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Story posted: Monday, 4th March 1991

Just 180 minutes from Wembley
Story courtesy of
Salute the South Derbyshire super-stars! Gresley Rovers one of the oldest non-league clubs in the country, who stagnated for so long in the late 60’s and early 70’s, are just 180 minutes away from Wembley.
They faced what appeared would be their sternest task away to Jewson Eastern Counties League side Harwich and Parkeston – but in reality the Moatmen controlled the game from start to finish.

The Harwich officials must have wondered what had hit them both on and off the pitch. Afterwards the social club reverberated to the sounds of “We’re all going to Wem-ber-ley” – and that was just the players.

Rovers had every right to sing out loud and proud. The team spirit which shone through in that singalong had clearly been evident during a game which didn’t see Gresley turn in a champagne but one which resembled a pint of Bass – full of flavour, character and bite.

And the support of Frankie’s army of travelling fans was again tremendous, a factor acknowledged by all the team afterwards.

Harwich, although occupying only a mid-table position in their league, were cup experts. They knocked out GM Vauxall Conference side Fisher Athletic out of the FA cup and ended the ambitions of Sudbury Town, last year’s Vase semi-finalists, in a third round replay.

The East coast club had endured four bouts of extra time along the way to Rovers’ three so there was every indication that a two hour epic was in store. But Gresley had other ideas.

From the sidelines, it appeared they settled very quickly, much more so than their opponents, and didn’t worry about the disappointment of having an 11th minute goal ruled out for offside. The dressing room view was that they didn’t relax until Paul Acklam gave them the lead just before half time.

It was vintage stuff from the striker who had a barren spell until he hit the target against Rocester a week ago.

He pounced on a mistake by central defender Al Hannigan, took the ball off his toes, dashed into the box, rounded the keeper and shot home.

“That deflated them a little bit,” said Acklam. “It’s always nice to score just before half time. The centre half was struggling a bit and I managed to pinch it off him, which left me with a one-on-one with the keeper. Those chances normally finish up near the corner flag but it went right for me that time,” said Acklam modestly.

The former Shepshed striker also had a hand in the goal which sealed Gresley’s victory with just half an hour remaining. It started with a long kick from Bob Aston.

“The centre half tried to head it back to the keeper. I don’t think he realised I was behind him. I managed to pinch it off his head and it fell kindly for Carl Rathbone. That gave us a bit of a cushion.”

After that Harwich exerted a fair amount of pressure but the Gresley defence withstood everything the home side could muster.

“You expect a team that’s 2-0 down at home to throw everything forward. They had one clear-cut chance, an open goal, and when they missed that I thought, “That’s it, they’re not going to score.” You expect people to put those chances in,” said Acklam.

“In a two-legged semi-final anything can happen, so we must be in with a shout now. Everything seems to be running for us in this competition.”

Now for the semis, on March 23rd and 30th. If Rovers can show the passion that beat Billingham, the character that epitomised their fightback at Knowsley and the team spirit which helped them to beat Harwich, they could well be driving up Wembley Way on May 4th.
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League Position
  Team P GD Pts
10 Highgate United 29 -3 38
11 South Normanton Athletic 26 0 37
12 Worcester City 26 11 36
13 AFC Wulfunians 31 -6 36
14 Coventry Sphinx 25 -19 34
15 Tividale 23 -4 27
16 Haughmond 29 -29 26
17 Racing Club Warwick 24 -29 24
18 Lye Town 28 -31 18
19 Gresley 26 -22 16
20 Selston 25 -38 13

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