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FA Cup Trail:
FA Cup Preliminary Round, 31/08/02
Long Buckby AFC 0(0)
Team: 1. Mark Coleman 2. Danny McWilliams 3. Nick Daniels 4. Darren Jameson 5. Shaun Tiernan 6. Rick Kimball 7. Carl Lawes 8. Peter McBean 9. Mark Jameson 10. Nigel Fretwell 11. Paul Pickering
Marlow 2(0)
Team: 1. Lee Carroll 2. Grant Goodall 3. Michael Floyd 4. Tim Cook 5. Luke Euans 6. Simon Goodram 7. John Issacs 8. Mattie McDonnell 9. Robert Gibson 10. Nicky Ryder 11. Sam Shepperd
Scorers: Ryder 59 mins, Sub 90 mins

Referee: L. Hodgson (Nuneaton)
Crowd: 85
Conditions: Dry, overcast, cool fresh breeze

Entry: £3 for adults, free for youngsters
Programme: 50p for 12 photocopied pages with one staple
Refreshments: 40p for a cup of tea, 80p for can of Coca-Cola
Distance travelled: 143 miles

"A determined family of wasps"
By Baz Barry
I guess the people of Cromarty get used to it, with a sigh of irritated reluctance. For me it still has an entertaining novelty. Without exception, to everyone I explained that I spent the second week of my summer holiday in Cromarty, the reply has been an attempted listing of the other shipping forecast regions. And always including DoggerBank. Which is peculiar, really. Admittedly, I didn't do Geography at school, but I would have thought the only way the populace would have learnt of the shipping forecast regions is by listening to Radio 4 at the strangest of times.

As it happens, I can vouch that Cromarty is a quaint village perched on the mouth of the firth that shares its name and in which eight oil rigs were laid up for rest and recuperation. A famous bloke (in Scottish terms), Hugh Miller, was born there two hundred years ago this year, there's a number of gift shops selling tea towels with shipping forecast maps and a large school of dolphins hang-out nearby.

But Watford fans, particularly of pre-Taylor days, will know of this kind of misplaced association. Mention Watford and half the time, and particularly to non-sporty types, the riposte would be "Ah, the Watford gap" with a follow-up reference to the North/South divide. I can never let it go and always have to explain that "the Watford Gap is in Northamptonshire, sixty miles from the real Watford, and the service station is named after a village nearby and refers to a gap in the hills through which the A5, M1 motorway, Grand Union Canal and mainline railway run side-by-side."

So it was with some excitement (oh, yes) that on Saturday we - my mate Dave, the boy Sam and I - drove through the village of Watford on the way to Long Buckby for the start of our FA Cup Trail.

Okay, Dave wasn't excited cos he's a Chelsea fan, and Sam wasn't interested cos he's nine, but they humoured me as we took photos by the village sign. And for the record, Watford village is more of a hamlet running for eight hundred yards or so along a single road with a Village Hall (they're never called a Hamlet Hall) and that's it. No church, no shop, no school. Not even a pub.

The FA Cup Trail had been something we'd kicking around for a number of years. By no means a new idea, the Beeb, Sky and some newspapers had done it, but there was a strong appeal, and no little challenge, to follow the FA Cup from the preliminary rounds through to Cardiff. It seemed natural to start by watching our hometown team of Marlow, Rymans First Division (North), playing away to Long Buckby, Eagle Bitter United Counties League. We'd then follow the winners in the next round, and so on, until the Final.

It would be a chance to experience the standards of unpretentious facilities and football at varying non-league levels, through to the top professional leagues with their attached rampant commercialism. Certainly from Watford's Premiership escapade I found myself being alienated by the prices and hype that surrounds that level of the game and had been drawn to watching the reserves at Northwood with as much enjoyment. Or maybe the Premiership lost its gloss because we got stuffed too many times for comfort.

The challenge would be to juggle the commitment of seeing a minimum of thirteen games whilst still following the Hornets and leading a busy weekend life that comes as standard issue with two growing children. The obvious solution to the last conundrum was to drag along Sam, aged nine, with the prospect of going to the bigger games in the New Year and FA Cup Final next May. Justifying the Trail concept whilst having Watford season tickets and normally taking in the odd away game may be more difficult to pull off, particularly if Ray gets them going, but we'll give it a go. Luckily the first few FA Cup rounds do seem to coincide with Watford's less appealing away fixtures.

