Evo-Stik League Southern Division outfit Didcot Town will make history this weekend when they partake in their first-ever appearance in the first round of the FA Cup.
Basked in 108-years of history; the competition’s remaining lowest ranked team welcome Football League opponents Exeter City to the Draycott Engineering Loop Meadow Stadium on Sunday, with the match being broadcasted live on BT Sport.
The Railwaymen become the second side in successive seasons to be drawn at home to Exeter in the first round after the Grecians suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to the hands of eighth-tier outfit Warrington Town.
Non-league Didcot, who currently sit 16th in the South & West League table, booked their place in the first round proper after coming from behind in FOUR of their five preliminary qualifying rounds to defy the odds and be pitted against their League Two counterparts.
Having defeated the likes of Wantage Town, VCD Athletic, Northwood FC, Eastbourne Town and Brentwood Town en route to Sunday’s huge clash, the minnows are confident they possess all the credentials to cause the competition’s first major cup upset.
“We have got a real good chance of causing a shock,” said Didcot midfielder Andy Ballard, who has failed to surpass the first round of the FA Cup twice with Oxford City.
“They have got previous [history] of going out of this stage in the cup before against opposition that was sort of our level.
“So that is probably going to be in the back of their minds.”
The Railwaymen’s magical management duo, Ian Concannon and Jamie Heapy, already have their names imprinted into Didcot’s rich history after both featured in the club’s 2005 FA Vase Trophy triumph, defeating AFC Sudbury 3-2 at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane.
But the joint-managers are now re-writing history and etching their place into the club’s folklore as the pair celebrate their two-year anniversary in charge this weekend by preparing the squad for the 105th time in undoubtedly Didcot’s most famous ever fixture.
Concannon, 38, who is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with 284 strikes, insists the players will not be distracted from the fact they are playing a side standing four tiers above them in the English football pyramid.
He said: “We are certainly going to play the game and not the occasion.
“It might be the biggest game in our managerial careers! It has been two years since we were appointed joint-managers of the club and it is a good date for our anniversary to fall on.
“It is just a fantastic achievement for the football club to get into the first round, it is something that we have all dreamed of and hoped for, but never maybe thought it would happen.
“You never known what may happen on Sunday; a penalty, red card, sending off… It could go our way!”
Meanwhile, managerial partner Heapy, who is a retail manager by trade, remains Didcot’s all-time leading appearance maker with over 860 games under his belt.
Still registered as a player at the Loop Meadow Stadium, the 36-year-old admits his team-mates must remain grounded if they are to conquer their incredible quest of reaching the second round.
“We have to be careful. We don’t want to be out of the game before it has even started,” warned Heapy.
“We have to stay in the game for as long as we can.”
With Warrington’s inspiring victory last year in mind, he added, “It is a game of 90 minutes. But we will need that bit of luck.
“We will just hope that Exeter aren’t quite as good as they might be.
“You never know. We might repeat [what happened] last year.”
Didcot expect to sell all 2,800 tickets available for the match, which would break the Loop Meadow Stadium’s previous record attendance of 2,112, set back in 2008 for a pre-season friendly against Championship side Reading.
With reportedly over 500 Exeter fans expected to make the 155-mile journey from Devon to Oxfordshire, the 3,000-capacity stadium is set to be a sell-out in another record breaking day for the runaway Railwaymen.
“Playing in front of a big crowd should be a highlight, I’m very much looking forward to it,” admitted Didcot captain Luke Carnell.
The 23-year-old defender added, “We never know when we are beaten. We have a ‘never say die’ attitude.
“At the start of our run, we were 3-0 down at Wantage. We brought it back to 4-3! We have got a lot of character.
“If we are on song, anything can happen.”
With each side due to receive £67,500 due to the televised deal, plus an extra £18,000 up for grabs for the victors, Didcot’s earnings from their FA Cup fairy tale could almost topple £115,000.
“For the level we are at, that is indescribable,” admitted boss Concannon.
“It is a bit like a lottery win. For a club of our size, it can set us up for a few years.”
Joint-manager Heapy added, “It means everything to this club because things are very tight and we rely on sponsors and self-funding, so it is very difficult.
“I think we are going to look to buy a new mower!”