Road to Wembley has real relevance now

Our 2011 Road to Wembley feature began at Moneyfields but the local angles soon began to dry up
Our 2011 Road to Wembley feature began at Moneyfields but the local angles soon began to dry up

It’s an hour to kick-off and Timmy Mallett is trying to gain access to the car park at the EBB Stadium.

The EBB Stadium, for the uninitiated, used to be known as the Recreation Ground and is the home of League Two outfit Aldershot.

Well, it’s not, actually. It now officially goes under the title of the Electrical Services Stadium.

And the Shots knock around in the Conference, sorry Vanarama Conference, these days, instead of the fourth tier of the English game.

But that was how I opened my feature in The News three years ago, at this stage of the FA Cup.

Quite how I came to be at the EBB or ESS or whatever the corporate shilling dictates it’s called these days, looking at our wacky former Wacaday presenter’s antics, is a long story. But we’ll give it a go.

You see it’s all about that long, arduous, dramatic and hopelessly romantic road to Wembley.

Well, the Road to Wembley is what the lads on the sports desk decided to call our editor’s harebrained scheme.

It all started out encouragingly enough 87 days earlier, as our Wessex League outfit Moneyfields took on Christchurch in the extra preliminary round.

It may surprise one or two people the journey to the home of football actually begins in the middle of August at places like Dover Road.

So the angle was a valid one, as I was dispatched to provide the inside track on that voyage.

That remained the case as my colleague, Steve Wilson, picked up the baton for trips to Gosport and then Godalming.

Sam Beasant, son of former Pompey keeper Dave Beasant, emerged as a talking point there, as he faced off against the Surrey side for Maidenhead.

And that’s where our brashly-dressed and bespectacled children’s TV icon appeared, as the celebrity follower of Godalming’s Berkshire opponents.

That paved the way for me to watch his animated antics at the home of Pompey’s FA Cup opponents this weekend, on a chilly November evening in north Hampshire. The local relevance, by this stage, went as far as the Shots being managed by former Hawks striker Dean Holdsworth.

Thankfully, former Pompey owner Milan Mandaric’s Sheffield Wednesday then came into the equation to provide a foundering feature a shot in the arm.

That angle had been used by the time they took on West Ham, with the fact former Blues midfielder Papa Bouba Diop was an unused sub for the Hammers an increasingly tenuous connection to be leapt upon.

Wednesday dispatched the Londoners, however, before Fratton striking hero Lomana Lualua popped up in the fourth round, as a scorer in the colours of Blackpool.

How sports editor, Howard Frost, managed to get the gig as Everton became the focus I’m not sure. Perhaps the answer’s in the job title.

He returned empty-handed though, as he waited unsuccessfully in the rain at Goodison Park for an interview with arguably the finest Pompey defender of the modern era: Sylvain Distin.

But Frost remained unbowed and delivered the goods in the semi-final, albeit after enjoying the trappings of the press facilities at Wembley.

Thankfully, Distin surfaced as the big story in his team’s exit as his backpass gifted Luis Suarez a leveller before Chelsea toppled the bitey one’s side in the final.

This Sunday, Aldershot re-emerge at the same stage of the competition I witnessed them in back then. They do so, however, alongside Gosport Borough, Hawks and the Blues.

And there is no doubting their relevance this time, as they play a part in the most significant couple of days of FA Cup football Portsmouth and its surrounding communities have ever witnessed.