Christchurch FC have had an incredible run for the FA Cup this year. Let’s take a look at some of their fine moments…
“The magic of the FA Cup” is where miracles happen, and underdogs exceed expectation to topple ‘giants’. That’s not hyperbole used for selling tickets or increasing viewing figures; anything really CAN happen! The FA Cup is not a competition for top tier teams and glory hunting fans; rather a tournament for regular people who get to fulfil their football dreams. It’s for those who can appreciate the prestige of this historic cup. The tournament allows the working man to feel like a professional footballer, even if only for a short time. From travelling the lengths and breadths of the country to playing high level competition week in, week out.
Success in the competition not only excites the players and, more so, the ultras, but also creates a general buzz around the small town or city. The joy the cup brings is the true ‘magic’, shining the spotlight on unknown areas like Christchurch and Dulwich Hamlet. Allowing the players a memory they will treasure forever. A story they will tell their grandchildren in years to come. That’s what the FA Cup is about. It’s not about winning the competition for these lesser teams instead it’s about the journey and Christchurch FC had their best journey this year…
THE JOURNEY OF CHRISTCHURCH FC
Christchurch FC kicked off their campaign with a comfortable 2-0 victory over division foes, Bashley. In the second round, the Hurn Bridge outfit welcomed Dorchester Town, who sit two divisions above them in the Southern League South. This match-up didn’t daunt Christchurch, who very much dominated the majority of the game. They needed Dorchester to clear the ball from their goal-line twice, before getting a well-deserved 89th minute winner. Centre-back Brad Cherrett channelled his inner David Luiz, carrying the ball from centre-back, past two opposing defenders into the attacking third, before perfectly laying it off to Harvey Wright, who rocketed the ball into the left side net.
The level of competition intensified, as the club from Dorset now faced Step Six side Gloucester City. Christchurch dramatically overcame the Northern National League leaders on penalties. They managed to hold the inform visitors to just a single goal, despite Gloucester hitting the woodwork three times and missing an array of clear-cut chances. Gloucester were left to rue their missed opportunities thereafter. Christchurch stole the lead through Max Wilcock’s leaping header off the back of a perfectly floated delivery from Nick Swann.
Back-to-the-wall defending resumed for the remaining minutes as Gloucester piled on the pressure coming up with an equaliser in the 93rd minute through a Khaellem Bailey backheel. Chances came few-and-far-between for the Blues throughout the 90 minutes, but they played clinically when it counted. In the penalty shootout they scored all six of their spot-kicks, edging out Gloucester in sudden death. This advanced them through to the next stage, to face Dulwich Hamlet.
Heartbreak for Christchurch as they lost a tense penalty shootout, sending visitors Dulwich Hamlet through to the FA Cup’s fourth round. Christchurch still hold a certain accolade, however. The team that never knows when they’re beaten. They showed this off by scoring another last-minute goal that sent the tie to penalties. The Blues were not fazed by the TV coverage or VIP guest Harry Redknapp. Instead, they upped the ante and gave a performance to be proud of.
In the 84th minute, Christchurch got a lifeline. Namely, the sending-off of Quade Taylor, who raised his foot in a 50/50 challenge with Nick Swann. With Hamlet down to ten, Christchurch lost their concentration and conceded from a free kick just two minutes after the red. Delivering the free kick deep to centre-back Sandro Embalo, who let the ball drop and played it across the six yard box first time into the path of Dion Moore, who tapped it into an empty net. This was the first time in the match that the Christchurch defence missed the first header as three defenders leapt but were unable to make contact.
One thing we have learned from this Christchurch FA Cup run is to never rule the Priory out… This game was no different. Late drama at Hurn Bridge saw Christchurch snatch an equaliser at the death. On the 93rd minute, a hopeful ball was sent to the edge of the box. Sandro Embalo half-heartedly met it, before shying away from the header and letting it bounce off his back. The ball dropped to Max Wilcock, who crossed it on the half-volley to the front post. There, Josh Kirkham greeted it, looping his header over the Hamlet goalkeeper.
Christchurch were unable to capitalise in the penalty shootout. Their top goal-scorer Ash Pope forced a good save from Charlie Grainger, who got down quickly to the bottom-left to parry it away. Gunstone-Gray handed the hosts a lifeline, saving the attempt from substitute Gabriel Barbosa immediately after. The Christchurch faithful witnessed a goalkeeping bout as each keeper exchanged save after save. Unfortunately, Gunstone-Gray was outdone as Charlie Grainger saved Max Wilcock’s effort and sealed victory for Dulwich Hamlet. The Christchurch penalty takers looked anxious in the shootout resulting in some nervy penalties where they focused on getting the shot on target. In doing so, they lost all power in their shot, making it easy for Grainger to get across to make the save. Brad Cherrett was the only player who succeeded in converting his penalty, smashing down the centre.
Despite the defeat, commentator Steven Wyeth praised Christchurch:
“Christchurch themselves deserve to be applauded for their contributions this evening. They showed great character to get back into it and competing the full game with a side three leagues above”.
The plaudits were warranted as the first half was an even affair, with Christchurch surprising spectators despite their three-tier deficit. Christchurch were the much hungrier and energetic side, pressing in packs and defending from the front. Embodying their effort was left-back Brad Hill, shuttling up and down the left flank, aggressive in every challenge, blocking crosses and flying into tackles.
The first good chance of the game came on the seventh minute mark. Emmanuel Ohameje drilled a ball low across the six yard box to an incoming Max Wilcock, who got in front of his marker, getting the first touch but directing the effort wide of the right post. 12 minutes later, Hamlet conjured up their first opportunity after Dion Moore muscled Luke Ansell off the ball, putting him through on goal, where he cut onto his stronger right foot and unleashed a low driven shot. A shot that a sliding Brad Cherrett heroically met, preventing an imminent goal.
In the second half, Dulwich became more dominant, pinning Christchurch back. The Blues started to tire, losing out on the second balls they were winning in the first half. Hamlet placed an extra impetus on playing down the wings and delivering crosses to their 6’4” target man Jordan Higgs. But Christchurch remained resolute, reducing the wingers to lofted balls from deep. The biggest scare for the hosts came in the 51st minute. Here, the woodwork came to the aid of the Priory in yet another FA Cup fixture, as Henry wriggled past Luke Ansell to find a man at the back post. They headed it back across goal to Dion Moore, who was standing two yards away from goal, but couldn’t react quickly enough to direct the ball on-target.
Despite the loss, Christchurch ought to be proud of their efforts. They reached the furthest stage in the club’s 135-year history and almost conquered two National League sides along the way.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
The Dorset side will reap the financial rewards from their record cup run, earning £8,195 in winnings. Not to mention an additional few-thousand that the BBC coverage provided. The income will undoubtedly help the football club and ensure financial security for the current season. This revenue will be more important than ever, as the pandemic continues to cap attendances (the main source of income non-league clubs rely upon). It will also help cover the last season’s costs as the campaign was cancelled due to COVID-19, leaving some clubs in financial turmoil and battling against liquidation. Christchurch FC will no longer have to stress about sponsorship or worry about finance. And, that is the magic of the FA Cup.
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