Football / FA Cup Countdown: Hopeful Knowsley look to Orr family mettle: Goodison will pulsate to a different Mersey beat on Saturday. Rupert Metcalf reports

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The Independent Online
THE biggest football match in Liverpool this weekend will be at Goodison Park - but Everton, along with their neighbours from Anfield and the rest of the Premiership, will be enjoying a day off.

On Saturday afternoon, the home dressing-room normally occupied by Messrs Southall, Cottee and company will be graced by the players of Knowsley United, a non- League club formed less than a decade ago, who will be facing Carlisle United in their debut appearance in the first round proper of the FA Cup.

It has taken Knowsley seven matches to progress this far: two against Salford City in the first qualifying round, followed by first- attempt wins against St Helens and Colwyn Bay and then three games against Stafford Rangers, of the GM Vauxhall Conference, in the fourth qualifying round.

The 10 days it took to see off Stafford meant that the Northern Premier League club did not have sufficient time to sort out segregation measures at their Alt Park home, so they were glad to accept Everton's offer of Goodison Park for their encounter with the Cumbrians. 'At first we wanted to bring them down a peg by playing them at our place,' Paul Orr, Knowsley's manager, said after Tuesday's 1-0 win over Horwich that stretched his side's unbeaten run to 11 games, 'but now the lads are all looking forward to playing at Goodison'.

None more so than the ex-Evertonians among his players, including John McMahon who, like his brother, Steve, at Manchester City is a clenched-fist competitor in midfield. Andy Diggle - 'the best left-back in non-League football', according to Orr - and Dave O'Brien, once the captain of both the Everton and England youth teams, were also on the books at Goodison. Knowsley have a goalkeeper with Wembley experience: Andy Johnston, who played for St Helens when they won the FA Vase in 1987.

Two key men against Carlisle, Orr hopes, will be Andy Green, a burly centre-forward with 10 goals so far in this FA Cup run - he had a spell as a professional with the Belgian club, Lokeren - and Stuart Gelling, a 20- year-old midfielder released by Liverpool and just back from a trial with Chester. Gelling's talent shone through against Horwich on a murky Merseyside night. 'He's good enough to play League football,' Orr said, 'I can't wait to seem him on that beautiful pitch.'

Knowsley owe a lot to a player who made the reverse journey, from the non-League world to Liverpool: Mike Marsh, now with West Ham. 'I spotted him and made him our youth-team captain,' Orr said. 'I used to take him to Anfield for training.' Liverpool bought him for about pounds 40,000. 'That paid for our stand - which is called the Mike Marsh Stand - and our floodlights,' Orr added.

Knowsley are very much a family firm. The manager's uncle, Paul Orr Snr, is the chairman, who has three sons at the club: Peter, a long-serving centre-back, Ronnie, the second- team manager, and Robert, who looks after fund-raising.

Paul Orr Jnr was the manager when the club was formed as Kirkby Town in 1984. They played at Simonswood Lane, the home of a club of the same name which had folded a year previously. Orr had been the manager of Fantail, a Sunday side who won the FA Sunday Cup in 1980 and 1981, and he took most of his players with him. 'I put out 11 teams from the Under-9s upwards and in our first year we won 38 trophies,' he said. Five years ago, the fledgling club changed their name to Knowsley United when they moved to Alt Park, which had been the home of Huyton Rugby League club until they left Liverpool in search of more support. 'It was like Beirut when we came here,' Orr recalled, 'there wasn't a roof or a solid wall in the place, it was burnt out.

'We've managed to build superb social facilities and keep pace on the playing field. We won all three divisions in the North West Counties League and last season we won promotion to the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League. Now we're only two successful seasons away from the Football League.

'Carlisle are a decent side,' Orr concluded, 'but man for man we're as good as them. We can get a result.'