It is every part-time footballer's dream.
An FA Cup tie, live on TV, against a league club. Surely the biggest day of their lives? Not for two of the Sutton United team facing Notts County at Gander Green Lane tomorrow. While neither Kevin Scriven nor Tony Taggart is blasé about the prospect of meeting a League One side, they have known bigger matches than this second-round tie. Three years ago they were part of the Havant & Waterlooville team that twice led Liverpool in the fourth round at Anfield.
"It was the experience of a lifetime," said Scriven, the goalkeeper, who played knowing that for every 15 minutes he kept Liverpool at bay he would collect from an extraordinary bonus scheme, topped by a new Mercedes. Taggart, who coincidentally scored a winner against tomorrow's opponents at the same stage for Havant, was a substitute. His arrival prompted the commentary line "Off comes the van driver, on comes the bin man".
Taggart's job made him a central figure in media coverage of Havant's run. "The press joined me on the round," he recalled after training this week. "The lads battered me! The round usually took two hours, but it took about five with all the stopping and starting. We didn't finish until about 3pm."
Scriven came to prominence by saving a penalty from Leon Britton, now in the Premier League with Swansea, when the Welsh side were beaten in the third round. He worked as a labourer in his father's building firm and was subsequently photographed atop a pile of sand on site. "We got to experience for a couple of weeks what the pros put up with on a day-to-day basis," he says.
Scriven was given a deal by the Sun which involved a series of bonuses. Keep a clean sheet for 15 minutes at Anfield and he would win a weekend away in Madrid. Thirty minutes was "a VIP trip to Moscow for the Champions League final, worth £5,000". Other prizes followed, with the £20,000 Mercedes given for 90 goalless minutes.
"It was obviously in the back of my mind. The crowd knew too, and they were counting down each 15 minutes. I got the weekend in Madrid and I was two minutes from the Champions League final when Liverpool scored."
Ironically, due to the fixture congestion caused by the cup run, when the time came to go to Madrid, Havant had a re-arranged league game. "They gave me some compensation instead," he said. "The press experience was entirely positive, but it was nice to go back to the day job and be dealing with a couple of calls, not 20 each day."
How did the defenders who helped him win that trip to Madrid react to his celebrity, and rewards? "There was no jealousy," said Scriven. "It is a team game, and everyone knows it's not down to one person, but the media do focus on the big points of games, like Taggs getting the winning goal in the previous round. The lads understand."
Taggart said that, while their own league opponents tended to raise their game against them, "they wished us all the best afterwards because you are representing their league".
The 30-year-old Taggart is no longer on the bins, as he conducts children's after-school sports activities near his west London home. "I get more of a lie-in, but I can also fit it around my football, and it'll be something to develop after I finish playing," he said.
Scriven is now a self-employed tiler and, at 27, still harbours hopes of a return to the pro game, having been a junior at Bournemouth. He has the shirt of Charles Itandje, who kept goal for Liverpool, framed on the wall at home along with his own, but Taggart had to give his souvenir away. "I got Lucas's shirt but my brother, Craig, begged me to give it to him as he's a big Liverpool fan. I even argued with my mum about it, but I gave it to him in the end."
Sutton, who lost to Notts County at this stage last season but have since been promoted from the Ryman Premier to the Blue Square South, have their own FA Cup history. They are the last non-league club to knock out a top- flight team, despatching Coventry in 1989, 18 months after City won it.
Bruce Elliott, assistant secretary then, is now chairman. "I don't think we appreciated how big it was," he said. "Two days afterwards Tony Rains and Matt Hanlan, the goalscorers, were on the Wogan TV show."
Elliott must be an understanding chairman, because he seems sanguine about the fact that Paul Doswell, Sutton's manager, has spent the week on holiday in Abu Dhabi, only returning yesterday. "Paul booked it weeks ago," said Elliott, "it is a significant wedding anniversary and it was more than his life was worth to cancel it. He was relieved we weren't the Friday kick-off!
"He's been on the phone constantly. Mickey Stevens was scouting County for us last weekend and Paul rang him at half-time from 2,000 miles away."
Sutton have already made around £150,000 from TV fees, gate receipts and prizemoney and Elliott admitted: "It is a godsend to smaller clubs. The publicity is great too. We've been having a big community push including providing 2,000 free tickets to residents to see what we're about. The FA Cup is a platform to build on that."
And for one player, taking part will be everything. Striker Bradley Woods-Garness is hoping to be on the bench. Last month he was released from Pentonville Prison after six months on remand having being found not guilty of intimidating a murder trial witness. His friend Elliott Osmozusi, a defender at Leyton Orient, was convicted and sentenced to two and a half years. "It was like hell," he has said of prison, adding of the incident: "I was always sceptical when people said they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that was what I was."Reuse content