FA Cup 3rd Round v West Ham – Steve Nicholson remembers

July 3, 1998

Late in 1994 former Scottish International Ronnie Glavin took over as manager from Steve Codd.  Glavin soon started to put a new team together that could challenge in the Northern Premier League and compete in the FA Cup and FA Trophy.  Steve Nicholson, Mark Wilson, Paul David and Michael Reynolds joined the club and, along with Simon Jones who was already in the team, they would form the basis of the team that would go on to great success over the following six seasons.

Ian Banks, who had played in the Premier League for Leicester City joined in 1995-96 and filled the midfield general the team needed.  Although in the twilight of his career, his quality shone out in the Northern Premier League.  Neil Lacey provided the strong centre half the team needed and was later joined by Michael Thompson.  The following season Deiniol Graham, a former Manchester United player, Glynn Hurst who had been at Barnsley, and Chris Marples, who had kept goal at Chesterfield, completed the spine of a formidable team.

Emley’s league fortunes started to improve and in 1996-97 they finished a creditable fourth in the premier League.  The Club also reached the second round of the FA Trophy before going out to Conference side Kidderminster Harriers after taking them to a replay.  The 1997-98 season started with high hopes of building on this progress.  The FA Cup run that season was a truly incredible experience for a club from a village of less than 2000 people.

There were echoes of the FA Vase run 10 years earlier in that Emley were drawn away in every round except one.  That was in the 3rd qualifying round when Emley put in their worst performance of the run, to luckily beat Belper Town.

Steve Nicholson remembers: “If I remember correctly, I think we had a pretty straightforward passage through the early rounds against Workington and Durham. Belper provided a much tougher test in our only home draw of the competition, eventually winning 2-1”

The fourth qualifying round match at Nuneaton Borough was played in a very hostile atmosphere and was won against the odds by a fantastic strike by Simon Jones.

Steve Nicholson: “Next up were Nuneaton away who were one of the big spenders in the equivalent Southern league to ourselves. They were well placed and had been running amok scoring for fun in the league so far. We took an early lead through Deiniol Graham but were soon on the back foot as our opponents ran us ragged, scoring 2 and it could have been more to be honest.”

“Second half was different, and one of the most vivid memories of the entire Cup run was Jonah’s unbelievable equaliser from fully 25 yards with his right foot! Every Emley fan in the ground must have been calling for him to pass as he latched on to a loose ball and unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top right corner. Jelly then picked out Hursty with a great cross from the right to win the game and book our place in the 1st round proper.”

The reward was a trip to Morecambe, a Conference side at the time, and was a little disappointing as the Club hoped for league opposition. However, the games against them were very dramatic.  Emley took a deserved draw at Morecambe and won the replay on penalties after equalising in the last minute.

Steve Nicholson: “Morecambe away – a tough draw, 2nd in the Conference National and a nervy 1-1 draw which either side could have won. Jelly hit both posts with a shot and Marps pulled off a couple of one-on-one saves. Fair result and a replay back at the Welfare Ground on a damp, miserable Tuesday night.”

“This game was an epic! The Emley faithful turned up in their masses with a crowd of well over 2500. This led to a large police presence and a delayed kick-off while the crowd packed in 5 deep round the entire ground. What an atmosphere to play in!!“

“A final score of 3-3 after extra time – Morecambe scoring with 4 mins of extra time left, to go ahead 3-2 and super-sub, Gary Marshall, equalising in the 111th minute for us to take us to the dreaded penalty shoot-out.”

“Penalties scored by Banger, myself and Deiniol, and Marps pulling off 2 penalty saves to win the tie at 11.15 at night!”

“If memory serves me right, I think we had to play Solihull away in the FA trophy on the Thursday night that week and our skipper Banger tore his calf and missed the next 2 games v Lincoln.”

The next round saw a trip to league side Lincoln City, made more difficult with Banks missing.  Incredibly though Emley led going into the 9th minute of injury time when Lincoln snatched an equalizer.  Emley fans thought their chance gone, and the disappointment was acute when the draw put the winner of the tie away at West Ham United.  But the players thought otherwise.  Two down in the replay at Huddersfield Town’s ground, Emley pulled it back to 2-2 and went ahead in extra-time.  Steve Nicholson got two of the goals.  Lincoln equalised but Emley again showed their nerve to win on penalties to set up a dream trip to West Ham.

Steve Nicholson takes up the story of the Lincoln games and the trip to West Ham: “Lincoln away, top of division 3. The lads had a vote to see who would captain the side in Bangers’ absence and I was handed the armband. A great honour/responsibility in such a big game.”

“Ronnie always did his homework and we were warned of John Becks mind games/tactics before we arrived at Sincil Bank. Renowned for his long ball game, the pitch was narrowed to accommodate his full backs launching throws to the penalty spot and at every opportunity the ball was dispatched forward to the corners with the aim of creating a set piece situation which they excelled at. The away changing room was absolutely bouncing hot, the warm up balls were like concrete and it had the biggest nightclub speaker outside the door booming music at full volume. You couldn’t hear yourself speak!”

