Size not a problem for Coalville's Ravens

The smallest ever club to reach the first round of the FA Cup play Wycombe today.
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The Independent Football

Coalville Town looks exactly like it sounds. From behind a small rudimentary stand, through the bare trees, you can see the winding shafts of Snibston Colliery which, like everything else in the old Leicestershire coalfield, has closed, although it has been preserved as a museum and discovery park. Towering over the pitch is the vast pit bank, from where a few non-paying spectators watched Coalville overcome Liversedge to become the smallest club to make the first round proper of the FA Cup and the first to have done so after competing in the extra preliminary round in August.

Coalville Town looks exactly like it sounds. From behind a small rudimentary stand, through the bare trees, you can see the winding shafts of Snibston Colliery which, like everything else in the old Leicestershire coalfield, has closed, although it has been preserved as a museum and discovery park. Towering over the pitch is the vast pit bank, from where a few non-paying spectators watched Coalville overcome Liversedge to become the smallest club to make the first round proper of the FA Cup and the first to have done so after competing in the extra preliminary round in August.

This afternoon's tie at Wycombe Wanderers represents their ninth match in the competition and although the Causeway Stadium might not be a byword for grandeur, Wycombe are a minimum of five leagues above Coalville. The equivalent would be pairing Northwich Victoria with Tottenham. They are 50,000-1 to win the FA Cup, the same odds offered that a UFO would land on your roof. The club's marketing manager, Dan Gallacher, however, has kept 21 May free just in case. The fact that Coalville has a marketing manager, as well as a club manager, a coach and a physio, indicates that despite the modest surroundings this is no one-man-and-a-dog club.

Standing at the edge of the touchline with Coalville's founding chairman, Glyn Rennocks, it seems a pity that Tony Adams resigned as Wycombe manager during the run-up to the game. In 1993, the year Adams lifted the FA Cup with Arsenal, this ground was a bare field.

Rennocks saw it as an opportunity. He had managed a team in the village of Ravenstone a few miles away, but Coalville Council had grown tired of the embarrassment of what had once been the booming miners' welfare club. With the pits gone, it was now boarded up and a target for arsonists. Only the cricket club, Snibston Grange, kept the field in use but now it was time to fight back.

"The biggest problem this town had was that it was almost totally reliant on the pits," said Rennocks. "With the demise of the mines there were that many people unemployed it was untrue. Quite a lot of them got pay-offs but if there's no work how long does that last? The council did a lot to encourage businesses to come in and break the feeling that if your dad was in the mines you had to be in the mines."

Coalville Council also did a lot for its football club once Rennocks and his committee had persuaded them to back their ideas. "They asked only one question of us. Would we consider changing our name from Ravenstone, because they wanted the club to promote the town? We had nothing to lose but we did keep the nickname, The Ravens, to maintain the old link."

The turning point came when Rennocks approached Lee Harriman, who had played in the first round of the FA Cup with Rugby, to become Coalville's manager. "He came to me and said: 'If you back me, I will win you the league'." He has done just that. In four years he has taken Coalville from the Leicestershire Senior League to the Midland Alliance and now the FA Cup. Where there were once barriers there are now the kind of stands that might satisfy the Unibond League should they win another promotion. The Cup will not help that ambition; they are 17th in the Midland Alliance this morning but with five games in hand on some clubs.

"This is the first time we have ever entered the FA Cup. We didn't think too much about it; we thought we might have a couple of games and that would be it," said Rennocks. "There were so many applicants that they staged an extra preliminary round to try to get the numbers down for the actual preliminary round and we were in that. We played Daventry in the extra prelim, we won the prelim and then you get into the qualifying competition proper. And now we have this incredible week. Things have happened here that I can't believe. When would people like you contact people like us but for the FA Cup?"

The tie with Daventry attracted 68 spectators, 29 more than saw them beat Gelding in the preliminary round proper. However, by the time they overcame Liversedge in a replay for a place in the main competition, there were 1,400 at Coalville's ground, most standing three deep. They thought they might run to five buses to take their supporters to Buckinghamshire but the 10th has just been booked. Thus far they have made £22,500 in prize-money, which roughly equals their yearly budget and there is another £16,000 on offer should they beat Wycombe, for which the odds stand at 16-1.

They might not have been so generous had Richard Saunders not pulled a hamstring in the victory over Liversedge. Saunders has scored nine times in the competition already, most notably when dragging Coalville from two down against Deeping Rangers in the first qualifying round. "We were fingernail close to going out. We have had our scary moments," said Rennocks. "To the club, losing Richard is a blow, to the boy himself it's massive because he has done as much as anyone to get us this far. He has got some League clubs looking at him, which is some form of compensation.

"But for Richard, myself and everybody here the important thing is what happens when this is over; when the national media go away and you've got your local crowds and your local paper to impress."

The mighty minnows non-league heroes

Alvechurch

(Midland Combination)

Reached the third round in 1974 after defeating Exeter and thrashing Kings Lynn 6-1. Lost to Bradford 4-2 at Valley Parade.

Bedlington Terriers

(Northern League)

Like Coalville, began at the very beginning and fought their way to the second round in 1998. Beat Colchester 4-1 before losing 2-0 to Scunthorpe.

Emley

(Northern Premier League)

Made it to the first round three times but in 1997-8 victories over Morecambe and Lincoln brought a third-round tie at West Ham which they lost 2-1.

Harlow Town

(Isthmian League)

In 1979-80, Harlow beat Southend after a second-round replay, and did the same to Leicester in the third before they were beaten by Watford in the fourth in a 4-3 thriller.

Marlow

(Isthmian League) Marlow twice made it to the third round in the 1990s. In 1993 they were overcome by Tottenham 5-1. Two seasons later they repeated the feat, beating Oxford and Woking before defeat at Swindon.

Tilbury

(Isthmian League)

Somehow contrived to reach the third round in 1978 despite losing 1-0 to Kettering in the first. Kettering fielded an ineligible player and after two replays and a second-round win over Nuneaton, Tilbury lost 4-0 to Stoke.

Vauxhall Motors

(Northern Premier League)

Accelerated into the second round, beating Queen's Park Rangers on penalties at Loftus Road after a replay, when their goalkeeper Andy Ralph (left) was man of the match. Macclesfield should have been a simpler affair, but they lost 2-0.

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