Village florist aims to make Norwich wilt

Paulton (population 4,896) seek an FA Cup first-round shock and a moment of TV fame against Delia Smith's fallen aristocrats, writes Jon Culley
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The Independent Football

The FA Cup might spell romance for some but for others it is a test of character and for the players of Norwich City there will be several jaw-dropping moments as their team coach swings past the village war memorial and edges along narrow High Street into Winterfield Road in search of Paulton Rovers FC.

Assuming the driver does not miss the entrance, they will have to squeeze between burger vans and temporary toilets to find a parking place adjacent to the dressing rooms which, once inside, they may find to be rather more intimate than they are used to.

That is only the beginning. When referee Andy Hall blows for kick-off at lunchtime today they will have a television audience and most of the 2,100 supporters in the tiny home of the north-east Somerset team – 13 miles south of Bristol – willing fate to serve Delia Smith's club a classic concoction of FA Cup upset. Norwich have not been required to play in the first round since 1961 and for those in their line-up, such as Adam Drury and Gary Doherty, who were with them in the Premier League only five seasons ago, "culture shock" may not do their feelings justice.

Few of Paulton's part-timers, whose regular environment, the Zamaretto (Southern) League One South & West is five tiers below Norwich in the football pyramid, have played a first-round tie but will try to comprehend, nonetheless, how their opponents feel.

"I'd imagine they will only have experienced something like it at a handful of friendlies or charity games," Paulton's veteran midfielder Rob Cousins said. "It will be a test of character. They'll either come here to be professional and do a job or they're going to think, 'I can't really be bothered today', and go through the motions. It will certainly be an eye-opener to them."

An eye-opener for Cousins it will not be. At 38, with a semi-professional career spanning 20 seasons and 987 games, he has his sights, if selected, on making Norwich No 10 in his list of League opponents in the Cup. Remarkably, on all bar one of the previous nine occasions, his team has won or at least forced a replay. "At Bath City in 1989, when I was 18, we took Fulham to a replay, then in later years we beat Cardiff and Hereford and took Northampton and Stoke – in the third round – to replays," he said.

Manager Andy Jones, who somehow combines running a £10m Anglo-Dutch wholesale florist business with giving 30 hours a week to the club, has preferred younger legs lately, tending to start Cousins on the bench. On this occasion, a little "been there, done that" experience might be invaluable. "What I'll be saying to the players is, 'Don't freeze'," Jones said. "That's my only worry because there are a few young players and only a couple that have actually played in the first-round proper, let alone in front of a big crowd like this.

"You have got to try and get the players focused and to avoid the attention of the crowd and the cameras. Nobody is expecting us to win. The pressure is all on Norwich."

This will be a day like no other for Rovers, who stand to make £150,000 from the occasion, although it would be wrong to say Paulton – population 4,896 – has never been on the football map. Don Rogers, who took giant-killing to a different level when his goals helped Swindon to beat Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup final, was born in the village when it was a thriving coal-mining community. And when Robert Maxwell owned the now derelict nearby Purnell printing plant, which once employed 3,500 he would have his helicopter land on the Rovers pitch.