On becoming owner, chairman and then manager of Farnborough Town in 1999, Graham Westley pledged to lead the little club from Hampshire into the Premiership within a decade. People scoffed but, unless the tie is switched to Highbury, Premiership football -- in the form of the champions and leaders, Arsenal -- really is coming to Cherrywood Road.
Farnborough's home draw against the FA Cup holders, their reward for a 3-2 victory at Darlington on Saturday, is the stuff of football fantasies. However, security considerations inevitably prompted speculation that the game would be staged at Arsenal rather than at the Nationwide Conference side's ground, with its capacity of 4,163 and 640 seats.
Vince Williams, Farnborough's secretary, said: "We'll be holding discussions with the FA, local police and Arsenal, and the police will have the final say." Micky Warner, the right-back who doubles as the club's commercial executive, said the players would prefer to play at Highbury, adding: "We couldn't have asked for a better draw. To think I may be marking Robert Pires or Thierry Henry."
Wherever the tie is played, Farnborough appear assured of a windfall from television coverage. Meanwhile, Westley's unorthodox methods and pronouncements are likely to give him the kind of media profile which Sutton United's Kipling-quoting manager, Barrie Williams, enjoyed when the team from Gander Green Lane became the last non-League outfit to beat a top-flight club, Coventry, in 1989.
Westley, now 34 and a Master of Arts in company direction, was an apprentice with QPR who played up front for the England youth team. Having failed to make the League grade at Loftus Road, he moved to Gillingham before going into part-time football with Barnet, Wycombe, Enfield and Kingstonian. He also founded a "facilities" business -- office cleaning, security and mail delivery -- of which he is chief executive.
The Aimita Corporation, which is Farnborough's main sponsor, is an acronym taken from a line Westley learned from an American lecturer on a management training course: "Attitude Is More Important Than Ability". If it sounds like something David Brent might espouse in The Office, it should be pointed out that the club have already won the Ryman Premier Division since Westley took over.
They currently stand eighth in the Conference – exactly 100 places behind Arsenal in the English game's pyramid – and Westley maintains that the club's initials, FTFC, also stand for "Fitness, Team, Form, Commitment". His coach is Graham Pearce, a Brighton full-back in the 1983 FA Cup final against Manchester United.
Over Christmas, Farnborough lost 5-0 at lowly Stevenage just two days after they beat Woking by the same score. The players, who have become accustomed to Westley's unconventional ploys (he recently ordered his squad to watch the reserves and write an assessment of each player's performance in relation to their own roles), responded by convening a team meeting and promised to atone at Darlington.
They were as good as their word. Danny Carroll, who teaches English and PE in Sussex, struck twice against the Third Division full-timers. Rocky Baptiste, a former Chelsea trainee, scored the other. Yet Farnborough's best-known name – even if Arsenal do not recognise it – is the much-travelled striker, Ken Charlery, 38, who joined them from fellow FA Cup adventurers Dagenham & Redbridge.
One suspects that Farnborough's goalkeeper, Tony Pennock, once of Yeovil and Rushden & Diamonds, may be busier against Arsenal. Likewise his centre-backs, Nathan Bunce ("He's a tree surgeon who once had to have his arm sewn back on so facing Henry won't faze him," Westley said last night) and Barry Laker (a former Wimbledon junior). But first they must avoid being on the receiving end of a giant-killing themselves – they visit Eastbourne Borough in the FA Trophy on Saturday.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies