Five Leagues and a World Apart


Woking v Watford in the FA Cup 2019

My home town team Woking were the smallest club left in the F.A. Cup but we could not manage to beat the odds and make it to the fourth round, losing 2-0 at home to Watford yesterday.

Woking and Watford are similar towns in size and distance from the capital and their football clubs are of similar age, but today they play five divisions apart.

This salient fact makes the scoreline complement the Cardinals of the sixth-tier National League South, who pluckily took on a crack Premier League outfit. In reality we never threatened an upset, forcing Hornets goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes into only one save and missing one half-chance to score in the second half.

Watford meanwhile forged a string of occasions to score in the first half, only thwarted by last-ditch lunges and Woking goalie Craig Ross.

Woking v Watford in the FA Cup 2019

Their goals came in cruise control.

Will Hughes, slippery as an eel, had the luxury of no markers so could meet a corner kick first time to whip his shot into the far corner in the 13th minute

Troy Deeney, who was playing with a smile on his face as if in a charity match, had an easy tap-in from close range an hour later after Woking's defence let a cross shockingly slip past them. "Sloppy mistakes", the Cards boss Alan Dowson rued later.

Watford boss Javi Gracia might have made 11 changes from their previous match but could still field ten nationalities including current or ex-internationals of Brazil, England, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Venezuela and former players of Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Woking's players were all English with the exception of Jamar Loza, who has made three friendly appearances for Jamaica, and none earned more than £400 per week as the club is only semi-professional.

Woking v Watford in the FA Cup 2019

Against these odds, Jake Hyde's determined forward runs and substitute Armani Little's dogged attacking were worthy of medals for bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.

Woking's manager had spoken of an imminent cricket score beforehand, deliberately dowsing any euphoria or inebriated optimism.

The Cards motored away, thrusting at a superior foe who always seemed to have two or three players to close down our runners. We tried yet never came close to the prize, a universal truth recognised by the sustained applause at the final whistle, which was more like that of a classical concert, the managers' embrace and the relaxed player handshakes.

An annual narrative is how the F.A. Cup is not what it was, but for clubs like Woking it is still our only sip of ambrosia, a fleeting and infrequent moment in the limelight and a chance to slay Goliaths.

Woking v Watford in the FA Cup 2019

Giant-slaying is getting harder despite the fielding of B-teams by the big boys. Fitness levels and tactical preparation have advanced in the professional game and without the money, the Davids cannot keep up.

Gaps between divisions have widened so how on earth could anyone expect a club five divisions beneath the Premier League to have won through?

Our previous exploits against Everton, Coventry, Millwall, Brighton and Swindon are jewels in our crown, peaks we conquered or almost reached. The Koh-I-Noor for us will always be our 4-2 win at West Bromwich Albion in the 3rd Round in 1991, a day so blissful for our little team and town.

We will always have the Hawthorns. We just hope it was not our last moment in the sun.


Stalybridge Celtic v Stockport County

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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