Road to Wembley: Perspective key as Flackwell Heath v Farnham Town is abandoned

Tuesday 05 Sep 2023
The events of Saturday put everything into perspective

The clash between Flackwell Heath and Farnham Town had appealed to me as soon as the draw was made. Both sides ply their trade at step five and both came into the match unbeaten.

However, just for fun, I decided to put my fate in the hands of the internet, posting an online poll to let others decide where I would go for this round. The clash in Buckinghamshire was a comfortable victor.

Arriving at Wilks Park shortly after 10.30am, it became apparent very quickly what a family affair the hosts are. I was warmly greeted by club chairman Terry Glynn and his son Mark. They in turn, introduced me to another of Terry’s sons, Rich, a committee member who usually operates the club’s social media channels. Today he would be running the tea bar.

Terry has been involved with the club for 51 years, starting out as a player at the age of 19. Not only that, he was also born in the small village in the Chiltern Hills, just 400 yards from where we now sat together.

Flackwell Heath v Farnham Town

Emirates FA Cup

First Round Qualifying

Saturday 2 September 2023

And the chairman – who doubles up as groundsman – was clear in highlighting how important the FA Cup can be for a club.

“The FA Cup has played a massive part in what we have done here. We have had two great cup runs and got to the third round of qualifying twice.

“We played Billericay away and lost 3-1 and we played Crawley Town of the Conference here and lost 4-1.

“But on those cup runs we made enough money to invest into the club. We put up a new turnstile block, new concrete terracing and two covered terraces at each end of the ground.

“So the FA Cup is massive to us. I think it is massive to any small club that gets a run in it and long may it carry on!”

Prior to kick-off, I sit down in the away team dugout with Farnham director Harry Hugo. It’s a fascinating conversation and I hope to pick his brains again one day.

Farnham have developed a large following thanks in no small part to their online presence which incorporates a YouTube series. It is an intriguing watch, showcasing so much of what happens at a club that the regular fan isn’t usually privy to. He is similarly open with me as we chat about the club and his dreams for Farnham in this season’s competition.

“A good friend of mine, Alex Inglethrope, who is now the academy director at Liverpool, was the Exeter manager when they got a replay against Manchester United. Now, those are the moments!

“I shouldn’t remember Exeter v Manchester United but I do remember it because it was the FA Cup! Those are the moments that make things happen.

“Now I don’t expect to get to the third round - it’s never going to happen. I don’t even know if a step five team has ever got to the third round and I would say it is highly unlikely we will get there.

“But we could get to the first round proper and that is the dream for us. Can we get to the first round of this competition having won six games? Now that’s a lot of games. 

“Manchester City only need to win six games to win the competition! We would have done that just to get into the first round proper.

“For me personally, can we bring that legacy to the town?

In the days prior to the game, one of the Flackwell Heath players, James Burrell, had contacted me directly. Burrell and I actually did our teacher training together and so it was a great opportunity to catch up and reminisce. 

He’s currently out injured but invited me to watch the game with him alongside some other members of the squad who were not involved and the substitutes.

Bizarrely, the Heathens’ subs opt not to sit in the traditional dugout alongside the coaching staff, but rather right next to it in a modest-sized stand which, with its low ceiling, very much has the feel of a subs bench anyway.

However, before the match can get underway, I am invited to fulfil an obligatory duty. Rich asks if I would be willing to announce the teams over the tannoy. Of course, I’m only too happy to oblige!

It’s another little anecdote to add to my season-long story. I’m not seeking out these extra experiences but they all contribute to a wonderful experience. I’m told I receive mostly positive feedback for my performance too!

And so to the game. Perching next to Burrell, the home side starts brightly and have some good forays forward before Farnham take the lead. Tom Smith’s volleyed cross from the left is not properly dealt with and Dean Rule is able to drill into the net.

Flackwell continue to ask questions going forward with Jethro Odumosu’s header bringing a remarkable fingertip save from Pat Nash in the Farnham goal. 

Their endeavour is rewarded though when the lively Jack Shakespeare wriggles into the penalty area and fires home.

Once again though, there is a touch of class about Farnham’s play and they manage to restore their lead before the interval. Shamal Edwards, constantly asking questions of the hosts’ defence, manages to turn his marker and find the bottom corner with a left-footed strike.

That was how the match finished although it is not the end of the story. With 64 minutes on the clock, Flackwell’s Matthew Ayres – son of manager Chris – collapsed, prompting immediate calls for assistance.

The stoppage lasts for around half an hour when an ambulance arrives, and Ayres is eventually taken to hospital. At this point, the contest is abandoned by referee Thomas Hood.

Thankfully, Flackwell have since announced that Ayres is home and resting up after what his father and manager Chris believes was caused by a combination of his long-standing asthma, the heat and a potential panic attack

It was a nervous time for all those in attendance. Like everyone else, my best wishes, of course, go to him and praise must be given to Flackwell physio Stacia Murray for her immediate action and the others who came to his assistance.

And so, the two teams will meet again on Wednesday but not in a replay as the match doesn’t reach its conclusion and is instead abandoned.

Some I have already spoken to immediately suggest I will need to come up for the rearranged tie. Unfortunately, with me being a teacher, geography will not be on my side and I doubt I will be able to make it. Perhaps I will cross paths with the victors at a later stage.

By Matt Bass