By Dave Kemp.
Its back to the big time again for AFC Portchester as they welcome Merthyr Town to the Blanchard Wells Stadium for what promises to be another huge challenge to decide which club makes a further step for FA Cup glory – and to the winners £4,500 prize money that will go some way to keeping clubs at this level afloat.
After beating Fawley, Mangotsfield United and Bideford Town to reach this stage of the competition, the side that manager Graham Rix sends out this afternoon will face a top Welsh non-league side whose history goes way back in time to more than a century.
And the club nicknamed the ‘Martyrs’ are very much alive and kicking, in fact, while Portchester were beating hosts Bideford in the last round, Merthyr were just 10 miles away and slamming four past Barnstable Town in their tie.
So the results from these ties in Devon have set up a first-ever clash between the Royals – only one of two remaining Wessex League club left in the competition – and the Martyrs who currently sit in eight spot in the Southern Premier League.
Perhaps by around 5pm we will know which team will have taken another step towards what they can only dream of – stepping out at Wembley in the final!
Or will Portchester have to rearrange their Hampshire Senior Cup tie against Petersfield Town here this coming Tuesday and head down over the Severn Bridge to Wales and Merthyr for a replay?
But if this happens then players and fans alike will be made welcome at Penydarren Park – much the same as the visitors here at Blanchard Wells Stadium this afternoon.
For Portchester’s boss Graham Rix the need to get the job done this afternoon is important, remembering that his entire squad all have jobs outside of football to help pay the mortgage and at times, are unavailable because of work commitments.
“That’s an important factor and not helped by the absence of several regular players suffering with injury, so it’s a case of the younger lads stepping up to challenge of first team football, said Rix.
In fact, even at this level my lads dream of reaching the FA Cup final, don’t we all, but in reality for them to play at Wembley is to go all the way through in the FA Vase.
But having said that, this is the fourth time we have been drawn out of the hat in the FA Cup – and won three of them so far.
So to keep our dream alive all the lads need to do this afternoon is to go out, enjoy the occasion, give of their best for the club they represent and see where it takes them”.