FA Cup run 2021/22 review

On FA Cup first round weekend, DW takes a look back at Bards record FA Cup run last season and the preparation for the biggest game staged at The Arden Garages Stadium.

12 months ago this week, due to play Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup 1st round with live coverage from ITV4, it was an extremely busy time for the club dealing with the logistics of hosting the largest crowd ever at the stadium – the 2,400 tickets for Bards fans were quickly snapped up online in 90 minutes – the 400 away allocation also selling out in staggered priority stages. A park and ride system was organised for the game booked online and a bumper £5 programme for the day (we still have some stock left in the Tuck Shop) was also available online or from official programme sellers on the day.

In the week leading up to the game, one of the major projects was the need to provide segregation for the away fans, having to create an entrance with separate ‘turnstiles’, enlarge a standing area and fence it off, provide toilet facilities and food huts etc. Much of this work would be needed at a higher level so The Bards were nearly ready if they secured promotion! The fan experience was enhanced by a ‘Fan Zone’ behind the golf course end with plenty of eating and drinking stalls as well as a TV screen that would show the live coverage from Sheffield Wednesday v Plymouth that preceded our game.

Extra food huts and toilet facilities were also stationed in the home areas so these needed to have access. A new electronic scoreboard was also installed in the ground (half the size it is now) which had to be operated manually once we found out how to work it. As the game was live on TV, gantries for the cameramen were stationed all round the ground, brighter temporary floodlights brought in to complement ours and there was much coverage on the local TV news programmes, radio interviews and pull outs in the local newspapers leading up to the game.

Some of the committee were helping out the day before aiding Woody and Duncan put up advertising boards from companies after new sponsorship deals were secured, new signage for away fans, putting up the flags for Remembrance Day. sorting out tables and chairs for the hospitality packages and stocking the shelves in the club shop with lots of hats and scarves.

On the day, crews arrived to put up the FA Cup sponsors boards around the ground for the TV coverage. In the good old days, muddy non-league pitches were a leveller against higher-level opposition sides – our pitch was complemented highly by the TV crews I helped around the ground. A quarter of a million people were to tune into the game. Pre-game coverage included Kevin Hands doing a speech by the Shakespeare statue, Jed took us behind the scenes introducing the back-room team. Plenty of celebrations were shown in the dressing room after the Boston game and team spirit certainly seemed good.

Drones flew over showing arial shots of the ground as the game was about to commence against a team yet to win away! “The game was preceded by a minute’s silence as an act of Remembrance, in keeping with the season, and the Last Post movingly played by Antonio Socci of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Somberly observed the crowd returned to the best of raucous good humour for the game ahead.” stated the club website. Kevin did his inspirational speech over the tannoy and it was game on.

Match report below but how did we get to this stage?

CARLTON TOWN (A) 3-1 (1st Qualifying Round) saw a trip to Nottinghamshire to face Carlton Town, a level below us in the Northern Premier League section. On a very tricky playing surface with variable bounce aided the opponents as a high ball down the left bounced unexpectedly over Jordan Williams and a low cross was swept into the roof of Liam’s net – a possible cup shock was on especially as Carlton held on till half time.

The Bards, though, were level just after half time when Vann headed home at the far post after a Grocott corner despite the efforts of the Carlton defender on the line trying to clear. However, The Bards could have lost the game were it not for O’Brien saving a disputed penalty 2 minutes later after a forward went down claiming to be being held with the assistant referee indicating a foul. After discussions between the ref and his assistant, the ref pointed to the spot. The ball was hit hard but at a comfortable height for Liam who dived to his right and palmed away to deflate Carlton and Bards took control of the game with their class showing and Gordon fired home on the hour with the aid of a deflection after another corner. Grocott’s fee kick around the wall made the game safe with 10 to go and we’re told ‘Bards are Up for The Cup’.

NUNEATON (H) – 4-0 (2nd Qualifying Round) – Bards had an extremely comfortable victory in a surprisingly one-sided game against a struggling Nuneaton side who brought 2 coachloads of fans, some of whom seemed content to stay around the Pie and Pint bar area away from watching their side (as it was an FA Cup no was alcohol was allowed when viewing the game). I suspect they feel they made the correct decision as the Bards ran out 4-0 winners.

Half the goals were scored before half time, Grocott and a thunderbolt from Sammons. Obeng and Grocott both slotted home to wrap up victory. The Bards then had an extremely good chance to progress further than before with a home game v Long Eaton who were 2 steps below us.

LONG EATON (H) – 3-2 (3rd Qualifying Round) – Long Eaton had knocked out 3 sides higher up the pyramid than themselves and there was plenty of tension in the air although The Bards were clear favourites in the game and dreamt of facing a National League side whose clubs entered at the next stage. Those dreams were temporarily put on hold as the away side took the lead after 10. Andoh also scored from close range after a set piece 6 minutes later and when Bards took the lead on the half hour through Grocott’s 1 on 1 placing the ball into the bottom corner, the expected FA Cup dream was well and truly on.

However, the relentless Long Eaton equalised 7 minutes later via one of their monstrous throw ins that Bards struggled to cope with all game (sometimes it was better to concede corners!). Just when thoughts turned to a trip up to Derbyshire for the replay, some pinball in the area saw Lewis Wilson sweep the ball high into the net from close range after great work from Dawsey. Despite struggling at times and not really looking 2 divisions higher, The Bards closed the game down and we were all tuned in to Talksport for the Monday afternoon draw.

