I had a choice of games last night. A short trip to Motspur Park where I could have got in for free to see the reserves play Ch*ls** or a drive down to Camberley Town to see their F.A. Cup 2nd Qualifying Round reply against Dartford. Typically I choose the game with the least goals.
The reserves fielded a strong side featuring both Collins John and Shefki Kuqi up front, as well as Micheal Timlin in midfield and Adrian Leijer in defence. We took an early lead via a Collins John shot. By half-time Ch*ls** had equalised but seen Wayne Bridge (attempting rehabilitation from a hip injury) sent off. Two headed goals from Leijer and Kuqi gave us a 3-1 lead early in the second half and, despite Ch*ls** pulling one back through a penalty in the closing minutes, were good enough to claim a 3-2 win. Good to see the continued use of fringe first team players in the reserves side. Surely something that can only benefit those players and help the younger reserve squad members develop their games. There's a decent report on the Offal here.
My decision to travel down to Camberley was not entirely without reason. My friend Andy is attempting to follow the road to the F.A. Cup Final from the Extra Preliminary Round. This is one of those great Football quests that I'm sure many readers will have considered at some point in their football watching lifespans a bit like trying to go to every ground in the league. Andy's writing a blog called, Wick to Wembley?, about his experiences which is an entertaining read and has already been shocked at the level of interest. The great thing about the early round of the Cup is the excitement it brings to the smallest of teams, dreams of reaching the first round proper and meeting a league side and maybe even beating them. For me it's what the F.A. Cup is all about and why there will always be a special magic about the competition.
So far Andy has spent a disproportionate amount of time in Kent and my attendance at Fulham games had meant I'd not been able to join him so far. However, when Dartford got drawn at home to Camberley Town I thought to myself I might join Andy for the replay. Dartford are a Ryman Division One North side one level higher than Camberley Town who play in the Combined Counties League Premier Division. Dartford have a very impressive state-of-the-art stadium, Camberley don't. Dartford have a reasonably sized and quite vocal fan base, Camberley don't. Clearly I was going to be supporting Camberley. Dartford started strongly and dominated the opening 20 minutes, despite this Camberley defended well and, despite appearing physically much smaller, coped admirably with the bombardment of aerial through balls during this spell. The Dartford travelling army were making themselves heard and were particularly vocal about Camberley's attempts to foul their players. They were well aware that despite dominating the first match Camberley had twice pegged them back with long range shots and also benefited from some generous refereeing decisions. Unfortunately for them their players had not heeded the warning. Star striker Jay May received a straight red for lashing out at a Camberley player who had just kicked him from behind for the third time in succession. For a spell Camberley had started to look the better side, but the sending off galvanised Dartford's approach and despite the numerical disadvantage were again looking the stronger side, and also playing more football, come the end of the half.
Camberley came out a different team in the second half. Whether this was down to an inspirational team talk or the slope in the pitch was difficult to judge, but they started playing much sharper football and making the most of the extra man. Despite most of the action again being up our end, the Dartford 'keeper had few genuine saves to make and the longer the game progressed the more it looked like petering out into a 0-0 draw. Dartford were struggling to create much up front, but still controlled much of the game thanks to midfielder Alex O'Brien. The game went into extra time just as the coldness of the night really started to hit home. Camberley continued to create and still playing down the slope had two great chances to win the game before the turn. The slope factor was evident in the final 15 minutes of extra time as supremacy again swung back towards Dartford. They also had their chances to win it but were denied by a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping. Inevitably the game did indeed finish 0-0 and we went to penalties where Dartford showed their composure to claim a 4-1 win. As we left the Dartford team were piling into the little covered stand to join in the celebrations with their supporter's. It was clear how much the win meant to them and they now face a trip to Bromley F.C., who may or may not be in Kent, of the Blue Square South division.
Despite the lack of goals it was a good night out, and a nice reminder of what it's like in the lower reaches of the football pyramid. As Andy continues his journey he will eventually leave behind the world of non-league clubs and I know he thinks that to some extent he'll miss the passion they bring to the competition. I'm just looking forward to seeing where his route takes him and wondering if it will coincide with the route that Fulham take.