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Horsham fans after beating Dorking in the FA Cup

Horsham caused an FA Cup upset stinging Dorking Wanderers 2-0 at the CWCS to be in the hat for the first-round proper for only the fifth time in the club’s history.

Daniel Ajakaiye and Shamir Fenelon were the men to write themselves into Horsham history this afternoon, on a day that will live long in the memories of Horsham fans for years to come. The highly anticipated cup tie gave Horsham players a sense of having nothing to lose after being drawn against a side two leagues above them in the football pyramid… not to forget Dorking is, in fact, a full-time club compared to Horsham a part-time club that only trains one evening a week.

The goals came within a mere 30 seconds of each other but before that, Horsham had a goal ruled out for offside as Jack Brivio’s close-range effort deflected off Fenelon and flew into the Dorking net however the striker was in an offside position when the ball struck him. The full house at the Camping World Community Stadium, 1980 fans in total, would not have dreamt even in their wildest dreams the turn of events in the 39th minute…

A fantastic no-look pass from Charlie Hester-Cook sent through the step-in right back, Lee Harding, down the right flank who had the vision to pick out Ajakaiye who raced into the box to slam home the cross and send the Horsham fans into delirium. Yet another goal for Horsham’s top goal scorer this season. The Horsham fans barely had a chance to catch their breath when Fenelon latched onto a loose pass from a Dorking man and from just inside the penalty area produced a ferocious effort that rifled into Male’s net. 40 minutes gone and Horsham of the Isthmian Premier League had blown away Dorking Wanderers of the National League.  

You can only imagine the team talk that was given by Marc White to his Dorking side, as prior to the cup tie he had come out saying “This will be the best chance that we’ll have at progressing to the first round”, which would be the first for his club’s short history. However apart from Horsham’s crossbar being struck by Jason Prior early in the half, the second half followed the same suit as the first and if anything, Horsham should have increased their lead if it wasn’t for their attackers becoming extremely leggy and as a result having an effect on their decision making. The biggest second-half chance fell to Reece Myles-Meekums who had beaten the Dorking offside trap but when met with Male one-on-one could only place his tired effort straight into the keeper’s body.

Horsham manager, Dom Di Paola, was filled with pride as the final whistle blew with the result meaning that he had taken his side to the first-round proper of the FA Cup for the second time under his watch and five times in the club’s history.

The FA Cup is the oldest football competition in men’s domestic football. The competition is open to all eligible English clubs down to level nine of the football pyramid. The first six rounds are known as the qualifying phase which is contested by clubs in the National League system, as a result, 32 of these teams progress to the first round proper (which is the stage Horsham has reached) that meet 48 professional teams from Leagues one and two. The last entrants come from the Premier League and the Championship who come in at the third round. Only one non-league team has ever reached the quarter-finals since 1914, that team is Lincoln City in 2017 who beat the likes of Oldham Athletic (league one at the time), Ipswich, and Brighton & Hove Albion (both of the Championship at the time), Burnley (Premier League at the time), where they then met Arsenal but fell, eventually, to a 5-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium. Whenever a team progresses through a round of the cup they get prize money from the FA, for Lincoln progressing past Burnley meant they would have been awarded £225,000 in prize money which would have been massive for a club like Lincoln City who were competing in the National League at the time. This prize money helped Lincoln massively as it allowed them to push up the leagues and now find themselves in league one. So, in just a matter of games, the FA Cup can play a massive role in a club’s history and can be used as a catalyst for success with this being one of the many examples of success stories from the cup.

As mentioned earlier this is only Horsham’s fifth time reaching the first-round proper in their history and the second in the past three seasons. Defeating Dorking in the fourth-round qualifier means they’ll be collecting £9,375 along the way, a sum that will go a long way for the nonleague club, which can be reinvested into the squad but also the facilities of the club. Only two years ago did they host National League outfit, Woking, who they put to the sword in a famous upset as they won 1-0 courtesy of a Tom Kavanagh free kick. They then travelled to Carlisle, of league 2, in the first round proper but fell to a 2-0 defeat. However, in the 2006/07 season, they got as far as they’ve ever gotten in the competition by reaching the second round. Horsham hosted, League One side, Swansea in front of the Sky cameras and were able to take the Welsh side to a replay after drawing 1-1 at home after Lewis Taylor’s penalty earned the replay. The Liberty Stadium was filled with proud Horsham supporters as they witnessed their side lead twice but eventually succumbed to a 6-2 defeat, but Horsham would have left Wales with their heads held high by putting up such a fight against a side well-established in the football league.

Many of the so-called ‘bigger clubs’ tend to disregard this famous and historic competition but for many non-league clubs, it can prove life-changing and be used as a springboard for future success, not to mention the memories it can create for players but most importantly… the fans.

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May 2024