FA Cup run remembered: How Haverhill Rovers made club history during 2006/07 season
For some, the FA Cup does not hold the allure and grandeur that it once did.
Having been a competition that would stop a nation come the day of the final, it has sadly slipped down the pecking order behind the glitz and the glamour of the Premier League and the riches provided by Champions League football.
Yet, in Haverhill 14 years ago, the spirit of the world’s oldest domestic tournament burned brightly. The FA Cup was, quite literally, the talk of the town.
That was because, after racking up wins over Wootton Blue Cross, Broxbourne Borough, Eastbourne Borough and Kidsgrove Athletic, the men from Hamlet Croft – Haverhill Rovers – were just 90 minutes away from becoming the lowest ranked side ever to reach the first round proper.
As it was, Aldershot Town of The Conference – a full-time outfit – had far too much in front of more than 1,700 supporters that had packed inside the west Suffolk ground, eventually winning the fourth qualifying round tie 4-0.
But what a run it was, one that remains a club record to this day.
Marcus Hunt, who was captain of his hometown club back then, reflected: “It was an amazing experience.
“I remember before the Aldershot game there were queues down the High Street with people wanting to buy tickets.
“Me and Jamie Challis lived in Haverhill and used to walk through the town to get to games. We used to get so many people wishing us good luck, it was all a bit surreal.
“Not many players at our level of football get to experience that.”
While Step 6 Rovers had slain Conference South side Eastbourne along the way, it is the third qualifying round 2-1 home victory over Kidsgrove that sticks out for Hunt.
“We were one down in that and Paul Abbott broke his leg, there was a lot of time added on,” he said.
“Ant Blandford equalised really late and then I headed the winner in during stoppage time.
“There were some unbelievable scenes; the crowd were on the pitch and singing our names in the bar afterwards.
“The singing continued in the pubs in town throughout the night. It was an amazing night, what I can remember of it anyway!”
The Aldershot tie, meanwhile, proved to be bittersweet for Hunt.
On the one hand he got to experience playing against top players in front of a big crowd, but it was also a match in which he – usually so reliable from the spot – saw two penalties saved by visiting goalkeeper Nikki Bull.
“They were professional players and you could tell,” said Hunt. “I scored every other penalty that season apart from those two.
“They came to scout us and I used to put my penalties in the same place, so he knew which way to go.
“With the second one, it came down to mind-games. I thought he would expect me to change but he didn’t.
“It was a bit of a shame because while it would not have changed the outcome, I would have loved to give the fans a goal or two to cheer.”
Midfielder Marc Abbott – now player-boss at Rovers – missed the Aldershot match up through injury.
He believes the run owed much to knowing little about the opposition, which in turn left the players to concentrate on their own strengths.
“You knew they were good players, but you couldn’t do your research like you can now,” he said.
“As a manager today, I would have gone to watch them and had some video clips to go through.
“Back then it wasn’t accessible so we made it about us. We were fearless and had some match winners to get us through.”
More by this authorLiam Apicella