We have created a small bit of history for ourselves, says Cray Wanderers FA Youth Cup manager Mark Dacey
CRAY WANDERERS manager Mark Dacey says he wants his side’s incredible journey in The FA Youth Cup to continue for a couple more games.
The Wands have never reached the First Round in The FA Cup at first team level but the clubs youth side take centre stage when they travel down to Worthing in the First Round of The FA Youth Cup on Thursday night.
Cray Wanderers have beaten Holmesdale (4-2 after extra time); VCD Athletic (6-0), Folkestone Invicta (4-1) and Raynes Park Vale (3-0) and travel to Woodside Road, the home of Bostik Premier Division side Worthing looking claim the victory that will see League One giants Portsmouth play at Hayes Lane in the Second Round in the middle of November.
“It’s been an incredible journey so far,” said Dacey, who reflected on the clubs historic run.
“If I’m honest I wasn’t overly bothered about the competition when the Preliminary Round draw was made.
“As we aren’t full-time we had a lot of drama with full-time school academies on who the boys should represent in the competition. Two boys played for respected academies and one didn’t feature, those being two centre-backs and a central midfielder so the squad strength wasn’t as we originally wanted.
“But luckily for us good recruitment from different sources in the club we gained five boys who have been fantastic signings.”
Cray Wanderers defeated their local rivals Holmesdale in the Preliminary Round on 3 September at Hayes Lane.
“It was a bit manic, the Holmesdale game. A lot of the boys were former team mates and personal friends. It was more bragging rights than The FA Youth Cup,” admitted Dacey.
“Considering we started with four of the five new signings it slightly surprised me how comfortable in the end we ended up being.
“Bragging rights for Cray Wanderers and a Joe Barber hat-trick was a nice night to be a part of at Hayes Lane.”
Dacey then took his side to Crayford and was delighted with an impressive 6-0 win over VCD Athletic.
“VCD Athletic could and should have been double figures. We really came out with all guns blazing,” he said.
“I was again surprised that VCD didn’t have a go. They didn’t seem to have any kind of game plan which played into our hands perfectly.
“It did become an attack-versus-defence drill but we were more than happy with the way we performed.
“We had a clean sheet and a Robbie Daye hat-trick in front of the board, Tony Russell and Nathan White did the boys no harm.”
Dacey admitted home fans didn’t give his side a chance to come away from Folkestone Invicta with anything – but they fought back from an early set-back to win 4-1 at Cheriton Road.
“Folkestone was an incredible night! We had them watched four days prior on the Sunday and they won 11-0. They were a big, strong side who were very good from set-pieces and the left-back had a rocket of a throw.
“I turned up 15 minutes before kick-off after a nightmare at work but Adam Flemming and the boys had it all locked down and were raring to go.
“It was interesting walking past Folkestone’s players parents who were saying ‘Cray Wanderers aren’t even in the Kent Youth League so there’s no chance they will beat us tonight!’
“It was nice to see minimal research was done on the level these boys actually play. More importantly, when we went 1-0 behind after two minutes they must have been grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Not much you can do with an own goal but it didn’t change or faze the boys in the slightest – it was all us after that! Wave after wave of attack, scoring three very, very good goals and the fourth coming bang on half-time killed them off.
“As much as the managers weren’t graceful in defeat Folkestone’s representative was very high on praise for the boys and that meant a lot. Again, for Cray Wanderers’ board members to be in attendance and show support meant a lot to the team. “
Cray Wanderers then beat Raynes Park Vale 3-0 in the last round to set up Thursday’s trip to Worthing.
Dacey said: “Raynes Park Vale was slightly more difficult. We wasn’t able to get them watched because they didn’t play in the time frame between fixtures.
“Relationships are important in football, you never know when you’re going to need help. A few phone calls were made and we found enough information to put a game plan together.
“Although it was not our finest performance, it was a home win and a clean sheet in front of the important people at the club.”
Dacey is relishing their trip to Worthing and being a part of something that the club has not achieved before – at any age group.
“History has been made whatever happens now,” said a proud Dacey.
“It’s amazing to think we’ve created a small part of club history. I don’t quite think the boys have realised what they’ve done until maybe we are out of the competition.
“One of the oldest clubs in the world now has your name in The FA Youth Cup for a little while at least.
“For us it’s more the manner in which we do things, our personal way of playing. We are as far as I’m aware the last non full-time club left in the competition, the rest are full-time or professional academies.
“Thursday’s game is massive, it’s going to be a really good game. We are fully aware they’re going to be a very decent side. We’ve done our research and we know as much as we can, hopefully, to get our game plan right.
“Their pitch is 3G which we are more than used to it, it’s just a pain travel wise.
“A very good side is going out on Thursday. It’s a game both teams feel they will win but if we are to exit now then we are going to give it our best shot.”
The incentive is massive for both clubs – a home tie against Portsmouth.
“I was over the moon seeing the winner will grab a home draw against a professional club. It was only 10 years ago that Portsmouth was in Europe and had won The FA Cup,” said Dacey.
“We can’t think about that game as it might not even happen, we have to get past Worthing first! Everything has to be one game at a time. If we do win on Thursday, it will be an incredible night and a night to look forward to at Hayes Lane.
“The FA Youth Cup is a great competition for players to show pro clubs that there’s a lot of rough diamonds still floating around non-league youth football. They come out in their numbers during the earlier rounds.
“We get a lot of interest but very few offer anything, which is fine. We say to the boys regularly to just keep working. Come May a huge amount of their friends who are currently at pro clubs won’t be offered a professional contract. They need to push as much as possible now before the influx of boys get released and come knocking on non-league doors.
“The boys have done themselves proud and the club. We’ve gone into different counties in the FA Youth Cup and League and turned teams over on their own patch.
“Just one more time to get the Pompey draw would be the best night we’ve had as a squad, knowing you get to go against boys who are currently in the position you want to be in. Go punch for punch and see how far off we are from the rest.”
Dacey, meanwhile, calls upon London Mayor Sadiq Khan to give chairman Gary Hillman permission to start work on their new stadium at Flamingo Park.
A final decision will be made on 19 November and the clubs entire future hangs in the balance on Mr Khan’s decision.
Dacey said: “Cray Wanderers is an incredible club. I really hope for all the owners, board members and first team they get the stadium grant. It’s been horrible watching clubs like Dulwich Hamlet lose their home and Thamesmead Town folding. These decisions make or break clubs.
“I spent nine years at Bromley and being taken in by Cray Wanderers has turned out to be the best thing for this team. Boys are getting an opportunity to play for the first team. We train next to Tony Russell’s first team and they take interest and care, as do all the board members in travelling to games to watch the boys.
“If Adam Flemming and I can contribute the smallest part by producing players for Tony as well and creating a strong environment in our own side then the club will have a pathway for all players coming through.
“We have created a small bit of history for ourselves. But we have to thank the club, chairman, board members and first team for taking us in, in the first place.”
Visit Cray Wanderers website: www.cray-wanderers.com
Worthing v Cray Wanderers
The FA Youth Cup First Round
Thursday 1 November 2018
Kick Off 7:45pm
at Woodside Road, Worthing, West Sussex BN14 7HQ