An unusual game in unusual surroundings, but there was a distinct air of familiarity at Bishop’s Stortford’s Woodside Park on Sunday afternoon as Stansted beat Sawbridgeworth 2-1 to progress to the preliminary round of the Emirates FA Cup.
Stansted, temporarily forced to up sticks from Hargrave Park with the cricket season in full swing, hosted their local rivals in a fiery derby.
- The Emirates FA Cup
- Extra preliminary round
- Sunday 12 August 2018
- Woodside Park, Bishop's Stortford FC
- Winners receive £2250 and losers £750 from prize fund
“Every time we play this game, something happens – it’s incredible”, says Mick Phillips, Sawbridgeworth’s long-serving club secretary, turning to those at the back of the stands with a look on his face that suggests he has seen it all before.
Those with similar experience to Phillips all have their own FA Cup stories to share. Stansted have had limited success in the competition themselves, but those associated with the club remember their own trips to Wembley.
“It has got a place in your heart because of your own experiences,” the club’s secretary, Tom Williams, tells me.
“Today is a chance for the kids watching to get to know the FA Cup as well as us old boys do.”
It is clear that encouraging the younger generation to enjoy their own memories is important to the club.
With Stansted so close to London, most young fans quickly become intoxicated by the riches of Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham.
There are a couple of Spurs and Real Madrid kits on show at Woodside, but the number of excitable boys and girls decked out in Stansted gear is striking.
The excitement of the cup runs through Sawbridgeworth too. Assistant manager Ray Wickenden was part of Harlow Town’s famous 1979-80 FA Cup run to the fourth round. His son, Danny, is playing his first game in the competition.
“It is those sort of things that you have to look at and say that this is the greatest cup competition in the world,” said Ray.
The match begins with a crunch. A high foot less than a minute in set the tone for a scrappy first half.
Sawbridgeworth started the more assured, happier to get the ball down and create combinations between Wickenden, Joe Wright and Ollie Fortune, who came closest with a couple of long-range strikes.
The deadlock was broken two minutes into stoppage time as Stansted failed to clear a long throw. Arriving late into the box, Jack Cousins caught the ball perfectly to loop a half-volley across the goalkeeper, into the far corner.
If the first half simmered, the second erupted, with Stansted harrying with renewed vigour.
They were quickly rewarded on 47 minutes, when Callum Ibe brought a diagonal pass down on his chest, following up a lucky ricochet with clever footwork, before sliding the ball in.
Sawbridgeworth started to crumble under Stansted’s relentless pressure, with late tackles flying in, and Julien Lloyd clattering the post for the home side.
The tipping point came when Sawbridgeworth’s Chris Ratambwa was sent off for a lunge over the ball with his studs showing.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as captain Matt Frew was then dismissed for a second yellow. Ibe and Carl Mullings both wasted chances, with Sawbridgeworth clearing twice from their line, but Stansted finally found the goal their pressure deserved after 79 minutes.
Courtney Homans, a constant threat from right-back, found acres of room on the edge of the box and calmly drilled into the bottom corner. Sawbridgeworth looked incapable of mustering a fightback after going down to nine, with Stansted continuing to pepper Jarvis Monk’s goal until the final whistle.
The reward for Stansted – another local derby at home to Takeley, who beat them 2-0 on Tuesday night.
Another familiar foe, but it seems sometimes there is nothing better than the things you know best.