We have seen plenty of nonleague hotshots make the step into the Football League, and even the Premier League, in recent years. Jermaine Beckford, Jamie Vardy, Kwesi Appiah, Joe Lolley and Dwight Gayle are just a few of the semi-professional stars to go full time as they chase their footballing dreams.
However, according to Football Direct News, Luton Town hitman Andre Gray could be the next, as Premier League big guns Arsenal are apparently weighing up a move for the 22 goal Conference Premier leading scorer. England C international Gray, 22, has been a revelation at Kenilworth Road since joining from Hinckley United – and he wasn’t too bad there either! After hitting 39 goals in 90 appearances for Hinckley, Luton paid just £30,000 to secure his services, and it looks like money well spent. The striker has had a similar scoring record in nonleague’s top flight, hitting 49 in 96 appearances for The Hatters.
Gray’s contract expires in summer 2015, so if Luton are to make any profit, they will need to sell him this summer unless they can persuade him to sign a new deal. Unlikely if the rumoured Arsenal interest in him proves to be for real.
Now, it goes without saying that this would be a huge move for Gray, and a huge step up in terms of quality. It’s unlikely that he would be anywhere near the first team squad, instead he would probably be loaned to League One or Championship clubs during his first year or two as an Arsenal man. And even that would be a massive leap compared to the Conference. But these opportunities don’t come around often, and you have to back yourself and take that leap if you want to be successful.
Gray has risen to the level needed to be successful so far in his career, from Hinckley to Luton and England C, and I am sure he will be successful as he moves into the Football, or Premier, League this summer, either promoted with his current club, or at a new one. He has all the attributes to do it, including the confidence in his own ability. As one commentator famously said:
Remember the name.
Conference Premier sides Luton Town and Macclesfield Town caused FA Cup upsets against Championship sides to progress to today’s Fourth Round Draw.
Luton beat Wolverhampton Wanderers by the only goal, in a defeat that caused Wolves to sack manager Stale Solbakken. Alex Lawless was the hero for the Hatters, netting in the first minute of the second half in front of a superb crowd of more than 9600. It is the first time that they have made the fourth round in six years.
As for Macclesfield Town, they produced a stunning late comeback to see off Cardiff City, some eighty one rungs above them on the ladder. Goals in the 85th and 88th minute from Matthew Barnes-Homer sent the majority of the 3165 crowd into ecstasy, and The Silkmen into the fourth round for the first time ever, where they will be hoping for a glamour tie with a Manchester United or City. Macc Town fan and regular guest blogger Scott Knowles (@FragileGang) gives us his “alternative” match report:
Macclesfield Town 2 Cardiff City 1
There is a school of thought developed particularly over recent years that the FA cup doesn’t really matter anymore. That it is of no importance in this age of scrambling madly for a position within the Premier League top four and the potential Champions League place that warrants. That it is little more than a glorified League Cup but one that occasionally involves some of those places with weird names that you’ve never heard of and so can’t possibly be any good.
Maybe that school of thought is correct. Maybe we cling to the FA cup (us loyal few) like the people who cling to vinyl records or ‘pillock’ as a satisfactory term of abuse – a sort of kitschy retro thing we can get all snobby about to maintain our football hipster credentials. Type “FA cup is irrelevant” into Google and you get 24,900 results. The evidence is damning. The FA cup is dead. Let’s move on.
Malky Mackay, a man second only to Sammy Ameobi in the ‘Football names that are fun to say out loud’ list is presumably a member of that school of thought. Such was his commitment to securing a place in the top flight of English football that he tinkered so much it was surprise not to see the Cardiff tea lady playing at left-back during the second half. The result of his tampering (for which he has “no regrets” btw) was his side being ejected from the oldest association football competition in the world. The outcome barely matters – in years to come historians will only see that a side destined to become a Premier League club were defeated by some non-league upstarts – nobody will care that Craig Bellamy and Peter Whittingham were presumably at home watching old episodes of Fun House together and farting into a pillow case.
You want details of the game? There are numerous other places to go for that. I can only speak of my own personal experience – crammed amongst a group of drunken EDL morons who would rather spend the majority of the game boasting about the location of the vagina they were ejected from than offer positive support towards their team (and.. seriously.. what is it about the EDL that they feel the only way they can be patriotic to their country is by abusing those from others?) – but that would be to criminally ignore a fantastic performance from a group of players that, on their day, seem more dynamic and exciting than any bunch Macclesfield have had in a long time. That would be to discount the achievement of reaching the fourth round of the FA cup for the first time in our entire history and by doing it as a non league side. And the latter part of that is important – A Non-League Side.
Relegation from the Football League is often treated like a disaster. Even today it seems the only way we can be relevant again in the eyes of some supporters is to rejoin League Two. But why? To be one step closer to the glitzy glamourpusses of the Premier League? Is that really our ambition? To be the ones at the party stuck hanging around the toilets with Burton Albion whilst your Manchester City or your Arsenal are cordoned off in the VIP section sipping champagne and getting tossed off by a pretty blonde?
