As the new season sleepwalks into life the FA Cup has, before August is even finished, already reached its second round. The names in the Preliminary Round of the competition start to have a familiar feel to them. They’re the little clubs up the road that most of us don’t visit that often. Worthing Football Club are in Division One South of the Ryman League. They have been in or around the play-off positions in that league for the last couple of seasons, but this season hasn’t started very well for them. They have just a single 1-0 win against Sittingbourne to show for their four league matches so far and are sitting closer to the relegation places at this early stage than they might find comfortable.
Their opposition today is Raynes Park Vale, of the Combined Counties League. They play their home matches in front of around forty-five people at the Prince George Playing Fields, which had been a proposed site for an academy for Wimbledon Football Club during the 1990s. They have already played two matches in this year’s competition, beating Farnham Town after a replay in the Extra Preliminary Round. In blue shirts, blue shorts and yellow socks, they look at first glance as if they may be paying a tribute to the Chelsea team that won the competition in 1970.
This, though, is where the similarity ends. From the very start, Worthing are quicker, stronger and better organised, and only a degree of attacking bluntness prevents them from disappearing out of sight in the first ten or fifteen minutes. Gavin Gordon shoots over and Stuart Axten heads over. After twenty-four minutes, Worthing take the lead when Ben Johnson crosses and Ben Williamson stoops to head in from close range. The only disruption to the procession comes just before half-time, when the Worthing goalkeeper Alan Mansfield limps off, but Worthing are saved by having a reserve goalkeeper on the bench and Vale hopes of being able to take pot shots at a terrified looking outfield player wearing an oversized goalkeeper’s jersey are short-lived.
As the second half progresses, Raynes Park start to tire and Worthing, albeit with the stuttering self-consciousness which accompanies a slow start to the season, start to assert their authority. As the clock ticks past sixty minutes, Johnson – outstanding on the left hand side – crosses with pinpoint accuracy and Jamie Brotherton scores. Worthing now have a little bit of space to breathe, and the visitors seem too limited to be able to exploit the occasional flat-footedness of the Worthing defence. With six minutes to play, Johnson curled a cross-cum-shot in from thirty yards – a little bit of luck that his performance deserved – and, in the dying seconds, he scored again, cutting in from the left and shooting into the bottom corner via that hand of the goalkeeper.
Worthing, then, are through to the next round of the FA Cup and will play Croydon Athletic in the next round of the competition. It’s a result that should settle their early season nerves, but they are still four matches from the possibility of playing a Football League side – such is the labyrinthine nature of the FA Cup. During a difficult start to the season, it provides a diversion to what may prove to be a difficult season in the league for the club. Whether they will have learnt much about themselves from such a one-sided fixture, however, is open to question.