Fixture lists are normally sober displays but today's entry on havantandwaterlooville.net reads: "FAC Liverpool (4R) 15:00 Still can't believe it". The fixtures editor is not the only one who cannot comprehend the combination of clubs involved in today's FA Cup fourth round tie at Anfield.
In the home dressing room are the most decorated club in English football. In the visitors' a team of part-timers, of van drivers, school assistants, bin men and gas engineers. Havant & Waterlooville are the lowest-ranked club to have reached the last 32 of the world's oldest knockout competition in 17 years. Today they will touch the famous sign in the tunnel reading "This is Anfield". At Westleigh Park they run out from behind the tea bar.
They do not have an earthly, but all week they have been insisting they are not going to Anfield for just a "day out". Of course they and their 6,000 fans are doing exactly that, but Liverpool's internationals and millionaires might care to note that the last such team to reach this stage, then-Isthmian League Woking in 1991, lost only 1-0 to Everton at Goodison Park, and nearly snatched a replay.
It is as romantic a match as could be conjured, just what the FA Cup needs to rekindle its fading allure, even if the BBC has unaccountably ignored the Blue Square South club for the second successive match. But behind the David and Goliath clichés lurks an interesting reality. The Hawks' players may have real jobs but they have a solid grounding in the game.
The growth of academies and influx of overseas players mean there are more educated footballers in the middle levels of the non-League game than ever before. Havant may have defeated Swansea with set pieces in their epic third-round replay but they matched the League One leaders for quality in open play, passing and using the ball with wit, skill and intelligence.
Run down their teamsheet and there are former trainees at Bournemouth and Tottenham (goalkeeper Kevin Scrivens and forward Jamie Slabber respectively), an ex-Wycombe starlet (Mo Harkin), a former Brighton veteran (Charlie Oatway) and a striker who scored goals for QPR, Richard Pacquette. Jay Smith was at Brentford, as was the bin man, Tony Taggart.
One of the reasons he took the job is that the hours leave him free to play football, for like several team-mates he harbours a desire to return to the pro game. Their role model is Leicester City's D J Campbell, a former team-mate of Pacquette who was taken on by Brentford on the strength of his FA Cup displays for Yeading.
Most of these players have been around, none more so than defender Phil Warner, who played in the Premier League for Southampton. Having appeared at Highbury and White Hart Lane, and faced Manchester United, Warner is unlikely to be overawed this afternoon. He may even get a feeling of déjà vu.
"I made my full debut at Elland Road marking Harry Kewell," says Warner when we meet. "He might well be playing at Anfield, though I doubt he'll remember me as well as I remember him."
Warner played only six times for Saints, all in 1998. It was a tough introduction for the then-19-year-old right-back. He also found himself marking David Ginola (twice), Marc Overmars, Trevor Sinclair and Jesper Blomqvist. Internationals all. He feels he did well against Kewell and Ginola, but Overmars was another matter.
"It was a baptism of fire," he says. "My first match was as a sub at Spurs. They had Klinsmann and Ginola, who was in his pomp then, and more than 35,000 people watching. I was running on adrenalin. It was the same at Leeds. Kewell was on top of his game then, but it was my best game. But Overmars was so quick. He was two-footed, like Ginola, but while Ginola was strong and silky Overmars was hard to mark." Warner was substituted after 34 minutes. "I was probably blowing out of my arse," he recollects.
It was to prove his last game in the top flight. Scott Hiley took his place and the following season he was loaned to Brentford to gain experience but found himself on the bench or at right-wing. He returned to The Dell to find David Jones had been eased out, Glenn Hoddle had been and gone, and Stuart Gray was about to be replaced by Gordon Strachan. With Jason Dodd immovable at right-back, Warner realised it was time to leave.
He made the wrong move, to a Cambridge United side which had a young Dave Kitson, but little else. His time there was memorable only for experiencing John Beck's unique brand of management. "My job was to launch it to the corner flag. He had been very successful playing that football earlier, but the game had moved on and he hadn't," says Warner. "He was very organised, the back four were drilled every day, and he was still doing the cold showers. It was interesting."
