By Kevin Anderson
Eastbourne Borough will step out on the FA Trophy trail tomorrow (Saturday, 3pm) with a home tie against Royston Town – and manager Jamie Howell would love that trail to take his side to Wembley.
The Trophy’s older and grander cousin, the FA Cup, always gets the pulse racing – full of legends, tradition and glamour. From August onwards it inspires the very smallest clubs with dreams of glory. But the FA Trophy takes the semi-professional clubs, not within dreaming distance of Wembley, but within touching distance.
And nobody understands that better than Sports boss Jamie Howell. “The FA Trophy is very close to my heart,” said Jamie this week. “You have a realistic chance of going a long way in the competition, or even all the way. It can galvanise a team, a club and even a whole town.”
Howell should know: just 18 months ago he led a talented Bognor side – then in the Ryman Premier – to within one goal of Wembley. They defeated three higher-ranked clubs before being edged out by Grimsby Town over a two-legged semi-final. “That was a terrific experience, and we got the whole community behind us. What Bognor did, Borough can do.”
In Borough’s path stand Royston Town. The Crows arrive from Hertfordshire with a sound playing record, having won promotion last season to the Southern Premier – one step below the Sports in the pyramid – where they sit in respectable mid-table. Notably, in cup competitions this season, Royston have already beaten Hendon and Leatherhead, two of the strongest sides in the equivalent level Bostik Premier. And in the FA Cup the Crows took Braintree Town to a replay before going out to the odd goal. After three successive league defeats, Howell and his staff have been actively on the look-out for new recruits. But that search is on the back-burner for this weekend. “I think for this game we need a consistent side and some continuity. So this would probably not be the right moment for new faces.
“We were a bit depressed after Bath City, but looking back, we actually played quite well in many aspects, and we were just undone by needless slips at the back.
“We’ve worked hard this week at being more compact and defensively sound. I think we will score – in fact we nearly always score! So with concentration and discipline at the back, we can progress.
“Royston have had some excellent results and we fully respect them. Our own fans have been patient and last week they really got behind the team. The players really respond to that level of support. Give us that again, and we will do the job.”
Yemi Odubade is close to a return, and Howell has not ruled out the experienced striker for Saturday.