Of all the years that Andy Ollerenshaw could have chosen to follow the FA Cup from the Extra Preliminary Round to the Final, this was the best that he could have chosen. Last season was the season in which the FA Cup re-entered the fabric of many people’s lives, as story after story unfolded in front of us. To over-egg a cliche, it was the tournament that kept on giving. Story after story slowly shook the nation awake to it again and, given the sterility of competition in the Premier League, it started to over-take the world’s richest league competition as the main football talking point of the spring. As the competition progessed, Ollerenshaw duly reported what he was up to on his blog and, after the competition ended, he was approached by the micro-publishing company, Centre Circle Publishing, with a view to converting the blog into a book.
The title of the book is slightly misleading. Ollerenshaw’s interest in the competition is first aroused by his local team, Chertsey Town, and the blog is named for their opposition that day, the Sussex club Wick. The format is reasonably simple – he will follow the winners of that match, and then the followers of the next match (and so on) right the way through to the final. En route to Wembley, he takes in Sittingbourne, Dartford, Bromley, Eastbourne Borough, Weymouth, Cambridge United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardidd City. The book has been converted (by its own admission) directly from a blog, so it can occasionally appear disjointed (one short piece on health & safety in football, for example, appears from nowhere and vanishes as quickly as it arrives), but the upside of this is that one gets a completely contempary view of proceedings, largely unfiltered by the benefit of hindsight. Ollerenshaw starts writing about Cardiff City at the Fifth Round stage, with barely a mention made of the possibility that they could make the final, bu why should he? At that point, Manchester United and Chelsea were still in the running.
The human aspect of the story should be the most interesting part of the story. Going to a match from the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, from the end of August to the middle of May, should be a journey in more sense than one. One suspects that Ollerenshaw learnt a lot about himself, and about this relationship with his wife and his son over the course of this journey, but the reader doesn’t get to hear much about it. Indeed, what is most noticeable about “Wick To Wembley” is how little effect this journey seems to have upon the author. His wife seems to have endless reserves of patience, but we hear little of her opinion on losing the man in her life for a whole day every two or three weeks or so. He touches upon his relationship with his son, a typical modern youth whose interest seems drawn towards the chintz of the Premier League, who (to his surprise) treats the prospect of a trip to the match between Dartford and Sittingbourne with some excitement, but this potential sub-plot isn’t built upon.
Ollerenshaw is at his best when he gets to the stories behind the clubs involved. Sittingbourne, who almost went bust after succumbing to the seduction of trying to make it big, and Eastbourne Borough, a former County League club that has risen to the Blue Square Premier, are particularly well-served. There are gaps in these stories – whilst Dartford’s impressive new stadium is well covered, the story of how they came to be there, dragged under in the early 1990s thanks to the suspicious dealings of their chairman and his dealings with their tenants at the time, Maidstone United, is barely touched upon. Indeed, as the competition wears on, one feels that Ollerenshaw is becoming more and more dislocated from the experience. It’s easy to warm to a club like Sittingbourne or Dartford upon the first visit, but much more difficult to do so in the tense atmosphere of a highly-policed match between Cardiff and Wolves.
“Wick To Wembley” is a curious read, and one has to read it as a series of contempary articles, rather than one single book. The momentum of the FA Cup is enough to give it a narrative thread, but without any subsequent editing having taken place, it sometimes feels as if the reader isn’t being given the full story on what actually happened. It does, however, tell a story of a personal and football journey which proves that (as you may have read on here once or twice) there is plenty more to life than the Champions League and the Premier League.
“Wick To Wembley” is available now – further details can be obtained from CC Publishing.