On a night when the TV cameras would be firmly focused on Billericay Town, it was outsiders Leatherhead who triumphed against the odds to reach the Emirates FA Cup Second Round Proper.
The clear sky stood unbroken by clouds. A dark aroma settled around the small Essex town of Billericay, where a glow of promise and prosperity poked through the threads of a navy blue blanket of sky enveloping the AGP Arena. It was Billericay Town’s time to shine, it was Billericay Town’s time to play in front of the BT Sport cameras.
Leatherhead arrived in Essex with the backing of just one win on their travels in their Bostik Premier campaign but, in a week where fellow Non-League side Woking defeated Bury 3-0, it was written in the stars floating above the AGP Arena that the Tanners would overcome the money-spending giants of the English seventh-tier.
Promotion to the Vanarama National League South was always going to be at the top of the agenda for Glenn Tamplin, owner of the Blues, but the multi-millionaire had already stated his desire is to bring success to the newly-named AGP Arena. This could come in the form of promotion to Non-League’s second tier, it could come in the form of the Buildbase FA Trophy or even the BBC Essex Senior Cup. But one thing is for certain, Billericay’s journey in this year’s Emirates FA Cup has come to an end.
Having gone one-nil ahead after an hour things were seeming so jubilant for the Essex town. The crowd of 3,400 – with a few hundred Tanners supporters – expected a home victory and it seemed like that would be how it was heading when Adam Cunnington slid Jake Robinson’s low cross home.
Time dragged on but seven minutes later the Green army’s hope of a potential cup upset were revitalised. It felt like an age as Sam Blackman’s teasing cross reached the far post, it was headed back across to where Jack Midson stood and he, as cool as a cucumber, headed home to level.
Chances fell to either side. It looked as though the game was destined for extra-time and penalties. Until one moment, the 81st minute, when the visitors were dramatically awarded a penalty. The Tanners supporters erupted into noise when the whistle was blown and a spot-kick was awarded. They knew, this was their chance. And they had to take it.
And take it they did. With nine minutes left on the clock Midson stepped up and thumped home. The visiting supporters went wild.
Billericay went all-out-attack. They threw all their men forward in a desperate attempt to equalise but their attacking numbers allowed the Tanners to counter-attack. The Essex side’s ex-pro side were unable to stop a third as the visitors’ player-manager Sammy Moore deftly directed beyond Alan Julian to confirm the outsiders’ place in the next round.
As the full-time whistle blew there was mixed emotions around the AGP Arena. Leatherhead fans exploded into scenes of jubilation. They knew they had achieved something special by defeating Glenn Tamplin’s big-spenders. In my view the FA Cup would never have been a realistic ambition for the Essex side, it was only going to be a matter of time before they were knocked out of the competition.
But to have been dispatched by Leatherhead, a team who had only won once away from home in the League, proved that to win a game of football you did not require glamorous former Premier League stars or vast amounts of football. All you require is desire and determination, and that is what football should be about.
While Billericay may be hitting the headlines for their big-spending antics which is gathering plenty of critics, I do support Tamplin’s ethos as he aims to build a community club for the future as he brings together Billericay. And for that I feel he certainly deserves some praise and credit.
I wish Leatherhead the best of luck as they travel to Wycombe Wanderers in the next hand. I also send best wishes to Billericay for the rest of the season, although I do fear that my beloved Chelmsford City and the Blues will cross paths in either the FA Trophy or the BBC Essex Senior – so may the best team win on the day should that occur.