The Road To Wembley Starts Here
It’s probably fair to say that Shoreham-by-Sea will never be described anywhere as a “football hotbed”. Six miles west of Brighton (although in a different county – the boundary that divides East & West Sussex lies just to the west of Hove), Shoreham is a small coastal town with a slightly salty feel to it, a hangover from the days when it made its money from the sea. Here, as elsewhere in much of Sussex, Brighton & Hove Albion rule the roost. The Seagulls have successfully marketed themselves as “Sussex’s Football Club” for decades now, and few other clubs have got close to them. Crawley Town found themselves in the Conference, but with financial problems brought about by the ownership of the notorious Majeed brothers, they don’t look much like going any further forward in the forseeable future (and, as anybody local will tell you, towns like Horsham and Crawley in the north of the county feel more like extensions of Surrey or outposts of London than part of Sussex), whilst other clubs in the area that have had some money put into them, such as Eastbourne Borough and Lewes have stalled at the Conference South level.
The smaller clubs take their place in the Badger Ales Sussex County League, and Shoreham FC is one of their stalwart members. I pass their ground on the way to work every morning, but have never had the chance to stop off there. All this will change tomorrow, as the FA Cup rolls into town – Shoreham kick off their campaign in it tomorrow afternoon with a home match against Horley Town, of the neighbouring Combined Counties League. The second week of the season is traditionally a busy one in the football calendar, with the FA Cup starting at the Extra Preliminary Round stage. Clubs entering at this level have to play one more match to earn the right to be drawn against Football League clubs in what is known (somewhat patronisingly) as the “competition proper” than Premier League sides have to play to win the competition outright, and most of the teams entering now will have their interest in this year’s FA Cup ended by the end of August. However, the very small clubs that make up this stage of the competition do occasionally have a run. When Coalville, of the Midland Alliance, had a run to the First Round of the competition two or three years ago, the BBC covered their First Round match against Oldham Athletic live. What surprised me at the time was just how little the BBC made of how big an achievement their appearance in the First Round was. They stand, however, as an example to the smallest village clubs in the competition that it is possible, with a little luck of the draw, to go all the way and get national press attention and all the financial benefits that come with it.
I haven’t had much chance to read up on Shoreham’s history, but I can say that their nickname is “The Mussels”, although their website also refers to them as “The Musselmen”. This leads my mind to wander towards a disturbing mental image with a team full of body builders in it (one would presume that the FA don’t carry out random drug testing at this stage of the competition, but the idea of a whole team being banned after being found to have taken nandrelone is ibe that amuses me somewhat), but I’ll try to put that out of my head for now. Two other items of note caught my attention. Firstly, according to their website, their league season started on Tuesday night, which is something that I’ve never heard of before. Are Badger Ales insisting that the Sussex County League goes head-to-head with the Champions League? Secondly, they also mentioned the signing of a new player called Kevin Keehan, but their last pre-season friendly match was abandoned due to an injury that he suffered. They are sadly not forthcoming on what actually happened to him.
Elsewhere in the draw, there are a few names that might ring one or two bells. Bedlington Terriers (away to West Auckland Town) dumped Colchester United out in the First Round a few years ago, Bishop Auckland (away to Chester-le-Street Town) were giants of the amateur game up until the 1960s, Coalville (at home against Rocester) had, as previously mentioned, their moment aganst Oldham Athletic live on BBC1, and Wembley themselves (away to Haringey Borough) regularly feature on TV reports because of their proximity to the national stadium. You can look forward to a full report here on Sunday.