Chasetown chase the dream to change lives

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The Independent Online

Michel Platini is so concerned about the FA Cup's waning status that he wants to see the winners invited into the Champions' League, but were the Uefa president to turn up at Vale Park today he would discover that the powers of football's oldest knock-out competition have not yet completely expired.

He would witness some 4,500 supporters of Chasetown, a club in the Southern League Midland Division the eighth tier of the English domestic pyramid attempting to rattle the League One side Port Vale so much that their team of carpet fitters, block pavers and telecom technicians win an unlikely place in thethird round.

Given that the Black Country minnows normally play before 400 at their Scholars Ground home in Burntwood, Staffordshire, to have found a dozen times that number to line up behind their cause is evidence enough that the Cup can still inspire extraordinary events.

They will have the excitement, too, of seeing Chasetown's name in the pot alongside the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, as the televised draw for the first major stage of the competition takes place while their match is still in progress. For a club of their size, there is more to the FA Cup than a touch of romance or a moment in the national spotlight. It can be a life-changing experience.

In Chasetown's case, it has happened twice in three seasons, this year's historic first appearance in the second round coming hard on the heels of a televised first-round tie against Oldham Athletic in 2005-06.

"The transformation in the club has been unbelievable," said their manager, Charlie Blakemore. "I reckon that, regardless of what happens today, the two Cup runs have been worth about 400,000to us in prize money, gatemoney and sponsorship, which to a non-League club is a massive amount.

"We had no advertising boards, no turnstile, no fence around the ground, and the brick dug-outs were condemned as unsafe. Now we have a new stand built, a new car park laid and plans have been approved for a stand seating 600, plus hospitality facilities, changing rooms and a players' lounge.

"We used to be perennial strugglers in the Midland Alliance but we won promotion in the same season as the Cup run and have a chance again this year. Players who didn't want to come here two or three years ago now see us as a club that is going places. That's how important the FA Cup is. We could win our league and get nothing from it financially."

That reality is not lost on the first-team coach, Andy Turner once the Premier League's youngest goalscorer and an FA Cup semi-finalist with Tottenham who has made detailed plans for all of Chasetown's seven opponents so far.

Like Blakemore, an operations director for BA systems, Turner has day-time commitments. In his case, a teaching job at Chasetown Specialist Sports College not to mention his responsibilities as an academy coach at Wolves puts a premium on his time, but that has not stopped him doing his homework.

"I've clocked up plenty of miles because I like to watch a team first-hand," he said. "We have prepared well for every game. No one expected us to beat Cambridge City, Nuneaton or Team Bath, but we came through. Port Vale don't have many weaknesses but I've picked out one or two things we can try to exploit. Quality should tell, but you never know in football every team is beatable on the day."

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