Being beaten 5-0 is never a happy experience, but Aveley’s players will have learned a lot from their expense at Meadow Lane as they bowed out of the FA Trophy.
No one had expected the Millers to get this far in the FA Trophy – not their directors, not the players, nor the manager and certainly not the fans.
Yet as they exited their changing room and headed for a post-match meal, their faces were brimming with smiles.
It was strange, for a team who had just been drummed by five goals to nil, but no, it was because they had surpassed the expectations of everyone and with that, they could hold their heads high.
Their Trophy campaign began back in October with a 5-0 win over East Grinstead; 138 days and eight knock-out matches later and they were departing as victims of a 5-0 defeat at Notts County, who only until this season had spent 155 years as a professional League club; it was a spell which even pre-dated Aveley’s 93-year existence as a team.
Aveley is nothing more than a small town, described as a “village” by their manager Keith Rowland.
The area has a population of just 8,361 yet here they were, making a near 300-mile round-trip to take on Notts County – formerly the oldest member club of the Football League.
County fans jested with the chant of “who are you?” when they took the lead through Jim O’Brien’s long-range strike, but to some, they had a genuine interest for they had never heard of the Essex side and, certainly, had little reason to need to.
Aveley is not known for very much. The closest you can get to a notable former resident is John Newton, the author of the Christian hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ – even that is as tenuous a link you could muster, however, only formed due to Newton’s father’s second wife being from the suburb.
Just the sheer size of County’s 20,229-seater stadium dwarfs the size of Aveley as a town in a ratio near 3:1. The step 4 side had 530 hardy soles made the trip up to the Midlands, that’s just over double their average attendance at Parkside.
The Essex minnows came into the fixture a mere 65 places below their hosts yet they were not fearful for they had beaten higher-ranked opposition in all but one of the rounds prior to their trip to Meadow Lane.
Just making this stage of the competition alone had left a lasting impact on the club.
Before this season, the Millers had only ever made it to Second Qualifying Round – this term alone they have benefited to the value of over £31,000 in prize money.
Manager Rowland said: “It’s a village, Aveley is a village. The club over the last few years has really put a good foundation in with the new ground and facilities.
“This is my second time at the club and I was there at the old ground when there was 10, 20, 30 people at the games – now we’re taking 500 to Notts County.
“The club couldn’t be more proud. Our last game in the Trophy [a 3-1 victory over National League South side Chelmsford City] had a hell of a crowd at Aveley on the day.
“The transformation that the Trophy has brought but also the transformation the club have made, and the steps they’ve made, are good.”
He added: “For us to get into the last eight is fantastic. For us to be in the last eight and to be here at Notts County. A lot of our boys wanted them in the round before.” he said.
“I’ve said it in every interview I’ve done but it’s been a great boost for the football club. The whole thing has been nothing but positive for us.
“Considering that the club has been knocked out of every round at the first hurdle for, I believe, around 15 years – to get to the First Round proper was a big thing but to end up in the last eight in the country.
“You’re dealing with facts here, Aveley were in the last eight of the country. That’s a real credit to the players but also to the chairman and vice-chairman as they have been great with me. It has been nothing but a real bonus for the whole club.”
County’s class and talent proved too big a void to fill as goals from O’Brien, Tom Crawford, Sam Osborne, Kyle Wootton and Scott Wilson inflicted defeat on Aveley.
Yet afterwards, the Millers boss remained upbeat and said there is no time to rest on any laurels as focus now turns to the visit of Brentwood Town on Monday night.
He said: “[Today] has to be a positive one. When we came up against Chelmsford and Hornchurch I thought they would be our last games [in the competition] because of our level.
“They’ve gone well above the expectation level in this Trophy but I said to them that we have to mention the fans – the Aveley fans were great and good fun.
Continuing he said: “A lot of them [the away support] were at the game against Chelmsford, returned and really enjoyed it and came back for more.
“Some of them are staying up tonight so I think they’re going to have a good night so good luck to them – they’d best just behave themselves!”
This article was originally published for Prost International, on March 1, 2020.