Ascot United 1 Wembley 2

Friday 19th August 2011
Ascot United 1 Wembley 2
FA Cup with Budweiser Extra Preliminary Round
At: Racecourse Ground
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £6; Programme: £1
Attendance: 1174
Weather: mild, dry, sunny at kick-off
Duration: first-half: 46:53; second-half: 48:38

Even though a 285 mile round trip down and back up the M40 may seen a long way to travel, particularly on a busy Friday, I think the journey to the Racecourse Ground was worth it to be part of an FA Cup first.

As the ‘First Kick’ Match to start this season’s FA Cup with Budweiser, the game was chosen to be broadcast via social networking with a live stream shown via cup sponsors’ Facebook page. So a first visit to the ground turned out to be something a bit more historic than is the norm for me. And I got to have my photo next to the actual FA Cup!

The headline of Ascot’s website read ‘PLEASE ARRIVE EARLY TO AVOID THE QUEUES’ as the club were ‘expecting a record crowd’. I did, despite a longer than expected a four-hour drive which involved getting tangled up in V-Festival traffic and a lengthy queue on the M42 because a load of chicken legs had been deposited on the northbound carriageway.

I knew where the ground was, having lived at near-by Martin’s Heron during the 1990s. Close to the 6f start on the straight mile and often spotted when watching Royal Ascot coverage, the ground was accessed via car parks 7 and 8 off the A330 a couple of hundred yards north of the bridge under the aforementioned straight mile.

At the ground, I couldn’t help being impressed with the organisation to handle a record crowd for the ground that was around 13 times higher than the crowd of 88 for Ascot’s last home game. The large car park usually used by horse racing punters, pay tables located away from the usual entrance where queues could form, programmes easily obtained, complementary vouchers distributed, teams announced over the tannoy, etc.

Going into the tie, Ascot United (5th position with 4 points) had played two games in the Hellenic League Premier Division so far with a 2-0 away win at Abingdon Town last Saturday followed-up on Tuesday by a 1-1 home draw against Ardley United. Visitors Wembley (13th with 4 points) from the Combined Counties Premier Division had also played two games with a 2-2 draw at Ash United two weeks ago and a 4-1 home win last Saturday over Colliers Wood United with Daryl Atkins bagging a hat-trick. Wembley’s much lower league position than Ascot is explained by the fact all of the teams above them in their division have already played either three or four games.

Everyone over 18 who wanted one was given a voucher which included entry to a draw to be one of five people to take part in a half-time penalty competition to win FA Cup Final tickets. On this occasion I was pleased that my number, 144, wasn’t one of those lucky five numbers read out over the tannoy! My penalty-taking skills are nonexistent, even with Dave Beasant as the goalkeeper!

With the lights on from the start, Ascot (wearing yellow shirts with blue sleeves, blue shorts and yellow socks) got the game underway attacking the racecourse end in the first half. To get myself noticed, I positioned myself next to the goal Ascot were attacking and soon got spotted by the family watching at home!

Ascot should have taken the lead just before the half-hour mark. Shane Cooper-Clarke found Phil Cousins unmarked six yards out who couldn’t keep his first-time volley down and the ball flew over the bar.

After surviving that scare, Wembley (wearing all red) quickly got forward and Jumo Mitchell dribbled into the area before finding Hector Gutierrez on the left who fired against the bar.

With the game opening up, Ascot’s Cousins hammered a low shot past the right-hand post from the edge of the area. The visitors went even closer in the 41st minute. Roy Bryon unleashed a low drive which rebounded off the left-hand post and Hector Gutierrez’s follow-up shot was saved by keeper Tim Kilpatrick.

Goalless at the interval and time for the penalty shoot-out, Each of the four lucky winners had one attempt each to beat Dave Beasant and the first three did just that including Alicia Frampton from Toronto! The fourth penalty-taker, a man named Lee, had his penalty saved so missed out on tickets for the Final unlike the other three.

The deadlock was broken in the 53rd minute. Captain and Wembley player-manager Ian Bates delivered a deep left-wing corner which was headed home at the far post by defender Chris Korten. Jubilation for the small group of Wembley fans I got chatting to behind the goal.

Lively Wembley forward Daryl Atkins impressed me and he almost doubled the lead, forced a diving save out of the equally impressive Kilpatrick. The keeper again denied Atkins midway through the second half with a near-post save.

I wondered during the game how many of the potential 700 million audience watched the full match as well and how accurate my estimated crowd of 800 was. The answers came during the second half over the tannoy – match attendance of 1174 and around 20,000 people watching on Facebook.

With Wembley seemingly heading into the next round and a home tie against Ardley or Flackwell Heath, Ascot were awarded an 83rd-minute penalty. There were no complaints after Wembley keeper Ini Amaegbe brought down John Bennett inside the area and the striker got up to blast home from the spot off the legs of the diving Amaegbe.

Game on, and suddenly Ascot had their tails up and Wembley’s legs started to look tired. Substitute Matt Humphreys fired wide of the visitors goal.

However, there was one final twist in the 89th minute for the packed crowd and the viewers on Facebook. Substitute Peter Elvin pulled the ball back for Byron to send Wembley into the next round with a 10-yard shot.

Cruel luck on Ascot to lose their first-ever game in the FA Cup but Wembley moved one step closer to a remotely possible date in May at their neighbouring namesake national stadium!

I wondered during the game how many of the potential 700 million audience watched the full match as well and how accurate my estimated crowd of 800 was. The answers came during the second half over the tannoy – match attendance of 1174 and around 20,000 people watching on Facebook.

Finally, in a recent press release, Budweiser marketing director Ian Newell said: ‘Budweiser is committed to bringing the world’s most prestigious knockout competition closer to the fans’. If this game is anything to go by I think the new sponsors may well succeed in that aim.

0-1 Chris Korten (53)
1-1 John Bennett (83 pen)
1-2 Roy Bryon (89)