Brown eyes Walcott reunion
They played together for Newbury Schools. Now the Cup could reacquaint them
Stefan Brown, the AFC Totton striker, knows who he would like the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier club to draw in the FA Cup third round if they can beat Bristol Rovers today at their Testwood Stadium, between Southampton and the New Forest. Not only is he an Arsenal fan, but a tie against the north London giants would also pit him against his former Newbury Schools team-mate Theo Walcott.
Walcott may be a fixture for Arsenal and England, but Brown has a claim to fame that he cannot match – a 15-minute hat-trick in Totton's 8-1 first-round demolition of Bradford Park Avenue, the fastest by a substitute in the history of the competition, which earned him the player of the round award.
"I came on in, I think, the 56th minute, scored the first in the 64th, then 74th and 79th," he said. "It still seems surreal. Really? Me? When you think of all the names that have played in the competition, it's just a great feeling. I'm very proud of it. It has been a bit crazy, but it has been good fun and we're all looking forward to this game now, can't wait. Quite stressful with uni work as well, but I wouldn't change it."
Brown, 22, is in the final year of a Sports Development degree at Portsmouth University. "I was in the library when I found out about the award," he said. "It's my third year so the pressure is on. They wouldn't have found me in the library in my first year year – I don't think I went. But now it's crunch time so if I'm not here, I'm there."
PE teaching is a possibility when his studies are over, but Brown has not given up on the idea of following Walcott into full-time football. "I wouldn't say Theo completely stood out, he just was unbelievably fast and teams had to watch out for his pace [chasing] the ball over the top," Brown recalls. "He improved a lot on the rest of his game, and his pace is something that he obviously kept.
"I didn't hear anything about him for about four years, then all of a sudden there was a live game on TV, Southampton against Wolves at St Mary's and they said: "Theo Walcott's coming on." What? I turned the TV up and everyone was talking about him being the next big thing – a big shock, but I was very happy for him. We had [Burnley striker] Charlie Austin as well and quite a few are around at semi-professional level.
"I was at Reading while I was a schoolboy, but I was told I was too small. I would like to get back into professional football, so I hope I can put in a good performance on Sunday and someone sees me. Brett Williams [the Reading striker on loan at Rotherham United] started from here, and he was 23. I'm 22, so there's still hope."
Brown and his team-mates have a chance to get themselves noticed in front of a global TV audience today. The previous claim to fame for Totton was as the largest village in England until it became a town in 1974. But as well as further progress in their first venture into the FA Cup proper, the Stags are looking for a third promotion in five years under manager Stuart Ritchie and assistant Sean New.
"There is a five-year plan in place and if we achieve it we will be in the Conference," said Phil Shephard, the club's chairman. "Our plans this year were for consolidation, but the nucleus of this group has been together for three years under Stuart and Sean, and who knows how far they can take them?
"We already pick up a lot of floating supporters when Saints are away from home, and we're certainly putting Totton on the map. I understand the game is going out to 1.8 million people, and all across Europe and to the Far East as well."
Manager Ritchie missed Thursday's training session to see Duran Duran – "He's a massive fan so we've given him the night off to get away from everything," said New – so was unable to give any hints as to whether Brown's first-round feat had won him a starting berth today.
"I don't even know what Duran Duran is," Brown said. "I prefer R 'n' B mainly. I'd like to think I'm in and around the starting line-up, but getting through this match would be ideal, not just for me but for the club, for us – to have a chance of playing against the best players in the world."
AFC Totton v Bristol Rovers is on ITV1 today, kick-off 12.30pm
Five facts about Totton
1. It has a population of 28,000 and was regarded as England's largest village before it became a town in 1974.
2. AFC Totton reached the final of the FA Vase in 2007 and so played the first competitive match at the new Wembley Stadium.
3. The club became the first non-League side to score eight goals in the FA Cup proper since the Second World War when they beat Bradford Park Avenue 8-1 in the first round.
4. Manager Stuart Ritchie did the job unpaid when he first took over, and is a Parcelforce delivery driver by day.
5. Totton and Eling Cricket Club, formerly known as BAT Sports, won the Southern Premier League four times in six seasons between 2001-06.
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