The comedian Frank Carson, a director of Chasetown, said before yesterday's game that he had been talking to Peter Ridsdale, the Cardiff chairman. Carson said: "I told him: 'May the best team win.' He replied: 'I hope not'."
For 46 minutes you would indeed have had difficulty making a case for the Championship side against their hosts from the British Gas Business Southern League Midlands Division One. There may have been six divisions and 136 places between the two clubs Chasetown were the lowest-ranked team ever to reach this stage and were attempting to bridge the biggest ever gap but until Peter Whittingham equalised in injury time at the end of the first half Cardiff were facing the biggest humiliation of their lives.
Chasetown's part-timers fully deserved their 17th-minute lead. If the equaliser turned the match, the credit for a memorable occasion went to Chasetown, whose performance off the pitch matched their endeavours on it in keeping alive the spirit of the world's oldest cup competition.
Having refused to switch the tie away from their tiny Staffordshire home, Chasetown spent 30,000 in order to stage it and will have made only a moderate profit from their 10-match run in the competition. Cardiff agreed they were superb hosts as the Scholars Ground confirmed its reputation as "the coldest ground in the country with the warmest supporters".
The 2,420 spectators, plus those who had climbed trees surrounding the ground or watched from the adjoining road, saw a magnificent first half from Chasetown. With Vaughan Thomas, Chris Slater and Joe Williams rarely in difficulty in defence and the excellent Ben Steane leading the push from midfield, they regularly had Cardiff on the back foot.
Michael Oakes, the Cardiff goalkeeper, had already been embarrassed once, completely missing a swirling corner from the right, when his hesitation contributed to Chasetown's goal. Steane crossed from the right and with Oakes rooted to his line Kevin McNaughton, under pressure from Kyle Perry, deflected the ball into his own net. It was a good job Steane did not claim the goal as Charlie Blakemore, the Chasetown manager, had promised to "bare my backside in House of Fraser's in Wolverhampton" if his misfiring midfielder scored.
Cardiff never lost belief and they were rewarded when Whittingham finished off a move involving Aaron Ramsey and Steve McLean. Ramsey, 17 last month, was making a full debut and grew in confidence, scoring after 59 minutes following good work by Tony Capaldi and Paul Parry. Thirteen minutes later Parry ran on to Joe Ledley's pass to shoot through Lee Evans' legs and the contest was over.
Blakemore described the first half as "fantasy football". He added: "We were in dreamland when we scored. It was just a shame we couldn't hang on until half-time. They scored at a critical moment. You could see that it lifted Cardiff and they stepped their game up after that. But even in the second half we were still in it. Our lads kept running and working and I'm the proudest man in the world today."
Dave Jones, the Cardiff manager, said his team had "needed a shake-up" but paid tribute to the hosts. "They should feel very proud of it and I feel honoured to be part of their history," he said. "It's been a big day for them. Their players were magnificent. They've been in our dressing room and taken everything that there is to take boots, kits, coats but we welcome that. Today is what the romance of the FA Cup is all about."
At the end the stadium announcer thanked everyone for coming and added: "We hope to see you again next Saturday for the game against Leighton Town." Chasetown's players might still be nursing hangovers.
"The lads are going to have a few beers tonight and I'll join them," Blakemore said. "Win, lose or draw I said we'd go on the lash, have a few beers and enjoy ourselves. The lads will be back at work on Monday. Some of our players got 30 for today. They didn't ask for bonuses because all they wanted was the memories and that's what they've got."Reuse content