FA Cup First Round Reflection: Non-League footballers can no longer be classed as candlestick makers as the quality in the eighth-tier has improved

Sunday 05th November 2023

RAMSGATE manager Ben Smith insists the national press can no longer class Isthmian League South East Division players as candlestick makers in The FA Cup First Round.

Ernie Batten’s brave Sheppey United put up a good fight against impressive League Two outfit Walsall, in a televised clash at Holm Park, with Mat Sadler’s Walsall coming out with a 4-1 victory on Friday night.

James Bessey-Saldanha, 27, scored THAT goal to give The Ites a shock 21st minute lead – against the run of play – but Walsall’s class told in front of a record crowd at Holm Park.

The former Margate winger said post-match that he was unable to go out to celebrate after the match as the digital marketer was at work on Saturday.

Former Charlton Athletic and Corinthian goalkeeper Aiden Prall, 25, scooped the man-of-the-match award followihg a heroic performance – an outstanding performance from a tree surgeon who was working with team-mate Oscar Housego until half-past-ten in the morning of Sheppey United’s maiden First Round appearance.

Steve McKimm’s Cray Valley came away from The Valley with a credible 1-1 draw, in another televised clash today.

League One side Charlton Athletic took the lead through Scott Fraser’s ninth minute opener before the Millers levelled through an own goal from Lucas Ness just three minutes into the second half – following a cross from Kyrell Lisbie – son of Charlton legend and former Cray Valley striker Kevin – to earn a second bite of the cherry at Middle Park Avenue.

Charlton Athletic have only lost once to non-league opposition and the winners will face a mouth-watering Second Round tie away to League Two Gillingham.

Gillingham came away from National League North side Hereford with a 2-0 win in the bag, with Jayden Clarke and Tom Nichols (penalty) scoring for Stephen Clemence in his first game in charge of the Kent club.

Ramsgate, meanwhile, will travel to League Two side AFC Wimbledon in the Second Round, after Woking were beaten 2-1 in front of 3,000 fans yesterday.

Ramsgate have never reached the Second Round before and beating National League Woking didn’t come as much of a shock to those who know the club and the Isthmian League South East Division.

“It just shines a light on the level of football we’re at. The level of football we’re at has improved no end,” said Smith, a headteacher who managers in the eighth-tier.

“We’ve got two lads here, Joe Ellul and Lee Martin.  Joe’s had a career in the National League, won the National League South and Lee Martin’s played 351 Football League games.

“Those players are playing in non-league. If you go back 20 years’ ago that would never have happened.  Of course, that’s because there’s money in the league now and the infrastructure is better etc.

“Lee Martin was going to retire at the end of last season but he’s come here to enjoy the football. He could’ve gone somewhere else for more money and stayed in the National League South etc.

“We’ve signed these players, this is what we’ve signed them for and people think it’s easy saying ‘Ramsgate have got a good budget.’

“There’s other clubs out there that have got a good budget, let me tell you, same level as us, that don’t really get talked about.

“We’ve managed to be able to bring in players with real experience from top levels to play for us and part of that is because we’ve told them they’re going to enjoy it.”

National League South side Maidstone United – 2-0 winners at Chesham United  (Southern League Premier Division South) - have been drawn at home to League Two outfit Barrow.

Devonte Aransibia and substitute Levi Amantchi volleyed in his 12th goal of the season to give George Elokobi’s men the win in Buckinghamshire.

The Stones have now reached the Second Round for the fifth time in the last 10 seasons.

Third-placed National League side Bromley were beaten 2-0 at home to League One Blackpool, who claimed the victory at Hayes Lane, courtesy of two goals inside the opening 28 minutes through Shayne Lavery and Karamoko Dembele to see off Andy Woodman’s fifth-tier highflyers.

First Round winners each banked £41,000 in prize money, to add to the money that they have scooped in the qualifying rounds, with another £67,000 up for grabs for Second Round winners.

Second Round ties after scheduled for the first weekend in December.