George Borg, whose Aldershot Town side take on Bristol Rovers in Saturday's FA Cup first round, was elsewhere when his club's predecessor, Aldershot, went bust. But, to hear him talk, you would think he was still nursing raw memories of the dreadful moment on 25 March, 1992 when the Shots dropped out of the League, and existence, because of a debt of just £92,000.
Some of Aldershot Town's rivals in the Ryman League Premier Division – one jump away from the Nationwide Conference – spend the best part of that sum in a season. But not Aldershot Town.
"Some of our supporters think we should have been spending £50,000 or £60,000 every season, but they don't seem to realise that that kind of money isn't in the kitty," said Borg. "We keep our heads above water, and we have a stable club. That's important.
"If at the end of the day it costs me my job, at least I can walk out of the door with my head held high, knowing that I am handing over a club that's in healthy financial shape."
The most Borg has spent on a player since arriving from Enfield five years ago is £20,000, for which he acquired Grant Payne from Woking. His expensive new signings this season are Adam Parker, for whom Hitchin were paid £10,000, and Paul Harford, the son of former Blackburn and Luton manager Ray Harford, who was secured from Sutton United for £5,000. At 6ft 6in, Harford would have been an imposing presence in midfield in Saturday's keenly awaited match – but he is out with an injured knee.
It is a frustrating absence for Borg, who has substantially re-shaped the side which was beaten 6-2 by Brighton at the same stage of the Cup last season. Gone is the defender Mark Blake, who played for Kevin Keegan at Fulham; gone too is the man who accompanied Borg from Enfield, the prolific scorer Gary Abbott – now playing for Welwyn at the age of 38.
The personnel may have changed, but the part-time players of Aldershot Town – a characteristic collection of salesmen, builders, carpenters and electricians – can have confidence that the gaffer knows how to succeed in this competition.
He reached the FA Cup third round in charge of Enfield, who beat Cardiff and Torquay en route to a 2-0 defeat at Leicester City. With his current club he has reached, successively, the fourth qualifying round, the second round – where Town lost 2-0 to Exeter City – and, this year and last, the first round.
Some observers have already suggested that Rovers, currently sixth from bottom of the Nationwide Third Division, look far more likely victims than Brighton, who were on course for the Third Division title when they arrived at the Recreation Ground. But Borg is as circumspect about overconfidence as he is about overspending.
"Rovers have got a point to prove," he said. "The last thing they are going to want to do is lose to a non-League team because if that happens they could just go right down the pan. Sometimes teams at the top get over-confident and end up with a smacked bum."
That, however, was not the case the last time Borg's men contested the first round. "We didn't do ourselves justice against Brighton," he said. "They were top of the Third and playing with confidence, and we made the mistake of not watching them beforehand. We were going well ourselves at the time and we didn't think we needed to alter our normal routine, but it gave them far too much room. I'll make sure we don't make the same mistake again."
Accordingly Bristol Rovers have been watched three times, and Borg has been particularly impressed by their combative midfielder and captain, Andy Thomson.
Aldershot's Cup progress this season has been at the expense of three fellow members of the Ryman Premier, Maidenhead, Sutton and Hitchin. If they are to progress further, they will be heavily reliant on their captain Ryan Kirby, and Stafford Browne, an antiques dealer and restorer who has scored 10 goals in 16 League games so far this season.
"Stafford could be a handful for Rovers on Saturday," said Borg, who took the club into their current division in his first season but is finding the next leap – via the single automatic promotion place available – hard to contrive.
"There are a lot of good sides around such as Canvey Island and Gravesend that have spent good money but have still not been able to go up. That shows you how strong some teams are in our League. We've been fourth and runners-up. In any other League you would at least have a chance of taking part in a play-off."
Aldershot Town are one of the best supported teams in non-League football, regularly getting home gates of 2,000, and taking 800 supporters to away matches. Cause for celebration, Mr Borg?
Something of a mixed blessing, in fact. "Other teams rise to the occasion because of the crowds that watch us," Borg said. "Every match we play seems to have a cup final atmosphere." An extra strain for his players week in, week out – but it should make Saturday's match a little easier to accommodate.Reuse content