Otherwise, we know there may be the prospect of having to go to Carlisle or Newcastle in later rounds or, even worse, for a midweek replay, but at the moment we're prepared to risk it. Besides, somewhere amongst the plan, which isn't a plan at all, is the thought that the FA Cup is now drawn regionally even at the First Round proper stage. So if we have to go to Newcastle in the Fourth Round we'll be near the end of the Trail and have to complete it, come what may. And then there would the prospect of getting tickets for the final rounds, but if we get that far we hope the clubs will treat benevolently our ticket requests providing we can we give them the proof. So it was armed with cameras and pen and paper we found ourselves driving into deepest Northants.

There's no chance of Long Buckby suffering from misplaced association. I'd never heard of it and apparently its main claim to fame is being around the corner from Althorp House and where the royals got off the train on the day Lady Diana was buried. In the bar beforehand, we were told by a committee member (and Wolves fan, complete with shirt) that the two factories, Golden Wonder and MacLaren who make prams and baby-buggies, had closed down. Another committee member (and Birmingham fan) struggled to give any tips about the Buckby team, eventually settling on the "twenty-two stone goalie being quite useful...for his size". Without doubt this was perfectly true, as was his revelation that the Buckby manager had spotted Marlow's weakness to be a small goalie, and the resultant instruction to shoot on sight, and the prediction that the normal crowd of sixty would be swelled by two dozen fans from Marlow.

The Marlow followers seemed to be evenly split into two. There was a dozen elderly, blazer-clad, committee types who clustered themselves not far from the Away dug-out, but close enough for the manager to hear their persistent criticism of the Marlow play. Dead ringers for the Upper Rous, I'd say. The other half were the Marlow crew who positioned themselves behind the Buckby goal at the beginning of each half. With an average age of thirty-eight, and complete with three flags, they had an underwhelming collection of clichéd football songs. For example, we learnt there was "only one Nicky Ryder", Marlow are "Super" and they "hate Wycombe".

There was no sign of a Buckby crew, just a couple of boys brave enough to start some juvenile banter with the away fans before running out of things to say, or having to get another ball that had been kicked out the ground. However,with due respect to anyone who was there, what was noticeable about the crowd was the high turnout of misfits, wierdos and society's unusual characters. I'm sorry, but it was true. But then again they probably thought it was funny to see two adults and a boy taking pictures and counting the crowd.

The Buckby ground, three hundred yards from the bar past a cricket pitch, was where many of our pre-conceptions were met head on. Once past the podgy thirteen year old (the goalie's son?) taking the money next to the vandalised kiosk, you find a covered stand along half of the length of one side of the pitch, but so small there was only room for three rows of vandal proof seats. On the other side and behind one goal was just a garden fence leaving enough room for a crowd to stand three deep and behind the other goal was a small strip of grass occupied by two ball boys and a determined family of wasps. There was a refreshment room open to all at half time and where both teams' dignitaries shared a large pot of tea and cakes, with seats reserved for them next to a television.

The game itself was entertaining enough without fully catching the attention. After the first twenty minutes of skirmishing, Marlow took control with some dominant midfield play and restricting Buckby to a couple of long range shots. By half time "Super" Marlow had hit the post and had two "goals" disallowed. Most excitement came from the havoc caused by the long throws launched by the Marlow number 7 (Issacs?). His length and trajectory was up there with any I've seen in twenty-five years of watching football. Scary.

Otherwise the player who clearly thought he was a star was Nicky Ryder, the Marlow goal machine. He's the type of player who wears red boots and tutts at every misplaced ball hit towards him. I'm sure you know the type. He celebrated his goal on sixty minutes, a diving header to a shot that cannoned off the bar after more havoc from an Issacs throw-in, by pretending to quick-draw a pair of pistols before individually hugging the dozen Marlow crew behind the goal. Classic.

The Buckby full-back (Floyd ?) lost the plot after the goal, (does this sound familiar, Robbo?) getting booked twice in quick succession. The second was debatable, even the Marlow crew disputed the ref's call, but he was off. There followed the clichéd response of the ten men of Long Buckby putting Marlow under pressure and causing the odd scare before, deep in injury time, the Marlow sub (Rodrigues?) chipped in after a long punt down the middle.

Marlow are £1,000 better off for the win and will be away to Leyton FC, Rymans Division Two and the oldest club in London, don't you know, in a fortnight's time.

We'll be there.