Havant & Waterlooville regret they will have to rearrange their Blue Square South fixture with Weston-super-Mare on 26 January. They have a new date in the diary, a dream date, Liverpool away in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The Hawks, the last non-League team in the competition, last night devoured Swansea, the League One leaders, to earn a fixture which this collection of taxi drivers, plasterers, bin men and property developers will remember all their lives. The winning goal of a thrilling tie came from Tom Jordan. His father, the old Scotland, Leeds and Manchester United forward Joe, can rarely have been prouder. Jordan, who had been omitted from the starting XI, having been out of favour since asking for a move to neighbours Eastleigh, was chaired off in triumph by fans.
"It is unbelievable," said Shaun Gale. Havant's ecstatic manager understandably worked his way though a series of clichés as he added: "It's a dream that's become reality. The romance of the FA Cup is alive. There are lads in the dressing room who have been reduced to tears because they are going to Anfield."
The setting was as far from Liverpool's storied stadium as could be imagined. Westleigh Park is a workmanlike low-rise arena set in a suburban housing estate. One modest seated stand occupied part of one touchline, two hastily erected Heath Robinson structures housed media on the other. The rest was standing room only. Yet the night was replete with such romantic potential the club had received more than 250 requests for press accreditation, from as far afield as America and Australia.
Havant & Waterlooville embarked on their FA Cup quest at Bognor Regis in September, in the second qualifying round. As well as Jordan junior they fielded player-coach Charlie Oatway, once of Brighton but more noteworthy for possessing 11 Christian names honouring the QPR squad of 1972, the result of a bet struck by his father.
They also included Brett Poate who had been dismissed in the first match, along with Swansea's Alan Tate. The latter was automatically banned but the wheels of justice move more slowly in the semi-professional game so Poate was clear to play, a situation which was "amazing" and "unfortunate" according to Roberto Martinez. The Swansea manager will feel even more strongly this morning. Poate set up three of Havant's goals.
A mere 575 had watched Havant defeat St Albans here on Saturday. Funnily enough, their supporters had swelled to nearly 4,000 last night, plus 550 Swansea fans. They saw an extraordinary game launched when Gary Monk, under pressure from Richard Pacquette, glanced a fourth-minute cross into his own net. Next, from Poate's half-cleared 25th-minute corner, Jamie Collins drove in. A dozen minutes later the home fans were chanting "Easy, easy," after Baptiste had turned in Pacquette's mishit shot.
The celebration was premature for, a minute later, Guillem Bauza chipped in from 20 yards. The Spaniard was then brought down in the box but goalkeeper Kevin Scriven parried Leon Britton's penalty. "That changed the game," Gale said.
Maybe, but soon after the break Swansea, unbeaten since November, scored anyway, Jason Scotland tapping in after Bauza struck the post. Disappointment loomed but, with 25 minutes left, Jordan steered in another Poate set play.
"I'm a taxi driver and a Liverpool fan so I know the way," Baptiste said: "M1, M6, turn left". Collins, the captain, added: "If someone offered me £1m to take my place in leading the team out at Anfield I would turn it down. To play against players like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher... Some things money can't buy."
Maybe not, but it is important at this level. Anfield, said club officials, sets them up for "five to 10 years". They have earned £100,000 in prize-money alone, a figure that will be quintupled with gate receipts and television fees. The final words went to Gale. "It's been a fairy tale, and it continues."
Havant & Waterlooville (4-4-2): Scriven; Gregory, Warner, Smith (Jordan, h-t), Poate; Harkin, Oatway (Wilkinson, 43), Collins, Potter; Baptiste, Pacquette (Slabber, 77). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Taggart.
Swansea City (4-4-2): De Vries; Rangel, Lawrence, Monk, Painter (Duffy, 77); Anderson (Butler, 51), Pratley, Britton, Robinson; Scotland, Bauza. Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Austin, O'Leary.
Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).Reuse content