FA Cup: Handsworth FC dreaming of first round tie after Halesowen upset
Most clubs are yet to begin their FA Cup journey this season, but the magic of the competition is well and truly alive for Handsworth FC.
The part-timers, who play in English football’s ninth tier, began their cup journey last month in the extra preliminary round - the first stage of the oldest competition of its kind in the world – and now find themselves on the brink of a memorable, money-spinning tie against one of the biggest non-league clubs in the country.
Get beyond that and they could meet Sheffield Wednesday or Sunderland in the first round.
But first they must pull off another upset against higher division Pontefract Collieries in the third qualifying round.
"If we are on top of our game and they have a little bit of a wobble we are in with a chance,” declared Handsworth’s vice chairman Steve Holmes.
The Ambers have already dumped local rivals Stocksbridge Park Steels, who play in the same league as Pontefract, out of the competition.
They pulled off the upset of the round last time out when they overcame previously unbeaten Step 4 side Halesowen in front of 858 shell-shocked fans - and are now one of just five Step 5 clubs left in the draw.
Former Alfreton Town striker Sam Smith was Handsworth’s hero with two goals, including a sublime 40-yard effort from near the centre circle in the second half.
"I saw the keeper off his line a few times in the first half and it just bounced for me perfectly,” the 28-year-old carpenter from Brinsworth said.
“I thought ‘why not?’. We were under the cosh in the second half.”
Ambers stopper Ben Townsend faced a barrage of shots as Halesowen piled on the pressure, as well as a barrage of abuse from fans behind the goal, none of which is printable.
The 26-year-old former Barnsley and Rotherham schoolboy, who now plays football alongside running a coaching business and working as an outdoor instructor, said: “The last two FA Cup games I have got a lot of stick from the crowd and it’s kept me entertained, on my toes and made me want to prove a point.
"It’s all in good spirits. One of the Halesowen fans came intro the dressing room wanting a picture with me and said it was nothing personal.”
Leading Handsworth of their ‘special’ FA Cup adventure is 28-year-old skipper Ricki Paylor, now in his second spell with the club.
He said: “After beating Halesowen I think we all sat up and thought ‘hang on there’s half a chance here’.
“The league is always your bread and butter but when you get to this stage the interest it generates makes it bigger.
"You might get two or three chances like this in your playing days. We are fortunate, a lot of people never get these chances.
"We just hope we can take it and go as far as we can, I would love to get to the first round.”
The club has already banked £8,194 in prize money alone, with a further £1,875 guaranteed at a minimum.
The cash will go towards renovation work on their pitchside changing facility and investing in the club’s youth teams.
Steve added: “It really is special and we hope we can do everyone proud again.”