Football: Hope, faith and clarity of vision: Bromsgrove's ambition extends beyond the weekend's third round. Phil Shaw reports

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The Independent Online
WHENEVER Bobby Hope and Jeff Astle reminisce over the stunning shot which earned them FA Cup winners' medals with West Bromwich Albion, the Scot teases Astle about his otherwise low-key contribution at Wembley: 'One kick, one goal.'

A quarter of a century and half a lifetime later, Hope would settle for a similar ratio from one of his Bromsgrove Rovers team when they receive Barnsley in the FA Cup on Saturday - provided it produced the same outcome.

The Worcestershire side's run to the third round, in which they are the only survivors from the 288 hopefuls who set out in the first qualifying round, is Hope's most protracted involvement in the competition since Astle broke Everton in 1968. Albion needed 10 matches to lift the trophy; Bromsgrove are approaching their eighth.

The former Hawthorns 'schemer' acknowledges that the comparisons between the respective campaigns are largely superficial. Albion were watched by 470,000 people - plus millions more on television - whereas even a capacity crowd of 4,893 at the Victoria Ground will not nudge the total who have witnessed Bromsgrove's progress beyond 20,000.

In other respects, however, Hope believes there are comparisons which augur well for the Vauxhall Conference part-timers. For both Albion and Rovers, the Cup trail almost went cold before it started. 'When we went to Colchester in third round in '68, they got what looked like the winner in the last minute,' he recalled. 'To this day none of us knows why it was disallowed.'

In Bromsgrove's first tie, at home to Gresley before 902 souls back in September, they needed an own- goal to scrape a replay. Hope's men then disposed of Bedworth, the prelude to victories over Solihull, Rushden & Diamonds, Northampton (their first Football League victims) and Yeovil - all away from home.

'Several times Albion seemed to be on the way out, like when we had to put a full-back in goal in the replay at Southampton because our keeper got injured, and during our three quarter-final games with Liverpool,' Hope said. 'It's been a bit like that this year, with all the away draws, but adversity has brought the best out of these lads too.

'I've got two or three players who require a fresh challenge such as this to find out how good they are. Last season they had to prove themselves after going up from the Beazer Homes League into the Conference, which they did magnificently by finishing second to Wycombe. The Cup is having the same effect.'

After a playing career which started with an Albion debut at 16 and included two Scotland caps - no mean haul with Jim Baxter and Billy Bremner in their pomp - as well as a stint in the United States, Hope settled into a dual role in 1983, running a post office and managing Bromsgrove. The club were in the Midland Division of the Southern League and playing in front of 200 spectators 'on a good day'.

Apart from a three-month sabbatical with Burton Albion, where he found that the grass elsewhere is not always as green as it seems, it has been a mutually satisfying relationship. From a modest outlay, and with a style reflecting their manager's penchant for passing, Bromsgrove have become one of the leading non-League lights.

'The directors don't expect success all the time. Some chairmen don't want success now - they want it yesterday. You judge a board by how they react in a sticky period.'

While his own team endured such a spell early this season, games in hand mean they could still have a say in the championship. Mindful of the struggles of Maidstone, Barnet and Scarborough, Hope is realistic about Bromsgrove's potential to progress further.

'This area is saturated by big clubs. Albion, Wolves, Birmingham and Villa all have fans in the town, so whether we could sustain League football must be questionable. Kidderminster probably could - it's a much bigger place - and Worcester too. But we should still give it our best shot.'

A more pressing ambition is to beat Viv Anderson's Barnsley. Having gone into the draw with the Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals for the first time in the club's 109- year history, the Bromsgrove players were, by Hope's admission, disappointed to be paired with First Division stragglers.

'The positive aspect is being at home. Barnsley offered us the chance to switch, but it'll be a better atmosphere with a full house here than 10,000 scattered around at their place. We'll just have to get through and hope to draw someone like Villa or Wolves.'

Albion, where Hope watched Barnsley draw recently, are already out, dumped by Halifax, who are below Bromsgrove in the Conference. If the decline of the club to whom he gave 13 years saddens him, what he learned there is now serving Bromsgrove well.

'The real point of similarity is the dressing-room spirit,' Hope said. 'At West Brom we had some real characters - Jeff Astle was a great practical joker and still is - whereas we've got a lad in midfield called Rob Shilvock who's a merciless mimic. He'll probably do my team-talk for me.'

Better still if he managed an impersonation of Astle's winner of 26 years ago when Everton, like Barnsley, started as clear favourites. Then Bromsgrove really would have proof that in the Cup, Hope springs eternal.

(Photograph omitted)

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