It was not, though, fulfilling, especially as Warner still found regular football elusive. "Professional football is lovely while it lasts, but it won't last for ever," he says. "Most players don't think about the future but I had an eye on it. When an opportunity came up to get involved in property developing I decided to take it."
He went to Eastleigh, then Aldershot, before pitching up at Westleigh Park 18 months ago. He professes himself to be happy enough combining playing, property developing and van driving, but the terrible irony is that he is not even a regular for the Hawks. He has only started one league game, at Welling in October, all season. Only injuries, and Cup-tied players, meant he played against Swansea.
Warner is obviously hurt by his lack of first team action, hard as he tries to hide it. He says with a forced smile: "He [manager Shaun Gale] just throws me in for the big games. I'm more than happy as long as he throws me in for the biggest." Then he adds: "It's been tough but I've got a couple of games to build on now."
"Have you had injuries?" I ask sympathetically. "Nothing to keep me out of the team; you're killing me here." "Still", I say brightly, "with the suspensions [full-backs Brett Poate and Justin Gregory], you should play against Liverpool." "Yes. I'm the reserve of everything, jack of all trades but master of none."
The game may be part-time at this level but being left out still hurts. I change the subject and we talk for a few minutes about Liverpool's players. "If Torres doesn't play Crouch will, if not Babel, Pennant. The names keep coming. When I dropped out of the League I didn't expect this," he says. "I don't think I made the third round as a professional, to make the fourth round with a non-League side is fantastic."
Afterwards I speak to Gale about Warner. "He's not really played at all, but I said to him, 'Be patient, you will get the opportunity'. It came at Swansea and he was fantastic. His ability has never been in question and he has now given me a problem when everyone is fit."
Gale knows about being in the shadows himself. He spent eight years at Portsmouth, playing three first-team games, before becoming a regular at Barnet, then Exeter, playing 244 matches in total. He turned to coaching after breaking an arm playing for the Hawks five years ago. Now 38 he is an impressive figure, prone to management-speak but clear-headed and thriving amid the circus which has engulfed the club. He is enjoying the limelight but not monopolising it, and is careful to give credit to the players and officials at the club. He took over as manager in October, technically part-time but effectively full-time. "I was helping the groundsman get the water off the pitch last Monday," he says. "I don't think Rafa would have done that.
He looks proudly at his players, as we talk at the health farm where they have been enjoying a taste of the high life (Joey Barton is a fellow guest). "They have come from a decent football background, they are level-headed lads and they can achieve a lot of things," says Gale. "There is always a reason why they are at this level, but there are a few who could get back in. Some dropped out at an early age, maybe they were not mature enough. Now they are starting to show real form. I have told a few that I have played with technically worse players who maybe had more consistency and desire week in and week out. You can't turn it on and off like a tap, you have got to be consistent, that is what sets apart the pros."
Gale cites Ray Clemence, his manager at Barnet, as his main influence. "Clemence was a positive person. One thing I learnt off him was your team will play how the manager is. I keep the players thinking positively, believing they can achieve." The former England and Liverpool goalkeeper remembered Gale. "He was the ultimate professional," Clemence said. "He did all the right things on and off the field. He was always trying to improve himself and he was very easy to handle. I'm not surprised that he's gone into management, he was always interested in training and tactics."
For Warner this week is a return to the spotlight, for some of his team-mates it is a first, and probably only shot at fame. Gale gives the impression of someone who will be heard of again. He added: "I drummed into them before the Swansea game, 'If things don't go your way you have to keep going, keep believing.' We are that sort of team." Liverpool have been warned.
Little League FA Cup history-makers
Havant & Waterlooville are seeking to become the third non-League club to defeat a top flight side on their own ground since the Football League was extended to four divisions in 1920-21. Both the previously successful teams played at a higher non-League level than Havant & Waterlooville.