BOSTON UNITED (A) 1-1 – (4th Qualifying Round) – A good draw for The Bards in the last qualifying round, an away game against a mid-table side only a step higher. A coach took around 30 fans, most of the away end to Boston’s impressive newly opened 3-sided ground, amongst a crowd of 1632 – one of the highest The Bards had played in front of. The away fans were segregated just past the halfway line on the terraces. Despite the excitement there was slight trepidation as The Bards had conceded 12 goals in their last 2 league games since the draw was made but we were hoping it was due to the players having one eye on the cup game!

Boston took the lead on 22 from a free kick just outside the area over the wall and had a goal disallowed on 28 after an offside attacker ran in front of Liam trying to stop a shot blocking his view. However, a committed Bards performance was rewarded when Gordon headed in a Grocott corner on 32 to rattle the opponents who had been on top up till then. A Stratford breakaway on 75 was abruptly halted by the referee who showed a second yellow card to a Boston player after a melee in our penalty area after Liam punched clear and from then on Bards saw the game out comfortably. We were in the hat for the next round and had a replay against Boston at home under the lights and hopefully a large home crowd. If we won the replay, a perfect result!

Glued to The FA Cup draw on ITV Sunday lunchtime, the draw couldn’t have gone much better for The Bards for a glamour tie – at home to Midlanders Shrewsbury Town (from Division 1 and winless away) if Boston were overcome in the replay. There was also the added thought that it was the sort of David v Goliath game that the TV companies like to show.

BOSTON UNITED (H) 3-2 – (4th Qualifying Round replay). An official record home crowd at the time of 1253 saw a scintillating cup replay under the lights with the added excitement of the winners drawing the Shrews. Bards were unchanged, Boston were probably still favourites being a step above and hit the post in the first minute. While The Pilgrims were still attacking, the lights went out causing a 10-minute delay! Then The Bards struck after 12 minutes of play, Gordon sweeping home from Obeng’s low cross and The Bards had a 1-0 lead at half time with some controlled play.

After 52, Owen James made progress down the left and crossed low to Jannai Gordon. The ball was slightly behind the centre forward who still managed to poke the ball home, the ball seemingly going underneath the keeper and trickled in – dreams were starting of reaching the first round but 2 quick goals from Boston just after the hour saw them on hold. From the home end, they did seem a bit soft – the first in at the near post direct from a corner and a header from another cross at the near post. Boston then threw everything at The Bards with Magunda and Williams outstanding and Liam making two fantastic saves.

With 12 to go, the ball came across on the left wing to Will Dawes who volleyed the ball into the ground and into the net under the Boston keeper. Cue pandemonium in the home end and nerves as we held on till the end helped by another magnificent save by Liam. A truly memorable night. As well as the pulsating game, The Bards had beaten a team a step higher over 2 games and reached the first-round proper for the first time – the stuff dreams are made of. It was quite an achievement and unbelievable that we would be hosting a First Division team in a cup game at our stadium with rumours that ITV were there and planned to show the game live on ITV4.

SHREWSBURY TOWN (H) 1-5 – (1st Round) – there was a last-minute change in defence as Joe Magunda was unable to play after being named in the side which disrupted the back 4 – Vann having to move into the centre and Wilson coming in at right back. The game was held up as the goalnet had to be re-tied adding to the tension. After 4 minutes, Gordon was in a tussle with the Shrewsbury defender and was challenged unfairly according to the referee near the corner of the penalty area. A clever free-kick routine followed, instead of playing it into the box as expected, Grocott passed back short to Sammons who returned the ball to Grocott, Grocott ‘FIRES IT IN, WHAT A START WHAT A START AND THE BARDY ARMY GOES CRAZY’ went the TV commentor as the ball slid in underneath the keeper and the new scoreboard after being updated showed 1-0. After 8 minutes a testing corner from Grocott was headed away at the back post and the subsequent throw-in saw Obeng just fail to connect properly with a shot as Shrewsbury were rattled.

Up until the 24th minute The Bards held fairly firm but a cross in the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ bounced at the near post past a Shrewsbury player and was headed in from close range by Ryan Bowman – a disappointing goal to give away after defending well up till then. After 30 minutes a high cross from Grocott evaded the keeper but Gordon also failed to reach it as Stratford were still impressing in the game. Just before half time, Bards lost the services of the influential Obeng through injury and he was replaced by Owen James. At half time it was 1-1 and the cup tie was very much alive. The TV panel were even saying it was difficult to pick out who the non-league team were and the team from Division 1.

Shrewsbury through started to assert themselves in the 2nd half and a high cross between keeper and defender after 53 was slid in by Bowman at the far post with Liam and Jordan unable to keep it out although it seemed a bit soft. On 56 a shot from Owen James bounced just in front of the Shrewsbury keeper who palmed it away for a corner. From the corner though, the Shrews broke away and the ball was passed to full back Leahy who hit a screamer that flicked slightly off Sammons, swerved and dipped over Liam into the top corner. As Paul Davis pointed out, there may have been an offside in the build-up which saw him booked for his protestations. Maybe we needed VAR! After 61, Bennett’s curling fee kick went directly in over Liam and it was definitely game over. Bards never gave up, but Shrewsbury’s quality and full-time fitness showed, and they added a 5th after 93 minutes, Bloxham broke through to tuck the ball away for the final goal of the game. The game eventually finishing around 5.15! Steve Cottrell was gracious and complimentary of us in victory. A great journey that we hope will be repeated sometime!

“The day was a wonderful showcase for the Bards demonstrating the determination of all the Directors to drive the club forward and the work of the countless volunteers who made the spectacle happen.” from the club website

Shrewsbury would go on to win 2-1 at Carlisle and then had a trip to Anfield in the 3rd round losing 4-1.

There are still some DVD’s in the Tuck Shop as well

(please see archive tab for other cup seasons)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s