Sometimes as a writer, you get a chance to wax lyrical about an aspect of your life that suddenly is projected into the national spotlight. Today, I get that chance as up in North West Lancashire, a small non-League team called AFC Fylde gets the chance to create some Cup magic in the world’s oldest football competition, The FA Cup. AFC Fylde, whose home ground is in Warton, take on Accrington Stanley in the 1st Rd Proper of the FA Cup. The game will be played behind The Birley Arms pub at Kellemergh Park, a wonderful facility that holds 2,500 fans which I’m sure will be packed to the rafters today.
Back in the day when I lived in England, my family moved from one small town, Lytham, on the North West coast of England, to another, even smaller town, Warton, some 5-6 miles away. It was a tough move for me as it came when I was 12 years of age and effectively took me away from my friends. Our home was an ex-farmhouse that was, I was told, almost 200 years old and it sat next to Warton Aerodrome, whose claims to fame were that in World War II it was a US Air Force base for B-29 bombers, and more recently, the development facility for the RAF Tornado, one of NATO’s premier strike aircraft. The Birley Arms is one of the main pubs in the town and was one my family’s watering holes so this match holds some particular significance for me personally.
Anyway, I doth digress too much. AFC Fylde have risen from basically nothing to the Evostick Northern Premier League level in English Football which is effectively the ninth tier, the English Premier League being the top tier of course. The club has had it’s fair share of success over the years, winning the FA Vase in 2008, a competition that is restricted to non-League and amateur clubs in England. The final was played at Wembley Stadium and this achievement obviously was a huge step forward for the club. Financial backing has been excellent through Club Chairman David Haythornthwaite, who has high ambitions for this small club. They are on target to achieve promotion to The Conference North League which will jump them up to the 6th tier of English football and unbelievably, they have targeted 2022 to achieve the dizzy heights of full Football League status.
Manager Dave Challinor is no stranger to the top level;s of the game in England, having played against the likes of Alan Shearer, Sami Hypia and Duncan Ferguson. Challinor had the unique honor to hold the record for the longest throw-in in football history. I’m not sure what it was but long throws can be as good as corner kicks. Ask anyone that plays against Stoke City and they’ll tell you. Challinor believes that this team has potential to move up and succeed at the higher levels and credits the ambition of the club for his enthusiasm.
All I can say, lads, today’s game makes me homesick even after living in Chicago for the past 30 years. Good luck today and let’s bring on Man Utd in the 3rd Round !