Ten years on: Bassett’s 2007-08 FA Cup adventure

Thursday 03 August 2017 - by Stuart Smedley (Updated on 03 August 2017 at 11:45)

Ahead of Saturday's Emirates FA Cup extra preliminary round tie against Crawley Green, we look back on Royal Wootton Bassett Town's 2007-08 cup run, which saw them reach the first qualifying round for the first time ever.

While the past two seasons have seen Royal Wootton Bassett Town dumped out at the extra preliminary round stage, the Emirates FA Cup has been a competition which has brought the club a large amount of success over the past decade.

And that all began ten years ago when Bassett thrillingly reached the first qualifying round stage for the first time in its history.

That run may have been matched in 2010-11 before being bettered in the 2012-13 campaign.

However, the 2007-08 run saw Bassett – then managed by Paul Burke – record their first victory in the competition in 57 years, and also defeat higher level opposition on two occasions, with the triumphs against Highworth Town and Bracknell Town representing arguably two of the most memorable games ever played at Rylands Way.

There was intrigue from the moment the draw for the extra preliminary round had been made that summer as Bassett were handed an away tie against local rivals Highworth.

Not only was it a derby, but it was also the teams' first meeting since the Worthians' victory at Rylands Way in April 2005, which sealed them the Hellenic League Premier Division title and condemned their hosts to relegation to Division One West.

Naturally, therefore, Bassett went into the game – played at The Elms on a Sunday – as underdogs. They didn't help themselves either by going into the clash on the back of a crushing 4-1 home league defeat against Tytherington Rocks.

Yet, Bassett more than held their own against Highworth and, if it wasn't for the heroics of the home side's 'keeper Ian Gill, passage through to the preliminary round would have been secured at the first opportunity.

The visitors played a canny game, soaking up pressure from Highworth before seeking to counter. And frontmen John Magani and Dennis King both were afforded a good handful of chances between them as a result.

They even had the benefit of playing with an extra man for the final twenty minutes as Highworth substitute Matt Pratley was sent off for punching skipper Steve Yeardley off the ball.

There was no doubt some disappointment come full time that they didn't make their numerical advantage pay as the game finished 0-0.

That meant a replay at Rylands Way two days later. Surely Bassett would be unable to match their Premier Division opponents again? Indeed, that's how Worthians boss John Fisher felt; prior to the game he commented: "That's probably as well as Bassett can play, but I know we can play a lot better."

He was right about one thing: Highworth did perform much better than they had in the initial meeting. However, Bassett also were able to up their game and would go on to record a fantastic upset victory.

The rematch was a cracker from start to finish as Highworth's Paul Cooper rattled the crossbar just three minutes in. They had another superb chance to take the lead just before the break too, but Andy Minturn headed over from close range.

Bassett then flew out of the blocks at the start of the second half, but it was the visitors who took the lead when Mark Belcher scrambled home an opener after the hosts had failed to clear a Kevin Coles free kick.

However, Bassett responded quickly as Matt Bennett headed a controversial equaliser, which was adjudged to have narrowly crossed the line.

Soon they were ahead. Bennett's free kick struck the wall and seemed destined to go out of play. But King was able to hook the ball into the danger area, where Chris Mills produced an acrobatic overhead kick which flew in.

Desperately, Highworth sought to get back on level terms, but an equaliser was not forthcoming. Bassett were through, with a home tie against Bracknell Town, then of the Southern League Division One South and West.

Despite having struggled in that division in the three preceding seasons, the Robins were clear favourites against a side two divisions below them, who – typically slow starters during Burke's tenure – had lost and drawn their two league games going into the preliminary round encounter.

More magic from Burke's men was in store though on a glorious Sunday afternoon at Rylands Way.

At no point were they in awe of their opponents, and that translated into a 15th minute lead as Bennett's low corner was allowed to reach the far post where Yeardley swept in a confident finish from ten yards out.

As with the Highworth game, Bassett's defence had the woodwork to thank when Billy Matthews saw his header crash off the bar. The two teams then both passed up glorious one-on-one opportunities, meaning the hosts went into half time with the slenderest of leads.

Bracknell then got back on level terms shortly after the restart through Graham Lewis. What should have been the turning point of the game proved not to be though as Bassett continued to frustrate Bracknell.

And with quarter of an hour to go they got the winner as they were awarded a controversial penalty after an unintentional handball in the box. Yeardley took the responsibility for the spot kick and coolly stroked it into the bottom right corner before rushing into the jubilant embrace of the Barmy Army members in their traditional spot behind the goal at the clubhouse end of the ground.

Bassett's reward for victory was a trip to Wessex League Premier Division outfit Brockenhurst in the first qualifying round. As with their three previous FA Cup games, their meeting in Hampshire was more than eventful, befitting the carnival atmosphere produced by the ticker tape and blue and yellow balloon wielding travelling support.

There were chances galore throughout. After trading blows in the early exchanges, Magani put the visitors ahead sixteen minutes in, pouncing after Bennett had beat two men and seen his shot blocked.

Magani, Bennett and King had opportunities to extend the lead before the break, yet failed to convert. Then, early in the second half, a goalline clearance from Richard Gee denied the hosts an equaliser.

Mark Clothier did level matters three minutes later though, and from then on Brockenhurst were in the ascendancy, with another outstanding clearance from Gee in the closing stages ensuring the game went to a replay.

The teams knew the reward for the winner of the rematch would be a home fixture in the next round against Conference South outfit Maidenhead United.

But Bassett's hearts were to be broken by Brockenhurst in ruthless fashion as they plundered four goals in a devastating six-minute spell midway through the opening period to kill off the tie.

Burke's team did battle to the end, albeit in vain. King reduced the deficit twenty seconds into the second half with a ferocious long range strike, but the visiting Badgers restored their four-goal advantage with quarter of an hour to go to seal an emphatic 5-1 victory.

While it was a disappointing way to bow out, that Bassett side had already written history with their two victories against the odds. And they had played some outstanding football along the way, producing four brilliant team performances that will live long in the memory for those there to witness.

Here's hoping Saturday's game can be the first step on a similarly enjoyable, history-making journey in the grandest of cup competitions!

2007-08 FA Cup run

Extra Preliminary round: v Highworth Town (Away) - D0-0

Extra Preliminary round replay: v Highworth Town (Home) - W2-1 (Scorers: Matt Bennett, Chris Mills)

Preliminary round: v Bracknell Town (Home) - W2-1 (Scorers: Steve Yeardley 2)

First Qualifying round: v Brockenhurst (Away) - D1-1 (Scorer: John Magani)

First Qualifying round replay: v Brockenhurst (Home) - L1-5 (Scorer: Dennis King)

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Royal Wootton Bassett Town's complete FA Cup history can be viewed here.

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