By Kevin Anderson
One step at a time. Eastbourne Borough can clip the route to Wembley down to a mere eight more matches if they can overcome Dulwich Hamlet tomorrow (Saturday) at Priory Lane.
Just dreaming? Yes, of course, but no real harm in that. There is something about the FA Cup that brings an extra tingle to spectators and an extra spring of pace and panache to every player involved – even at tomorrow’s Third Qualifying Round stage.
“Tell them it’s the FA Cup and they all think they’re Lionel Messi,” chuckled Sports boss Jamie Howell this week. “Which is fine by me as long as they play like Messi!”
The financial rewards in the Emirates FA Cup are massive for clubs of Borough’s status.
With £9,000 already banked from the previous round, a further £15,000 awaits this weekend’s winners.
Indeed, should Borough negotiate one further hurdle and reach the First Round Proper, they would be almost £50,000 richer in total – quite apart from the prospect of then playing a Football League club.
“The prize money is life-blood to clubs like ours,” comments chairman John Bonar. “We pride ourselves on careful budgeting and we treat the cup competitions as a bonus, but what a bonus.
“Even so, I would say that just as important is the momentum that comes with a Cup run. The interest goes up, the gates go up, we can get ourselves noticed.”
Borough’s profile has been done no harm by a useful start to the National South season. Their mid-table position does not quite reflect some excellent performances in league games, undermined by points dropped in five draws – the highest number in the division.
“We should be higher,” says Jamie. “Late goals and some moments of genuine bad fortune have cost us, but myself, the staff and all the players are loving this season.
“I’m under no illusions about Saturday – I have great respect for their manager Gavin Rose. Dulwich are a powerful side who will ask us questions. We have to have the answers – but more importantly we are the home side and we should be asking more of the questions.”
With niggling injuries to Marvin Hamilton and Lloyd Dawes, Howell moved quickly last week to secure replacements. “Lloyd could be back for the Dulwich game, but adding Alfie Rutherford to the squad gives us great options. Alfie played for me at Bognor and, as he showed at Gloucester, he is too good to be sitting on the bench at Havant.
“Marvin might need more time, and Tobi Adebayo-Rowling (in on loan from Bromley) is an excellent player with a lot of experience for his age. So yes, it’s a strong squad but we are only as good as we play on the day.”