Clevedon Town's run to the first round of the 2006/07 FA Cup
- Credit: Newspaper clippings from Clevedon Mercury
The FA Cup is currently in it's 150th year of competition and in that time a number of teams have gone against the odds and surprised people along the way.
During the 2006-07 season, Clevedon Town reached the first round for the first, and so far only, time in their history.
The campaign started with The Seasiders on a high having won the Southern League Division One South & West title and promotion back to the Premier Division.
The aim at the start of the season was to finish outside the relegation places in the league and have a decent run in one of the cup competitions.
However, Clevedon’s past record did not suggest it would come in the FA Cup.
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They first entered the competition in 1909 and kept going until 1958 as an amateur team in a professional competition before returning in 1976 when they rejoined the Western League from County League football, but again never got past the third qualifying round.
But there was a reason for celebration after reaching the fourth qualifying round, let alone reaching the first round proper and to draw a league team at home.
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It was a cup run that almost didn’t happen as Town came within minutes of going out in their first game in the competition in the first qualifying round against Truro City at The Hand Stadium, now named The Everyone Active Stadium.
City were playing in Western League Division One, three levels below their rivals in the pyramid, who were at home and on paper saw it as a winnable tie.
However, that City team was newly promoted and backed by Kevin Heaney’s money on a run of seven promotions to reach National League South within 10 years and later that season would embark on their own cup run to win the first FA Vase at the new Wembley.
In many respects Clevedon were the underdogs and trailing 1-0 before a late goal from substitute Matt Rawlins earned a replay and a long trip to Cornwall the following Tuesday.
The tie turned out to be an end-to-end encounter and although Truro dominated possession Clevedon’s defence restricted any clear-cut chances and the visitors were dangerous on the break.
There were two serious injuries in the match to Town’s Sean Seavill and City’s skipper Tom Smith who were both taken to hospital.
In the second minute of the inevitable injury time Clevedon grabbed a winner when a Danny Haines corner was headed back out to him and his cross-shot through a crowd of players eluded City keeper Dan Stevenson and ended up in the corner of the net to send them into the second qualifying round.
Town were drawn out of the hat to play at home again, this time to Western League Premier Division side Willand Rovers.
This turned out to be a much more straightforward affair with Clevedon going 2-0 up in 54 minutes with goals from Rob Scott and a penalty from Leon Hapgood.
Richard Pears pulled one back for Willand on the hour but five minutes later substitute Tom Jacobs, who had only just come on, made the game safe and sealed a 3-1 home win.
When Clevedon came out of the hat first again in the third qualifying round supporters began to think the luck of the draw might be with the team.
The draw pitted them against the winners of a replay between Nationwide Conference South side Bognor Regis Town or fellow Southern Premier Division side Hitchin Town.
Hitchin would produce a surprise 1-0 win on the South Coast and hopes rose again as both teams were in mid-table, with The Canaries one point better off than Clevedon.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan and Clevedon were punished for a slow start, with Dan French giving the visitors a ninth-minute lead.
It took another Hapgood penalty just after half-time to rescue the game and with no further goals, it presented Clevedon with another long Tuesday night trip for the replay.
Hitchin were now clearly the favourites but what an epic it turned out to be with Clevedon having to overcome considerable adversity to progress.
First, they lost Danny Haines to an early injury, replaced by Pete Sheppard, then they took the lead on 40 minutes when a Billy Clark header from a corner was ruled just to have crossed the line.
On 78 minutes Hitchin equalised with a David Deeney penalty, but even worse for Clevedon Geraint Bater was sent off for disputing the decision.
And just after that Rob Scott was also given his marching orders to leave Clevedon with just nine men.
They managed to hang on to take the tie into extra time and amazingly took the lead through Leon Hapgood in the 110th minute, which looked as if that would be enough.
But 20 seconds from the end Glen Lamacraft converted a cross to make it 2-2 on the night to take the tie into a penalty shootout and almost break Clevedon’s hearts knowing how close they had been to victory.
But, Phil Bater’s side dug in during the shootout and it was keeper Danny Greaves' turn to shine, saving the hosts first penalty and then another whilst Jack Pitcher, Matt Rawlins, who was brought on right at the end just to take a penalty, Tom Jacobs and Hapgood all converted to give The Seasiders a quite unbelievable 4-3 win on penalties and move in the fourth qualifying round for the first time in their history.
This time the luck of the draw deserted Clevedon and if they were going to make further history, they would have to overcome another long journey and Nationwide Conference South opponents Welling United, who were riding high in fifth place in their league.
A closure on the M25 meant the team and supporters endured an horrendous and nail-biting journey to Kent, but in retrospect this may have helped calm any nerves in the camp because on arrival at Park View it was straight into preparations for the game.
Clark opened the scoring after three minutes when he controlled Kris Wincombe’s long cross before smashing it past Jamie Turner.
And Clevedon doubled the lead 10 minutes when Jack Pitcher ran onto a lovely weighed through ball from Mitchell Page before he was tripped in the box by Turner and Hopgood stepped up and sent him the wrong way from the spot.
Page then sealed a 3-0 win when he picked up Clark’s pass and was able to round Turner before slotting it into the empty net and seal Clevedon’s place in the next round.
After the game everyone gathered in the Welling bar to watch the draw for the first round, which in those days took place at 5.30pm on Saturdays.
There was a mix-up early on in the draw and initially Clevedon were drawn away to Darlington, leading to disappointment, but this was soon corrected to Chester City, then a League Two side, at home and it was euphoria all round.
The run-up to the Chester match was not straightforward as Clevedon had picked up a number of injuries, as well as yellow and red cards.
In order to have as full a team as possible the club needed to have chalk off some bans by getting games played and it was gratifying to know the rest of the football world rallied round to help.
On the Tuesday before the Chester game Town played a home league match against Hemel Hempstead.
The game was played in thick fog which ended 0-0 and in any other circumstances would surely have never started let alone played to a conclusion.
The following evening Bitton agreed to bring forward the Somerset Premier Cup tie against Town particularly to complete Geraint Bater’s suspension.
Clearly the Western League side saw it as an opportunity to beat their Southern League opponents and make progress in a cup they might be able to win and it was off to The Ton on Wednesday with half the youth team completing the line-up and Clevedon suffering an inevitable 4-1 defeat.
But both clubs played an indirect part in helping to make Clevedon’s big day and a crowd of 2,261 turned up to brave the November cold with blue and white hats, flags and scarves seen everywhere as both teams were given a marvellous welcome when they entered the field.
The crowd was the biggest recorded in 55 years when 2,300 showed up to see Clevedon take on Bath City at the old Teignmouth Road and the highest ever at The Hand Stadium, now known as the Everyone Active Stadium.
It took seven minutes for the visitors to open the scoring through Laurence Wilson’s header from Sean Hessey’s right-wing cross.
The Seals doubled their lead four minutes into the second half when Chester were awarded a free-kick after a Roberto Martinez slid the ball into the path of Jamie Hand to fire home an unstoppable effort.
A Jon Walters header from Kevin Sandwich’s corner made it 3-0 before Hand turned from goalscorer to provider when his right-wing cross created the fourth for Gregg Blundell.
But the hosts were not to be denied on the biggest day of the club's history when Jack Pitcher scored in injury time from Geraint Bater's pass to end their most successful run in their 141-year history.