* 1975 Third round: Burnley 0 Wimbledon 1
Burnley, seventh in the old First Division, were kept at bay by goalkeeper Dickie Guy. Micky Mahon scored the winner for Southern League Wimbledon after 49 minutes. The Dons, who included Dave Bassett, went on to hold champions Leeds at Elland Road, Guy saving Peter Lorimer's penalty, before losing the replay in front of 49,000 at Selhurst Park.
* 1986 Third round: Birmingham City 1 Altrincham 2
Ron Saunders' relegation-bound Birmingham led, but their Conference opponents won when goalkeeper David Seaman let Robert Hopkins' back pass trickle past him. Saunders resigned two days later. Jeff Wealands, rejected from Birmingham by Saunders, kept goal for Altrincham.
Cup comparison: A world apart
STATUS: Barclays Premier League (5th)
BRIEF HISTORY: Founded in 1892 when Everton left Anfield following a dispute with the landlord. Elected to Football League Division Two 1893, immediately promoted. Since spent ten seasons outside top flight.
Value: Gillett and Hicks have been resisting £350m buyout by Dubai International Capital.
FA Cup BEST: Winners seven times.
Other Honours: European Cup/Champions League (5), Uefa Cup (3), Football League (18), Football League Cup (7).
FA Cup run: 3rd rd bt Luton 1-1, 5-0 in replay.
Ground: Anfield. 45,362 (all-seat, all covered).
Average League gate 2007-08: 43,554
Admission price: £34.
Record attendance: 61,905 (v Wolves, FAC4, Feb 1952)
Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina, Spanish international and penalty saving specialist
Want-away player: Peter Crouch, England forward with impressive strike-rate; under used by Benitez
Tom Jordan, defender with scoring touch, perhaps inherited from his father, the Scottish international Joe Jordan. A fitness trainer, he has requested a move to Eastleigh
Internationals: Almost all the squad, including Sami Hyypia (90 caps, Finland), John Arne Riise (68, Norway) and Steve Gerrard (63, England)
Loan star: Javier Mascherano, Argentine on loan in a move from West Ham, pending £17m transfer
Next match: West Ham (a), Barclays Premier League
STATUS: Blue Square South (12th – 122 clubs separate H&W and Liverpool)
BRIEF HISTORY: Havant founded 1883. Joined Portsmouth League. Waterlooville founded 1905. Clubs merged in 1998, by which stage both had reached Southern League, Southern Division. Now in the second tier of the non-League system.
Value: Hackney said: "Has anyone got DIC's number? They can have us for £2m."
FA Cup BEST: Reached 4th round (2008).
Other Honours: Southern League, Southern Division; Russell Cotes Cup; Southern Combined Counties Floodlit Cup.
FA Cup run: 2nd Qualifying rd bt Bognor 2-1
3rd Q rd bt Fleet Town 2-1
4th Q rd bt Leighton Town 3-0
1st rd bt York City 1-0
2nd rd bt Notts County 1-0
3rd rd bt Swansea 1-1
4-2 in replay.
Ground: Westleigh Park. 5,250 (1,500 covered, 560 seats).
Average League gate 2007-08: 606
Admission price: £10 (Under-11s free with adult).
Record attendance: 4,400 (v Swansea, FAC3R, Jan 2008)
Goalkeeper: Kevin Scriven (left), ex-Bournemouth trainee, labourer, and penalty saving specialist
Want-away player: Tom Jordan, defender with scoring touch, perhaps inherited from his father, the Scottish international Joe Jordan. A fitness trainer, he has requested a move to Eastleigh
Internationals: Jamie Collins (England Youth), Tom Jordan (England semi-pro), Mo Harkin (Northern Ireland Under-21)
Loan star: Alfie Potter, on loan from Peterborough, to gain experience
Next match: Hayes & Yeading (a), Blue Square SouthReuse content