It’s the second leg of the FA Trophy semi-finals this weekend and while Wrexham and Torquay square up in the battle of the former Football Leaguers, North Ferriby United and Bath City resume battle after drawing 2-2 at Twerton Park in the first leg.
The prospect of returning to Wembley – North Ferriby reached the FA Vase final in 1997 – has captured the imagination of the little town (is it a town?) from the East Riding. Their chairman Les Hare is urging the club to out in a big effort to ensure that “the villagers” (perhaps there’s the answer to that question) can “outdo Pele” and play at Wembley.
If North Ferriby are successful, it will make them one of the handful of non-league clubs to have played at Wembley 1.0 and 2.0, although if they win, it will be for the first time as they were beaten 3-0 by Whitby in the Vase. Whatever happens, the club has maintained its momentum this season in only their second season at Step 2, the Conference North.
Last season, North Ferriby astonished a lot of people by finishing runners-up in Conference North in their debut campaign. They were beaten in the play-offs by Guiseley. It would have been an incredible tale had they won through to the Conference.
In 2014-15, they are wallowing in mid-table, but they have games in hand and the FA Trophy run has got in the way of league progress a little. But the Trophy run has also brought in £30,000-plus which will no doubt help towards meeting the cost of the ground improvements the club is planning at their Grange Lane ground. It was only just over a month ago they announced they were aiming to spend around £ 100,000 on catering, toilet facilities and an extension of the clubhouse. Chairman Hare was hoping that supporters would help the cause by raising approximately a third of the cost.
North Ferriby will go into their Trophy semi-final second leg as marginal favourites. They have an excellent home record and in three seasons have been beaten just five times in league games at Grange Lane. Their only home defeat this term was at the hands of Solihull, who pulled off a 3-1 win. Crowds at Grange Lane are down on last season, but they are still averaging around 350 a game. The club expects a massive gate for the semi-final.
North Ferriby’s Trophy run has demonstrated the team’s stamina and never-say-die approach. In the third qualifying round they easily disposed of Mickleover Sports by 6-2, a game that saw leading scorer Tom Denton – 6ft 5 inches tall and formerly with Worksop – net a hat-trick. In the first round, they met fellow Conference North side Boston United and only stayed in the competition by virtue of an 89th minute goal from Ryan Kendall, a striker who has made a habit of scoring in the Trophy this season after joining the club from Harrogate in November. Boston were beaten on their own ground in the replay, with two late goals from St.Kitts & Nevis international Jason St. Juste and Kendall.
Another Conference North side, Hyde United, were disposed of in round two, with two more late goals from Denton and Kendall. Then came a trip to Farnborough and this time, North Ferriby wrapped it up in half an hour (Denton and Kendall again). Another Conference South side, Ebbsfleet, were next and once more, the game was settled in the closing minutes with Liam King, described by his manager, Billy Heath as “indispensable”, scoring from the penalty spot to send North Ferriby through to the last four.
Bath City, mid-table in Conference South, found themselves 2-0 down just after half-time following a superb goal from St. Juste, who had an excellent game, and a St.Juste-induced own goal. But Bath came back with two goals in the last half hour, one a disputed penalty, and although North Ferriby secured an excellent result, there was something of an anti-climax after going two ahead. “For an hour it was going to plan,” said Billy Heath after the game. “But it was never a penalty, it came from nowhere. And goals change games. Once they got the goal, they [Bath] looked a different side.”
Heath described North Ferriby’s progress as “unbelievable” and added “we are desperate to get to Wembley”. His team prepared for Saturday’s tie with Bath with a home game against Hednesford Town at Grange Lane on Tuesday. It wasn’t the ideal evening as a much-changed “villagers” side was beaten 2-0 by play-off chasing Hednesford. But to rub salt in the wound, defender Nathan Peat was sent off in the first half.
Heath told the North Ferriby web site: “It was a good performance. The sending-off made life difficult and they used the extra man to their advantage. We now need to turn our thoughts to Saturday. It is a massive game for everybody connected with the club.”