it was quite a strange afternoon,” reflected the Gaffer. “There were no excuses for conceding shoddy goals, and Slough were ruthless in punishing us. But that was quite out of character when you look at our season as a whole.

“It sounds daft, but those who were there will know that, otherwise, we actually did a lot of good things. We had energy and good movement, and on a different day we would have won 4-2 and not lost by that score. It is up to the players to prove that Slough was the exception, and our other nine games have been the rule.”

Brantham Athletic play at Step Five – the same level as our local Southern Combination clubs – and were unbeaten this season until last weekend, when Takeley FC lowered their colours 4-3 in an FA Vase tie at the Imps’ home ground. Their FA Cup journey began in early August in the extra preliminary round, beating Wivenhoe Town 5-0 before notching single-goal victories in the next two rounds, over Welwyn Garden City and Spalding United. They have never before reached this stage of the FA Cup.

The danger man is arguably George Clarke, tipped for a possible professional career before persistent knee injuries sidelined him for eighteen months. George, who notched the winner against Spalding United, actually lives just across the recreation ground, and he can see the goalposts from his living room window. Now that really is one small step….