It had been billed as a derby on the edge of the Black Country, but the overwhelming colour as night began to fall over this pretty ground fringed by poplars, a cricket pavilion and a church were shades of grey.
The Stourbridge manager, Gary Hackett, was holding a champagne cork and opposite him in the club's little boardroom was a painting of the old Empire Stadium, journey's end for the FA Cup. All the symbolism pointed to a victory but what Hackett and his players had suffered was that bitterest of results.
As a member of the Shrewsbury side that had knocked Ipswich out of the competition 25 years before, Hackett knew that if the T-shirts detailing Stourbridge's run in the FA Cup that began at Bromsgrove in September were to be reprinted he required luck and for his players to take their chances. He got neither and in the image of a forgotten industrial England, conjured by the clubs' nicknames, the Saddlers overcame the Glassboys.
"When we drew a team in League One, my first thoughts were that we might be embarrassed and humiliated," Hackett said. "In the dressing room, my players are down but for the right reasons. Most of them live three or four miles from the ground and there is a real sense of community about this club. They did each other proud; nobody froze on the day and perhaps Walsall are a little fortunate to be in the hat for the second round."
Stourbridge's chances fell to the man most likely to break through. Sean Evans had been signed by Manchester United as a teenager but had seen his career drift away at Inverness, Barnsley and Aberystwyth. Nevertheless, his talent remains formidable and twice before the interval he was given opportunities from distance, both of which might have sneaked in by the near post but for the goalkeeper, Clayton Ince's, reactions.
There were four divisions separating these sides less than 20 miles apart and forced the likes of Sam Smith, a forklift truck driver, to mark Darren Byfield whose career has taken him to Villa Park and the Stadium of Light. He acquitted himself admirably but the way Steve Jones burst into the area, beat two men and sent his shot cannoning into the net beneath the temporary stand Stourbridge had erected for the day brooked no argument.
This was one reason why, however proud Stourbridge might have been of their first taste of the FA Cup proper, the sheer cost of staging it meant they added little if anything to the £20,000 their run had already made. Had ITV chosen to screen this match live, and it would have sustained the viewers' interest longer than the massacre at Paulton, Stourbridge would have earned £67,000. As part of a highlights package, they received less than a tenth of that.
It was, however, unquestionably the biggest broadcast staged by 102.5 The Bridge, Stourbridge's own radio station, albeit the 'hit the crossbar' competition they staged during the interval did coincide with the players trying to kick off for the second half. As England's most famous commentary nearly had it: "There were some people on the pitch – and they were anxious to play".Reuse content