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10th September 2020

In_pictures FA Cup preliminary round: Five stories of non-league clubs in qualifying

In_pictures FA Cup preliminary round: Five stories of non-league clubs in qualifying


in_pictures Kieran Amos signs for Essex Senior League side Sawbridgeworth Town
Kieran Amos (right) was Sawbridgeworth Town’s first signing for the 2020-21 season after shedding more than six stone
Dates: 11-13 September Coverage: Stocksbridge Park Steels v Stalybridge Celtic live on the BBC Sport website and BBC iPlayer on Saturday, 12 September (12:30 BST)

Qualifying for the 2020-21 FA Cup continues this weekend with 320 non-league clubs battling it out in the preliminary round.

Some 136 teams enter at this stage and will be joined by 184 sides who advanced from the extra preliminary round.

A win will leave teams four victories from a place in the first round proper, when League One and League Two clubs enter, on 7-8 November.

BBC Sport looks at five clubs taking part this weekend.

‘I couldn’t look in the mirror’

When Kieran Amos stepped on the scales at the start of lockdown in March, he was “horrified” to discover he weighed 21st 6lb (134kg).

In the space of a few months the 24-year-old had embarked on a strict fitness regime, shed more than six stone, forced his way into the Sawbridgeworth Town team – and scored a 91st-minute winner in the FA Cup extra preliminary round.

“Lockdown gave me an opportunity to do something about my weight,” says Amos. “I’d avoided looking at myself in the mirror for a long time.”

A former player with Essex Senior League side Takeley, Amos put on weight after injuring his ankle, which required surgery, at the age of 17.

“I was watching games thinking: ‘I could still play if I got myself fit,'” he adds.

in_pictures Kieran Amos
Kieran Amos said he “ballooned” to more than 21 stone after an ankle injury and going to university

After a conversation earlier in the year with Lee Mackman, boss at Hertfordshire club Sawbridgeworth, Amos went on to lose five stone.

Having played several friendly games, he was picked for the FA Cup tie against eighth-tier Romford on 1 September.

With the tie locked at 1-1 in stoppage time and penalties looming, he headed the winner from a free-kick.

“It’s by far the best thing I have ever done,” adds Amos on his weight loss.

Sawbridgeworth Townexternal-link face Hertfordshire rivals St Margaretsbury on Saturday, with Amos in excellent form.

He followed up his winner against Romford with a hat-trick in a 5-2 Essex Senior League win against Southend Manor.

The Mydas touch

When Manchester United beat Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup final, Mydas Smalls was not even born.

But the young Whitton United midfielder has already written himself into FA Cup folklore by becoming one of the competition’s youngest scorers.

Aged 16 years 63 days, Smalls netted his side’s third goal in a dramatic 4-3 win over neighbours Ipswich Wanderers in the extra preliminary round.

Sean Cato is thought to be the youngest scorer in the FA Cup. According to the Football Association, he was 16 years 25 days oldexternal-link when he scored for Barrow Town in a preliminary round tie in 2011.

“I was about to bring Mydas off because his legs had gone,” says Shane Coldron, manager of Ipswich-based Whitton.external-link

“Next thing he goes and scores.”

in_pictures Mydas Smalls with Southampton's former Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand
Mydas Smalls with Southampton’s former Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand

Coldron is predicting a big future for Smalls, whose 17-year-old brother, Tyger, was invited to train with Arsenal’s under-23s earlier this year.

“He has all the talent to play professionally because he plays without fear,” he adds. “I can’t see him being with us for very long.”

Whitton, who play in the Eastern Counties League Premier Division, are away to Dereham Town on Saturday.

Getting shirty with Maradona

They play in the ninth-tier of English football in front of crowds of about 100, but Biggleswade United are familiar to some of the world’s biggest stars.

Argentina legend Diego Maradona, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and Arsenal icon Thierry Henry are among those who have been pictured with the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division club’s red and blue shirt.

in_pictures Football legend Diego Maradona holds a Biggleswade United shirt with the club's chairman Guillem Balague
Football legend Diego Maradona holds a Biggleswade United shirt with the club’s chairman Guillem Balague

United’s chairman is Guillem Balague, the Spanish football expert and author of books on Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino.

“I take the Biggleswade United shirt everywhere I go,” says Balague. “We have a hall of fameexternal-link at the club with pictures of people I have talked to over the years holding the shirt.”

The Bedfordshire part-timersexternal-link asked Balague to get involved with them in 2014.

Since then he has used his contacts in the game to help promote the club, and recently persuaded former Rangers forward Nacho Novo, a three-time Scottish league title winner, to join.

Asked why he got involved in non-league, Balague says: “After many years being on the other side of the fence, I wanted to get involved more in the game.

“Biggleswade United approached me at the perfect time. I bought into the vision and thought I could help long-term. I’m here to make the club bigger.”

Having edged out Suffolk side Woodbridge Town on penalties in the last round, United are away at eighth-tier Cambridge City on Saturday.

The Gary Neville Stand?

With players to pay and no matchday income for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brighouse Town launched a fundraising campaign to stay alive.

Officials at the Yorkshire club were “overwhelmed” when former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, part-owner of Salford City, responded with a “significant” donation for sentimental reasons.

The eight-time Premier League and two-time Champions League winner had attended Brighouse’s ground to watch Salford in January 2015 with his father Neville, who died seven months later.

“Like most clubs at our level we live hand-to-mouth and were experiencing financial difficulty,” James Howard, chairman of Brighouse, says.

“Gary’s donation has helped allow us to do drainage work on one of the training pitches, repair a roof on a stand and start development on the clubhouse.”

in_pictures Gary Neville celebrates after a Salford City game
Gary Neville came to Brighouse Town’s aid during lockdown

Brighouse,external-link who play in the eighth-tier Northern Premier League Division One North West, are now planning to name a stand after Neville, who opened up his hotels free of charge to health workers to help with the coronavirus crisis.

“He’s a real superstar,” adds Howard, whose side are away at ninth-tier Runcorn Town on Saturday.

Still standing at Wisbech

Wisbech Town Football Club’s stand collapses in storm

When their stand collapsed in high winds caused by Storm Ciara in February, Wisbech Town feared the worst.

With no money to repair the metal structure, the Cambridgeshire club faced up to the prospect of not being able to replace it.

But a crowdfunding campaign helped raise £3,000 towards repairs and a new covered structure, featuring some parts of the original stand, has now been built.

“You wouldn’t really know there had been a problem,” says Wisbech secretary Spencer Larham.

“We got the people who originally put it up to see what they could do with what was left with the mess.

“Some of it was damaged beyond repair while the rest has been salvaged.”

Wisbech,external-link who play in the eighth-tier Northern Premier League Division One South East, face Haverhill Rovers away on Saturday, their first competitive match since 14 March.

in_pictures Wisbech Town's Fenland Stadium
Wisbech Town play at Fenland Stadium

in_pictures Around the BBC - Sounds

in_pictures Around the BBC footer - Sounds


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