A day trip in Kent

FA Cup, Preliminary Round – Folkestone Invicta v Whyteleafe
Saturday, 3rd September 2011, 3pm (Non League Day)
The Buzzlines Stadium
Distance 85 miles, Attendance 211
So I’ve hatched a plan, sort of. Let’s call it “Plan A”, where I’m going to go through every round of the FA Cup all the way to the final at Wembley. I know, I know, its been done before… every season grown men who should know better challenge themselves to follow a strand, but I was thinking ahead. I couldn’t predict where I’d be on fixture dates, nor do I have a job flexible enough to allow me to travel to Blackburn on a Tuesday night. The randomness of following a strand is not for me. Instead I’m going to take the longest route to get to the final. My plan was a simple one: Attend one game every round, AND every replay, AND try to see different grounds and teams each time, if possible (well everyone’s needs an escape route, or so I thought). 26 games, 25 grounds, & 51 teams.
When the fixtures were announced there were about twenty possible games from which I could easily choose… and then I remember we were going to see friends for the weekend; Pluckley, to be precise. The middle of bloody nowhere. From twenty my game options plummeted to a mere TWO, and one of the those meant going back towards London, leaving only Folkestone.
There are two irrefutable facts in football. More fans support teams outside the top division, and, more fans have heard of the teams in said division than those below. What does this all mean? Twenty teams get too much coverage, and most of us don’t like them much because of it. Well that’s my take. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the teams like Folkestone Invicta. If we hadn’t been on a ferry to France we probably wouldn’t know where is was. The majority of us that is, not the locals. They, one would assume, are pretty clued up on its location.
For those who have never crossed paths with Folkestone Invicta, you’re missing out. On a warm summers day its a wonderful venue to watch the beautiful game. Of course getting there is an issue, but when one gets to their friends who live in the middle of nowhere, keep going and stop just short of the sea. If ever there was a good argument for supporting your local team, isolation must be it.  What I found was a friendly club and welcoming fans, a stadium with three sides covered and a view of the pitch from the club shop.

When the action started 204 Folkestone fans, 6 from Whyteleafe and I were not left disappointed.  Clearly on the evidence of these first three games the FA Cup is truly hotting up. It was a corker. Loads of goalmouth action, reasonable refereeing, and two great individual performances from Folkestone’s Darren Smith, and Whyteleafe’s keeper Paul Smith (no relation). The game started with Folkestone pressing hard until they lost Atkins to injury with the first ten minutes, where upon Whyteleafe took control and soon went one up. On 38 minutes Darren Smith levelled for Invicta, but within a couple of minutes Whyteleafe regained the lead. It took some careful substitutions to bring the game back to Folkestone. After the break they had so many chances that the equalising goal, when it came, was completely deserved. In fact without Smith, Whyteleafe would have lost by at least four goals so it was no surprise when he received the man of the match award at the final whistle. For the first time I’d seen football on the Kent coast, for the second time a game had ended 2-2, and for a third time I left the ground feeling great contentment at seeing a great Cup match.
Back in Pluckley it was remarkably easy to explain my quest. I was hooked.
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