By Simon Gray
Waking up on the Sunday of the FA Cup first round, I got in my car and drove the long drive up to the North East of England, specifically to Hartlepool.
The point of this journey was clear, I wanted to go and see whether Stamford AFC, the team from the Evo-Stik Northern Division One South, which would be hard for me to get my head round geographically speaking if it wasn’t for my love for football, could upset the odds and beat a team that was four divisions above them, Hartlepool United.
Being the team from the eighth tier of English football, I didn’t expect a Brazil-esque performance but it was the FA Cup first round and Stamford had beaten Wrexham to qualify so I did not rule anything out.
I arrived at Victoria Park and it was swamped with Stamford supporters, 500 to be exact. Speaking to some before the game, they were excited for the occasion, one even admitted he was a Swansea fan but lived in Stamford a number of years before moving and was in the area so he decided to come along.
Onto the match and the gulf between the two teams was almost immediately shown, Hartlepool would pass the ball around the Stamford penalty area like they were toying with the non-league side.
Shot after shot came in but Stamford’s defence held firm for the first half, a deflected shot by Nicky Deverdics hit the cross bar early on but Sam Donkin in the Stamford goal made two great saves to deny Padraig Amond and Jordan Richards.
Stamford rarely threatened in the first half but when they did they came close, target man Kern Miller stabbed his shot wide shortly before the end of the first half, being pressed wide from a counter attack and dragging it past the post.
The halftime whistle blew and Stamford were cheered off for their resilient performance thus far. Speaking to a few fans at half time, they were optimistic that Stamford could hold firm for another 45 minutes.
One fan said: “We’ve played well this first half, we need to make sure we don’t concede early on.
“If we can sneak a goal on the counter who knows what could happen”
Early into the second half Hartlepool got themselves a free kick on the edge of the box and Nicky Deverdics’ effort came in and it was easy for Donkin who caught the ball before launching a counter attack that came to nothing.
Deverdics would soon have the last laugh though as another free kick was awarded and this time he delightfully dispatched it, curling it into the top corner of the net in the 65th minute.
From the moment that goal went in, Stamford looked tired, like the adrenaline they had was no longer there. Hartlepool pressed for a second with no real reply from Stamford and in the 82nd minute a Richards shot took a wicked deflection off Stamford’s standout player, Sam Beeson and sailed past Donkin.
Stamford pushed for a consolation but Hartlepool soon added a third thanks to substitute Billy Paynter who scored a superb diving header. A windy day at Victoria Park ended with the score line Hartlepool United 3-0 Stamford AFC.
The Stamford players came back onto the field after the game and thanked the travelling fans for their support as fans cheered them and took pictures with them. All in all it was a great day out to be a Stamford fan, despite the result.