Progress means cash boost for clubs

IT is only mid-August, but the FA Cup gets under way this weekend. All roads lead to Wembley - that's providing the new national stadium is ready in time for next May's showpiece occasion - but for the time being the spotlight falls on a string of local clubs with stars, not to mention pound signs, in their eyes.

By Mel Henderson

IT is only mid-August, but the FA Cup gets under way this weekend. All roads lead to Wembley - that's providing the new national stadium is ready in time for next May's showpiece occasion - but for the time being the spotlight falls on a string of local clubs with stars, not to mention pound signs, in their eyes. MEL HENDERSON reports.

FOR starters, a few basic facts. There are 687 teams entered into this season's competition, with very, very few harbouring thoughts of emulating Liverpool's feat of last season and actually winning it.

Indeed, in Ipswich Wanderers' case, progress to the first round would spark celebrations not dissimilar with those of Steven Gerrard & Co at the Millennium Stadium just three months ago.

Wanderers take on neighbours Woodbridge Town in one of Saturday's 129 ties in the extra preliminary round and will need to win that one, plus five others, to be in the hat for round one.

Should they succeed - and they are the first to admit it's a long shot - they will have banked £27,000 along the way.

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A decent sum, even if it represents little more than a day's wages for Chelsea import Michael Ballack, and the sort of windfall that would be akin to winning the lottery for the good folk of Humber Doucy Lane.

Alan Haste's eyes light up at the prospect. Wanderers' long-serving treasurer and former chairman is the sort of stalwart you will find at most, if not all, clubs of similar status.

“But come on,” he smiles. “We can dream with the best of them but we are also realistic. That particular scenario is unlikely.

“And I'm a bit reluctant to talk about how much we might bank from a competition in which we haven't kicked a ball yet. Beating Woodbridge is our only target at the moment.”

Wanderers, Woodbridge and other Ridgeons League clubs are on the very bottom rung of the FA Cup ladder and others, depending on their status, enter at various stages thereafter.

The winners of the weekend derby will earn a place in the preliminary round along with a handy £500 bonus courtesy of the Football Association.

The prize for victory at the next stage, when there will be 166 ties, is a place in the first qualifying round, plus £1,000, and there are four of them to be negotiated before the first round proper zooms into view.

The FA have a total of £30 million to give away in prize money and television facility fees. Without wishing to appear greedy, Wanderers and the rest would just like to get their hands on a tiny fraction of that sum.

Putting things firmly in perspective, we are talking about clubs who are almost out of pocket as soon as they square up with the officials on match days.

Haste admitted: “The referee gets £40 and the two assistants £25 each, while their expenses can sometimes swallow up another £90.

“By the time I've handed over that little lot, there's only a few quid left from the gate money before we start covering other costs like the players' wages.

“It isn't easy making ends meet at this level so it's obvious what a few thousand pounds could do for us and the FA Cup is potentially very lucrative for clubs at our level.

“The first year that the FA started awarding prize money we did quite well out of it. They sent us a cheque for the best part of £10,000 - that was in October 2001 - and it came in very handy.

“But for some reason the prize money was reduced the following season. They were maybe over-generous because they didn't do their sums correctly, I don't know.”

Wanderers are busily trying to raise funds for much-needed improvements to their modest HQ on the outskirts of town.

Haste added: “If we make money from this season's FA Cup it will go in the pot. We are looking for a Football Foundation grant. The way it works is that they will match us pound for pound up to a ceiling of £100,000.

“We are setting our sights as high as possible. In other words we would love to raise the full hundred grand, which would mean another hundred by way of a grant.

“Our dressing rooms aren't the best. They are portable buildings that people donated years ago and they have definitely seen better days. We need a more permanent structure but that sort of thing doesn't come cheap.

“The FA Cup is great but we try not to get too carried away. The prize money is attractive to all the clubs, but we can't all be winners.”

Haste, who resigned as chairman in January 2004 as he was about to undergo hip replacement surgery, has retained his role as treasurer.

He said: “There's no doubt that FA Cup-ties are special. We are always keen to see who we have drawn, there's extra excitement and there's no point denying that we also think about the extra funds it could bring in.”

Ipswich Town are also at home on Saturday and Wanderers were refused permission to avoid a clash by switching the tie to Friday evening.

But despite the rival attraction they still hope to attract a bigger-than-average crowd, with a sizeable contingent making the short journey from Woodbridge.

Haste added: “We are operating on a shoestring budget and have to rely very heavily on fundraising, sponsorship, that sort of thing. Ask any club and they'll say the same - it's not easy.

“But we're also ambitious. We're not just making up the numbers and it isn't a case of being quite happy just to hang on in there in this league.

“We want to go as high up the ladder as we can and if we were fortunate enough to finish in the top three at the end of the season we would want to do what Sudbury and Bury have done and move up a level.

“But as things stand right now our facilities would prevent us from doing it, so any money that comes our way will be of huge benefit in terms of improving the ground and bringing it up to standard.

“Our role model, I suppose, is Histon. We used to play them when I first became chairman and we were always better than them. In fact, they were almost kicked out of the league at one point.

“But in Gav Baldwin they had somebody who got hold of the club by the scruff of the neck and they are several leagues above us now.

“I like to think we can follow their example and the more progress we make in the FA Cup the quicker we can make it happen.”

n The winners of the tie between Wanderers and Woodbridge will be away to Gorleston or Tiptree in the preliminary round on September 2, with the winners of that one at home to Sawbridgeworth, St Neots or Brackley in the first qualifying round a fortnight later.

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