The heartland of fantasy football: Nuneaton's fortified fortysomething enjoys week in the sun

A journey through 'Bermuda Triangle' of the Conference as would-be slayers of giants aim to raise the bar again
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The Independent Football

Sensing that occasion may not be at the forefront of this observer's memory, he adds: "He scored five against me in the League Cup in 1996 on a balmy night in Liverpool. And the Kop threw tomatoes at us... but that's another story."

Where Angus is concerned, there are many. Other stories, that is. Not too many rotten tomatoes. Last Saturday's 1-1 draw against Steve McClaren's "Big Borough", 100 places above them in the pyramid, is one. Tuesday's replay against Middlesbrough at the Riverside will be another. And there was that afternoon at Carlisle the year Fulham got promoted. "They had Matt Jansen, Rory Delap, and were hot favourites. But we beat them 2-1 and went up. It was the greatest feeling ever."

One suspects that some of what he achieves in his alter ego of a Connexions personal adviser at two schools in the area could well run that sense of satisfaction close. He talks about the day job as we meet at Borough's Manor Park, where last Saturday a prime cut of Angus beef halted the FA Cup ambitions of Mark Viduka and Aiyegbeni Yakubu.

"It could be anything, from someone who wants to talk to you because their dog's died, to bullying issues," he says. "It can also be very serious: sexual abuse, criminality, drugs; anything a 13 to 19-year-old will go through in their life."

So, what's his case-load today? "After this, I'll be going round to some kid's house," he says quietly. "If he's in, he'll be smoking pot, although he'll try to hide it and pretend he hasn't been."

Then it's on to an appearance on Central TV. It's that kind of week. Fantasy football intertwined with helping to alleviate teenage angst. Quick-witted, articulate and, most importantly, self-deprecating, Angus is determined to luxuriate in his week on the FA Cup sun-lounger.

He surveys the muddied pitch where, last weekend, he and his team-mates defied logic and contributed to a treble of West Midland non-League pre-eminence, representing something akin to a Bermuda Triangle for League and Premiership clubs, with Nuneaton, Burton Albion and Tamworth uncannily all within 15 miles of each other.

Angus was born and raised in nearby Coventry, where he lives now with his wife, Donna, a BA stewardess, and son Dion, 11, who has been signed up by the Sky Blues' Academy. "My mum and dad made sure I grew up with a sense that 'whatever you get, you've got to work for'. I'm just turning 40 [yesterday] and I'm still playing football when I shouldn't be. Maybe I clung on to a dream that I was never going to realise, but I've worked hard in my football career, my personal life and my work life. I left school without a lot of qualifications, but I worked damned hard to get some."

Self-education has been a preoccupation since he began doing a course in "fitness and nutrition, touched with a little bit of psychology" during his final season at Fulham, one which culminated in the Cottagers' promotion to the then Second Division under Micky Adams, but which signalled the conclusion of his own League career.

He had started out a striker. "Then, at 16, I cut my Afro hairstyle, and it all went wrong. I was like Samson." He converted to defence, and things looked more auspicious. He was signed initially by VS Rugby, and from there created a favourable impression at Northampton. "But what always let me down was my mentality," he confesses. "I don't mean that in terms of work ethic. It's just that I had an 'it's nice to be here' attitude; I was too easy-going. I didn't have that professional ruthless streak which you see in top-flight players like Owen, Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard. I did, eventually. Micky Adams gave me that. If it had been 10 years earlier, I know I would have played a lot higher than I did. I had the physique."

That quality, combined with an almost blind fury whenever he has encountered racism, have just occasionally transformed this engaging character into a forbidding one. He speaks of post-match rows with rival spectators who have abused him. Fortunately, few players these days descend to such taunts as the former Cardiff defender whom he "hated with a passion". Angus adds: "He called me a black nigger something or other. I heard my dad's voice in my head saying to me, 'You're not going to let him get away with that, are you?' I saw the player in the bar and said, 'I'll rip your effing head off' and went to chin him, but I was held back by other players."

Angus arrived in his present career having been involved in the work of the Prince's Trust, helping ex-offenders and working in youth justice. As for what the future holds, he declares: "What I'd love to do is work for the PFA, working with young professionals at lower-League clubs, and giving them some kind of direction."

He regrets what he perceives as the shift in young people's priorities and attitudes. "Life now is about jewellery, bling and drugs," he says. "That's their way out [of a poor upbringing]. Sport is maybe secondary now. It's a shame. Now - and I look at it from a black perspective - to get out of the ghetto you've got to hustle. That's why I believe that Rio Ferdinand, who came from the inner city and did make it in sport, is a great, positive role model."

Considering the longevity of his career and his work with children, should not Angus perhaps be similarly regarded? He smiles. "I just want to take all this in now, because this is my moment. There'll be no next year."

The Keeper of Tamworth: Another great Scott show could win a League return

For non-League clubs, an FA Cup run is inevitably only temporary. Its effects on those participating, though, can be significantly long-term. Just consider the Tamworth goalkeeper Scott Bevan. Another shut-out against Stoke City on Tuesday, following the 0-0 third-round draw last Saturday, would mean considerably more than his side's passage into the fourth round.

It could be the return ticket back to League football which he craves so badly. On the morning we meet, he has been swimming to ease aches and strains. The cold plunge he took at the pool can hardly have been more of a shock to his system than the one it took when he moved from Southampton, then in the Premiership, to a week-to-week contract here.

"I was at Saints from the age of 10 to 24 and trained with the first team, and I got on the bench about 20 times, but I never played a Premiership game," he says. "Maik Taylor, Paul Jones and Antti Niemi were there at the same time. I was never really going to get a chance with top-class players like that in front of me."

Discarded by MK Dons this season, the 6ft 6in Bevan was dominating in the first game. "Initially, it was a bit of a culture shock and I thought, 'This could be the end of me here'," he concedes. "But I've started to get my old form back. It's given me that spur. I know I can play at a decent level if someone will give me a chance. I used to go home really down, to my girlfriend Steph. But she helped me through some difficult times. This can be the best job in the world - but it can also be lonely."

The General of Burton: Old Trafford visit fails to put Darren off his stride

Reconnoitring the battleground can affect generals in different ways. On Thursday, Burton Albion's captain, Darren Stride, and his men set off for Old Trafford and returned, if not emboldened, at least not overawed.

"I'd never been there before, not even to watch a game," he says. "We walked on the pitch [an improvement on the surface at the Pirelli Stadium, which provided, in FA Cup-speak, the great leveller], and looked around the dressing rooms and trophy room. It was a fantastic experience."

You didn't frighten yourself to death? "No, not at all," says Stride, 30, who has spent his entire 14-year playing career with the Conference side. "It's just given everybody an even greater sense of anticipation."

For an hour in the first game, Albion were relatively untroubled. It was only the sight of Wayne Rooney preparing for action that reminded Stride and his men that their greatest examination was probably to come. "We looked at each other as if to say, 'Well, we've done well to last that hour, but now we've got a really tough last half-hour. There was a bit of fear there, to be honest." They survived, to force Wednesday's £500,000 replay.

Stride, who on Friday was at the club assisting with ticket allocation for the replay - the club have sold around 10,000, he says - represents the beating heart of Albion. He suffered a back problem and "opened up my groin" on Saturday, but he played on. "You just run it off, don't you?" That is the attitude which will prevail, at least until Wednesday. Nothing will deny this general from leading his team - from the front.