“The Lincoln full backs wore golf gloves to get more purchase on the ball for the throw ins. Every ball was launched into the box from anywhere on the pitch. A proper ‘Tin Hats on in the trenches’ game. Winning 2-1 and somehow the ref managed to add on 9 mins of injury time to allow Lincoln to equalise and force a replay.”

“The replay had to be played at the McAlpine stadium due to the crowd issues against Morecambe in round 1. I was on days at work” – Steve is a fire fighter – “and it snowed really heavily all day so I really struggled to get from North Leeds to the ground and missed the team talk. The lads were already out warming up when I arrived. Not the best start to be honest. The pitch had an inch of snow on top and the game kicked off with the lines cleared of snow and an old school orange ball.”

“0-0 at halftime, but Lincoln scored 2 from two long throw-ins and things were not looking good. But this was a team of lads who never gave up. We got one back from Deiniol and were starting to cause Lincoln problems with our quick passing and pace but time was running out. I remember bombing forward, overlapping on the right and being played in down the side. Head down, shoot for the far post, deflection and boom!! 2-2. Wow, what a feeling!”

“Extra time, Hursty got in behind and was brought down for a pen. Banger normally takes the pens and unusually no one had been nominated to take them in his absence. A few lads wanted it but, I had scored a pen in the Morecambe shoot out and, on the night, felt I had the responsibility as captain and confidence to step up. Top left, 3-2 up. Can we actually do this?”

“They equalise with minutes of extra time to go. Gutted! Again! Pens it is!”

“I took the 1st and scored, then Marps was at it again with a great save. Deano and Hursty put theirs away then Sub Paul Viner missed his bringing the scores level. PD dispatched his and Marps saved their last pen. We were going to West Ham!! Get in there!”

“After the Lincoln game, my phone went mad! Every mainstream broadcasting channel wanted an interview, picture or quote. It was crazy for the next week. From BBC breakfast news, Look North, Calendar, The Times and even the Sunday Sport!! There was talk around the changing room of League clubs looking at players etc.”

“Every player was involved in some sort of interview, picture or TV appearance. It was a different world to Spennymoor away on a cold, wet Tuesday night in the Unibond League Cup!”

Steve’s memories of the West Ham game are worth reproducing in full:

“Setting off from the ground with hundreds of fans waving us off was very special. It seemed like the whole village turned out.”

“Staying in the Tower Thistle Hotel next to Tower Bridge with all the squad, staff, committee and wives/girlfriends was amazing. It was like being a professional player for the day.”

“Ronnie had done his homework as usual. I was asked to play out of position that day and man mark Iyal Berkovic in midfield. ‘Where ever he goes, you go’.  ‘Stop him playing’ were my instructions!! Thanks Ronnie 😂”

“Warming up in front of our fans, the whole end behind the goal was packed! What a turn out.”

“The atmosphere was amazing and I can’t lie and not say a torrential rain deluge at kick-off probably helped us a little bit. West Ham battered us for the 1st 15 mins. I hardly think we laid a glove on them. I remember vividly seeing Lacey go down in the box injured and thinking – get this ball into touch someone so we can get him some treatment, he’s playing everyone onside. First chance I got I dispatched the ball into the crowd only to see Neil had limped off leaving us down to 10 men. From the throw in, Frank Lampard exploited the space and scored! Jesus! This could be a cricket score.”

“After that we gave as good as we got. Willy two footed David Unsworth in the mud. To be fair he just laughed and got on with it and so did Jeff Winter, the ref.”

“2nd half, we had them rattled. Loads of corners, Banger hit the bar with a wind assisted cross and we looked like we could cause an upset.  The never say die attitude was back again from the lads. PDs equaliser was just euphoria. Celebrating in front of family, friends and fans with the lads was unreal.”

“The opposite could be said for John Hartson’s winner. We had a good counter attack going down the right, I overlapped past Lazaridis and Breaker. Play me in Deano. The ball was cut out, Lazaridis waltzed up the pitch and curled a cross from deep onto Hartson’s head. He couldn’t miss to be honest. 2-1. Heartbreak!!”

“The lap of honour at the final whistle was amazing. All the Hammers fans stayed behind to applaud the lads. It was a close shave for them and I think the ovation we got was out of respect and a bit of relief at the same time. Brilliant sportsmanship all the same.”

“West Ham as a club, their players and Harry Redknapp were brilliant to the lads after the game. Swapping shirts, signing programmes etc.”

It’s unlikely the Club will ever experience a cup run like that and it stands out as one of the most amazing runs for a small club in FA Cup history.  Certainly, the amount of money in the game now, even in non-league football makes such a run extremely difficult, but we aim to try!

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