At times this FA Cup trail feels like an expedition and I was certainly dressed for the part today. With temperatures hovering around freezing I togged up in a jacket, three shirts, a sensible jumper, wooly hat, scarf, pair of sausage-finger gloves bought for climbing Kilimanjaro and, over my trousers, a pair of salopettes last worn on a skiing holiday in the eighties. You could’ve rolled me to the turnstile. I love the way that the appeal and appearance of the Cup gradually changes with the seasons but today was all extremes.
The area behind the Eastwood goal was packed – and I wanted to cross it to reach the less populated terrace on the other side. “We’re gonna boing in a minute …” sung the lads as I pushed my way through. And, yes, in a minute I was involuntarily boinging. Then one of them pinched my hat and passed it around. I was dreading one of them turning it inside out and asking questions with hard-to-shorten answers about why it had a Reading badge. I burst out of the other side of the melee, practically gasping for breath. A near-birth experience, in fact. “That was like the bad old days!” said a fellow escapee. More like the good old days, if you ask me.
For a club that was an average league gate of 400, Eastwood had first rate support today. Right from the start they had lots to cheer about. Their team hit the bar from a header after a free-kick in the second minute and, soon after, Wycombe rattled the bar too. The exchange set the tone for a cracking ding-ding encounter.
Ten minutes from the break Eastwood took the lead with a well placed curling shot that went just inside the post from the edge of the box. The Badgers’ tails were well up (do Badger have tails?). Wycombe had their moments in the second half most notably in a spell in which a big bouncing shot was headed off the line, a penalty appeal turned down and the Eastwood goalie made one of several good saves. “One-nil to the Badger boys” the home fans sang as the fog blew across the tight little ground, the tension mounted and we began to fear an Inzaghi moment (not often Wycombe get compared to AC Milan).
At the other end Eastwood’s Meikle burst through for a one-on-one with the keeper. “Go on!” I bellowed, “History!” said the guy next to me … but Meikle blasted over the bar having had probably too much time. A similar chance came in the third minute of injury time. Todd charged down a Wycombe clearance and squared the ball inside to sub and prison officer Knox who rounded the goalie and clinched the tie with his first kick of the match in front of the home fans.
It doesn’t get much better than this (but then I thought that after a similar moment at the climax of the Curzon tie). To put things fully into perspective, Wycombe top the Fourth Division, are the only senior side in Britain not to have lost in the League this season and, until today, had only conceded two League goals away from home. The final whistle triggered the inevitable pitch invasion and yet more “boinging”, this time with the players. Eastwood, not Wycombe, should have had ‘Dreams’ on their shirts. I followed up the upset of the first round with the upset of the second. For £10 I couldn’t have had a more thrilling afternoon’s entertainment.
On the way out of the ground I bought a commemorative Eastwood/Wycombe scarf for a fiver. Well, it would’ve been churlish not to – and I’d only come with one scarf after all. My neck was lovely and warm on the long drive back up the M1.
Some geography: Where is Eastwood? Good question – almost as apposite as where is Curzon. It’s a town near Nottingham that’s claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of racey novelist D H Lawrence.
Programme note: Thanks to the programme editor who followed up the email I sent him and gave this blog a plug. If you logged on as a result I hope you enjoyed the read.
Not much opportunity for good pics this round, I’m afraid. It was very foggy, Coronation Park is unremarkable, I wanted to watch the game and, as you’ll have gathered, movement around the ground was limited. But I did get a mini-movie of the post-match celebrations (see below). This, for me, encapsulates what the Cup is all about. A point for each badger you spot (easy), three points if you can spot a lad running away with a replica of the Cup (one of two) and a bonus if you join in the song. For a few seconds of the actual pitch invasion click here (but I'm not expecting any Oscars for this one) and for match highlights click here.