As a fan of a side destined to be nowhere I’d much rather be in a nowhere we can be somebody than a nowhere where we just blend in to nothingness. Does that make me a terrible supporter? Yes? So be it. I never claimed to be otherwise.
Macclesfield Town beat Cardiff City 2-1 to reach the fourth round of the FA cup. It was a good day. That is my match report.
Here’s hoping both clubs get good draws in the next round!
The draw for the first round of the FA Trophy has been made, and it’s the stage that sees the big boys of the Conference Premier enter the fray. Read the rest of this entry
Luton Town have bolstered their attacking options already this summer, signing Scott Rendell and Jon Shaw, and it’s the latter who many are tipping to lead Luton Town back to the Football League after three playoff heartbreaks in row. Read the rest of this entry
A look at the draw for the last four of non-league football’s premier cup competition. Read the rest of this entry
A quick look at the rearranged second round ties taking place this week. Read the rest of this entry
The top cup competition in non league has reached the last thirty two. Here is my preview of a few of the FA Trophy Second Round ties. Read the rest of this entry
In the first of a new series in the run up to Christmas, James Griffiths, aka The Matlock Fan, takes a look at some of the delights on offer in our non-league club shops. Read the rest of this entry
The first round is now done and dusted, and we know the teams that will be in the hat for the second round draw, barring those ties that went to replays. So how did the non-league representatives do?
The lowest ranked team left in the competition, Redbridge FC, did themselves proud as they held Oxford City to a goalless draw at Oakside. City, who are top of the Southern Premier Division, were favourites to win, but will have to do it in a replay now. Bath City, bottom of the Conference Premier, have got themselves a home replay after their 1-1 draw at League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge. The Romans took the lead on eleven minutes through midfielder Marc Canham. Daggers equaliser came four minutes before the break, striker Brian Goodall getting his first of the campaign to take the game to a replay. Bath City will certainly fancy their chances of a causing an upset in that one.
In the other games involving League v Non-League, two teams got wins, and two more will take their ties to replays. The winners were Luton Town and Fleetwood Town. The Hatters saw off League Two outfit Northampton Town, the only goal coming ten minutes from time courtesy of young midfielder Adam Watkins. As for Fleetwood Town, they went one better by downing League One side Wycombe Wanderers 2-0. The goals in this one came from strikers Andy Mangan and Jamie Vardy. The Cod Army even had to play the second half with ten men, as Richard Brodie was sent off on the stroke of halftime. These two results are probably not too surprising, in terms of the clubs’ positions in their respective leagues; Both Wycombe and Northampton are fighting relegation, while Luton and Fleetwood have ambitions of becoming Football League clubs for next season.
The two non-league teams facing replays against their league opponents are Grimsby Town and Stourbridge. The Mariners got a good 0-0 draw with League Two playoff chasers Port Vale, and will fancy their chances back at Blundell Park in the replay. Stourbridge, meanwhile, came within two minutes of eliminating League Two’s bottom club Plymouth Argyle at the first attempt. The Glassboys were 3-2 up until Onismor Bhasera levelled for The Pilgrims, who had two men sent off in those hectic final ten minutes. Plymouth will not enjoy their trip to the Midlands for the replay, and I can see Stourbridge progressing.
There were also eight all non-league ties in the first round, with three of them needing replays. Draws between Hinckley United and Tamworth, Maidenhead United and Aldershot, and Cambridge United and Wrexham will all be sorted out with replays. The biggest result of the day, though, came at The Testwood Stadium, where AFC Totton thumped Bradford Park Avenue 8-1. Four goals in each half for The Stags saw them progress to the second round draw for the first time in their history. Bradofrd PA did have two players sent off, the first after just eleven minutes.
Technically, Sutton United caused an upset by beating Conference Premier side Kettering Town, although United are second in Conference South, while their opponents are battling relegation. Craig Watkins got the only goal of the game after 64 minutes. Not a bad way to celebrate his 100th appearance for the club. Another Conference South side, Chelmsford City, hammered Premier side AFC Telford 4-0 with goals from Aiden Palmer, Craig Parker and a brace from skipper David Rainford.
There were no such shocks at Croft Park, where visiting side Gateshead of the Conference Premier beat North outfit Blyth Spartans 2-0. Jon Shaw and Micky Cummins got the goals to settle this local derby. Finally, Salisbury City avoided a shock by seeing off Southern Premier side Arlesey Town 3-1.
There is one huge game today, of course, as Conference North side FC Halifax Town host League One’s runaway leaders Charlton Athetic at The Shay. It is undoubtedly the biggest game in the new Shaymen’s life. The club were formed in 2008 after the liquidation of the original Halifax Town AFC due to heavy debts. There hasn’t been a monumental shock yet in the first round, maybe this could be it?