Mike Rowbottom: Farnborough's cup preparation battered by the feminine touch

A funny thing happened to Gary Holloway this week. Well, funny as far as the rest of his team-mates at Farnborough Town were concerned. During the Nationwide Conference side's trip to the La Manga training complex ahead of today's FA Cup tie at Arsenal, they played a couple of games against two other sides who had travelled to southern Spain to spruce themselves up.

The first, against a Gillingham team which has its own FA Cup appointment, with Leeds, this afternoon, wasn't funny at all, as by all accounts the non-League side were given a bit of a runaround. The second took place against England – England women, that is.

Hope Powell's players are getting over the disappointment of missing out narrowly on the World Cup finals in China later this year – they lost a crucial play-off with France – and are preparing for a long campaign of friendlies before they host the European Championship in 2005.

The opportunity to play a couple of short matches against men's teams was one they took with alacrity, and although they impressed observers with the technical quality of their play, they were not averse to adding the occasional physical element. As Holloway learned to his cost after an encounter with the Doncaster Belles midfielder Carly Hunt which left him grounded and requiring the services of a trainer.

Even within the women's game, Hunt, at around 5ft 2in, is one of the smaller players. But as her room-mate and team-mate Jody Handley explained, that doesn't stop her. "She's quite notorious for putting her foot in," said Handley with a grin. "But when he got up he said it wasn't her, it was the way he had fallen." Sadly for the former Spurs and Wimbledon trainee, that story didn't wash with his team-mates. "She helped pick him up," said one of them. "He's been slaughtered by the lads ever since."

Holloway will be hoping to avoid any further humiliation at Highbury today, where, as a Spurs fan, he has an added incentive to perform.

He will be cheered on by a party of 70 friends and family who are among the 6,000 Farnborough supporters planning to travel to the game. Jon Couch, sports editor of the Farnborough News, recalls the day 11 years ago when a similar number made the hour-and-a-half journey to the capital from Hampshire to see Farnborough achieve what remains – until today? – the finest result in their history, a 1-1 draw at West Ham in the FA Cup third round.

A penalty midway through the second half from the former Fulham forward Dean Coney earned the visitors their unlikely parity, but the moment Couch – then a 16-year-old supporter – recalls most clearly occurred shortly after the final whistle had blown.

"West Ham were struggling in the Premiership at the time," Couch said. "And before the game started a lot of their supporters waved red cards which said 'sack the board'. When the match finished, thousands of them got out of their seats and began marching across the pitch to where we were. The stewards formed an arc in front of us and we all went deadly quiet. We were thinking: 'what's going to happen here? Why didn't we just lose and go home?'

"And then all of a sudden they just applauded us. It was amazing."

It would be nice to think that Arsenal fans would afford Farnborough similar respect if they managed to avoid defeat this afternoon. As it happens, the Farnborough manager and chairman, Graham Westley, is convinced that they would do just that.

"I've spoken to so many Arsenal fans who have said to me that they really want us to do well," Westley said. "And I can imagine there's going to be 38,000 people there wanting us to nick a draw just for the sake of football. They'll probably think, 'nick a draw, because what an occasion it would be for us to be there'. If we do that, all the Arsenal fans are going to be happy because they're still in the Cup, and we're going to be happy because we will have done something sensational."

At 34, Westley, a former England Youth player, retains an indefatigable enthusiasm for the game, not merely supervising training for his players, but doing the training himself. The evening before Farnborough were due to fly back from La Manga he joined seven faintly surprised members of the press, of whom I was one, as they prepared to play a pick-up game on one of the training pitches.

After bustling around for over an hour in growing rain and darkness, dispensing encouragement – "keep the ball. Make them run" – and the occasional measure of criticism –- "that's lazy defending, isn't it?" – Westley found himself making increasing use of a phrase that is certain to be employed in good measure at Highbury this afternoon as his players attempt to deal with one of the best sides in Europe. "Take your air," he told us, as our legs grew stiff and slow. "Take your air."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there