As noted on here last night, Blyth Spartans made it a record eight non-league clubs in the Third Round of this year’s FA Cup with their 1-0 win against AFC Bournemouth at Croft Park last night. That number could yet increase, considering that Droylsden have to replay their FA Cup match against Chesterfield after last night’s match against them was abandoned with eighteen minutes still to play because of floodlight failure. Last night’s events mark another chapter in what is rapidly becoming one of the strangest FA Cup runs of all time, as Droylsden simply refuse to be eliminated from this year’s competition. It all started fairly benignly for them, with wins over Bradford (Park Avenue), Gateshead and Belper Town seeing them through to the First Round Proper. Then, all hell broke loose.
They were drawn to play Darlington away in the First Round. The first match at The Darlington Arena passed off relatively peacefully and ended in a 0-0 draw, although the match was marred by ugly racist chanting from Darlington supporters aimed at Droylsden’s substitute goalkeeper Kyle Clancey, a teenager that had come on to replace Droylsden’s regular goalkeeper, who had been injured after just twenty minutes. The replay, at Droylsden’s Butchers Arms stadium, was similarly blighted by monkey chanting by Darlington supporters. Reports from home supporters noted Darlington supporters in a pub near the ground before the match looking to cause trouble. The irony was that it was they that were ejected by home stewards, whereupon they were met by the very group of non-match attending youths that they had been annoying a couple of hours earlier and were taught a lesson about picking on the wrong people. On the pitch, Neil Prince’s cross was converted by Matthew Tipton for the only goal of the match, though proceedings were held up for thirty-five minutes when Darlington’s Liam Hatch suffered a serious injury (which was believed to be a broken neck but, thankfully, turned out not to be).
The Second Round draw pitted them against Chesterfield, again away from home. The first match was played in appallingly foggy conditions at Chesterfield’s Saltergate, and they took the lead with a goal from Carl Lamb after thirty-five minutes. However, conditions continued to deteriorate and the referee abandoned the match at half-time, leading to a furious (and potentially slanderous) response from the Droylsden manager, Dave Pace: “If it had been the other way round and Chesterfield were winning I don’t think it would have been called off. But I suppose the referee has got assessors to satisfy and other things like that”. The re-match provoked even more controversy as the first match. This time it was Droylsden’s turn to have to investigate allegations of racism, this time towards Chesterfield’s Kevin Austin, but this wasn’t all. After Droylsden put the ball out of play, Chesterfield’s Jack Lester accidentally lobbed the ball into the net, starting off a mass brawl on the pitch and furious scenes on the touchline. When everybody had eventually calmed down, Chesterfield allowed Droylsden to walk the ball in their net to cancel out the “goal”. The match finished 2-2, and it was all back to The Butchers Arms for a replay.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this was enough excitement for everybody confirmed and, indeed, it looked as if it was going to be a let down for the non-league watchers amongst us as Chesterfield raced into a 2-0 lead at half-time. However, with eighteen minutes left the play, the floodlights went out, couldn’t be resuscitated, meaning that they will have to go through it all yet again, this time on Tuesday night at The Butchers Arms. It used to be convention that referees could call time after seventy-five minutes (at their own discretion) and award a result, but this wasn’t made by the referee on this occasion. Perhaps predictably, Chesterfield supporters are absolutely furious. This, of course, was the team that was arguably cheated out a place in the 1997 FA Cup Final when, having taken a 2-1 lead against Middlesbrough in the semi-final at Old Trafford, a shot that clearly bounced over the line was disallowed which might have made them the first ever team from the bottom two divisions to make the FA Cup final.
Rumours are flying that this was too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence and, with Ipswich Town facing the winners, a split of crowd money and prize money could be worth up to £100,000 to the winners of this match – a tidy sum for either club. However, without any concrete evidence that it was deliberate, it would be misleading and unfair to assume that this floodlight failure was an unfortunately timed accident. For the watching neutral, such bizarre goings-on only add to the lustre of a unique competition. Chesterfield will simply have to head back to Droylsden next week and beat them there. Some might say that, considering that there are two divisions between the two clubs, they should have done this in the first match.
The controversial accidental goal from the second of the three attempts that Chesterfield and Droylsden have played to decide who goes through to the Third Round of the FA Cup can be seen here.