Two seasons ago, Chatham Town came within one game of the reaching the FA Cup 1st Round. St Albans City of the Southern Premier League stood in the way of the Chats and a possible 1st Round proper tie against a Football League side. On their way to the fourth and final qualifying round the Medway based club saw off Erith and Belvedere, East Preston, Whyteleafe and Horsham to set up a home tie with the Hertfordshire side. Unfortunately, in front of a season-best crowd of 809, the away side triumphed at Maidstone Road by two goals to nil and the dream for Chatham Town was over for another season. It was the furthest the club had gone in the competition in nearly two decades.
After four long years marooned in Ryman Division One North, where regular long trips were required to the likes of Dereham Town, Ware, and Bury Town, the FA Cup rn during the 2013/14 season had provided everyone connected to the club with something to get excited about again. Manager Kevin Watson, who has been at the helm for four years, master minded their run in the oldest cup competition in the World, and the cup success was to bring some much needed funds into the club’s coffers. However, despite the cup run being a brief distraction from the rigours of their struggles in the league, the club ultimately needed to get back to the Ryman Division One South where less traveling would be required. Last season the club finished 21st in the North and were just one place off relegation and a possible return to the Southern Counties East League, formerly the Kent League.
In the summer of 2015 the club finally got its wish when the Ryman League committee moved the club back to the South to the relief of everyone connected to the club. The Chatham supporters could finally study the fixtures with relish and look forward to a bumper season of Kent derbies against the likes of Folkestone Invicta, Faversham Town, Ramsgate, Sittingbourne, Whitstable and Herne Bay all lying in wait. The club also received the added bonus of manager Kevin Watson deciding to stay on as manager for another season.
This season the Chats have made a decent start to life back in the South with three wins and just one defeat from their opening four games before their visit to Sussex.
Saturday 29th August 2015 – FA Cup Preliminary Round – Chichester City 0 v 4 Chatham Town – Oaklands Park – Att: 72
After getting all my timings wrong on my trip to St Albans with Ebbsfleet United a few weeks ago, I made sure I left Kent in good time and avoided any distractions from Beer festivals this time as I made my way to Chichester to watch the Chats on their FA Cup trail. After opting for the train again, a change at Brighton station was required enroute. I arrived into Brighton just before 1pm, and arrived at my final destination just before 2.30pm, having left home at 10.30am. Enroute the train passed Shoreham, a town still in mourning after the tragic airshow accident which took place a week ago over its skies. It was a sobering thought thinking about the eleven people who lost their lives on the busy A27 that afternoon. Two of the people who died that day were players for Worthing United, a club in the same league as Chatham’s opponents Chichester City. A minutes silence was to be held at all grounds in their memory.
It was a grey and murky afternoon in this part of Sussex, and the rain continued to fall throughout the match. On arriving at Chichester’s quaint Oaklands Park ground, it’s hard to imagine a record attendance of 2500 once packing in here to witness a FA Cup fourth Qualifying round clash with Dorchester Town back in 1960s. Dorchester Town were well beaten by four goals to one that afternoon which set up an historic place in the FA Cup First Round. Unfortunately the Sussex side were swept aside by Bristol City at Ashton Gate in the 1st Round proper with the home side scoring eleven without reply at Ashton Gate.
I paid my £5 entrance fee and joined the seventy one other spectators who choose this cup tie for their afternoon’s entertainment. Chichester City currently play their football in the Southern Combination Football League, formely the Sussex County League. However, during the first forty-five minutes, Chichester belied their status one league below Chatham and had their chances to cause a shock against the higher placed opponents but contrived to waste several of them. A goal for the home side would have given them something to defend as the Chats were initially sluggish out of the blocks. The Chats did, however, have a goal disallowed in the first half for offside, but otherwise their half was best summed up by one incident which saw two players hollering expletives at each other.
The second half was a different story altogether though with Chatham finally showing their superiority. It took just seven minutes for their first goal to come and they didn’t look back thereafter. Charles Ofusu-Hene opening the scoring with a well placed strike from outside the area before George Humber added number two after good work by Andy Dalhouse set him up. Those two goals deflated the home side and their cup dreams for another year were looking as bleak as the weather by the mid point of the 2nd half. Dalhouse himself used all his strength and size to power home the third goal for Chatham in the 82nd minute. The Chats’ fourth and final goal came from the penalty spot three minutes from the end with Jack Jeffery sending the goalkeeper the wrong way after a foul on Austin Edwards.
The four goal defeat was harsh on the home side who more than matched their visitors in the first half, but at any level of football you have to take your chances whilst on top in games. The furthest City have gone in the competition since merging with neighbours Portfield in the year 2000 is the First Qualifying Round and that stat will continue for another year, however, for Chatham they’re up and running on their road to Wembley with local Kent rivals Cray Wanderers next up in the Second Qualifying Round.