02:00PM, Thursday 03 September 2020
Burnham player manager Ashleigh James
For the first time in more than five months football fans pushed their way through the turnstiles to watch their clubs in competitive action this week.
Just a month after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lifted the FA Cup for Arsenal at Wembley the competition started up again this week with the extra preliminary round and, thanks to a relaxation in government regulations, fans were allowed back into grounds in limited numbers.
Wearing face masks and following protocols put in place by their clubs they once again helped to swell the coffers after a particularly challenging time for non-league football clubs.
The action was once again fraught and frenzied, nowhere more so than at The Gore, where Ashleigh James’s new-look Burnham side edged through to the next round after beating Cheltenham Saracens 5-4 on penalties.
The Blues will now visit Leverstock Green on Saturday, September 12 looking to push their cup run on a little further and bank some more money from the FA’s depleted prize fund.
In contrast Ascot United bowed out of the competition at the first hurdle, losing 7-6 on penalties to Christchurch, having led through Aiden Higgs’ goal until the final minute of the 90.
Two goals from Billy Montague earned Windsor a
2-1 away win at Aylesbury Vale Dynamos (see page 45) and Mark Cooper’s side will travel to Wantage Town in the next round on Saturday week.
Marcus Richardson’s Flackwell Heath were able to join Windsor and Burnham in the next round after coming through Wednesday night's 200-mile round trip to face Roman Glass St George FC.
Roman Glass led in the first half but Ashley Howell pounced on a spilled shot to level things up just before the break, and Mo Ceesay's flicked header with 15 minutes to play booked the Heathens a home tie with Cirencester Town in the preliminary round.
Marlow will enter the competition at the preliminary round stage and face a home tie with North Leigh on September 12.
Reflecting on a dramatic start to the season at The Gore, Burnham manager Ashleigh James said he felt like he’d been through a roller coaster of emotions. James, and his new assistant Manny Williams both played in the tie against Saracens, with Elliot Derby, James’s cousin and first team coach, watching on from the sidelines.
Neither side was able to make the breakthrough in 90 minutes, although Burnham held the upper hand throughout and had the ball in the net through Gavin James only to see it correctly ruled offside.
The Saracens keeper was sent off as tempers frayed late in the contest, and an outfield player went in goal for the shoot-out.
Despite some initial hesitation from his players to step forward and take a penalty, Burnham held their nerve to go through 5-4.
“Oh mate, I feel like I’ve been through a roller coaster of emotions,” said James. “It was a bit crazy to be honest, but that’s one way to start isn’t it? They had one good chance early on and hit the bar but other than that we controlled the game.
“We made hard work of it in the end but we’re a new side that’s only been together three weeks.
“We haven’t had time to really work on things, but getting the win was the main thing.
“When the game finished, I said, ‘who wants to take penalties?’ and no one said anything.
“I was like ‘oh my goodness what’s going on here’. But in the end the players stepped forward and I took one myself. We scored all of ours and Carl Dennison made a good save from a player we felt should have been sent off. So it felt like a little bit of justice on our part.”
James admitted his progression from player and captain to player/manager is going to take some time to get used to, but he’s confident he, Williams and Derby – along with the rest of the squad – will make it work and deliver the club success.
“It’s going to be a bit of trial and error,” he said. “But we’ve got to work out how best to manage it. We had Elliot Derby on the side, but I think he needed someone with him to bounce ideas off.
“When Manny went off they were able to bounce ideas off each other, but when we’re both on the pitch we’re seeing things differently to how they are on the side. It’s hard but we’re working on it and we’ll find a way to make it work, even if that means taking turns on the field.
“We may also ask some of the senior players to step up and help. I’m the manager and Manny is the assistant but it’s going to be a joint effort from everyone.
“It’s not just my thing, it’s our thing. I’m new to this. I’m still trying to play, and I’ve only just turned 30 so I’ll need as much help as I can get.”
The new manager welcomed the return of fans to matches and said the game felt as normal as it could do given the regulations in place for supporters, staff, and the playing squad pre and post kick-off.
“The club has been working tirelessly over the last three weeks to make sure everything is safe,” he said. “They’ve done a fantastic job and it felt as normal as ever. In the lead up to the match we all had to follow the rules and regulations and I think it worked very well.
“I think we reached our capacity for a phase one game so that is encouraging and, talking to the fans I think they were impressed with how things had gone and they said they felt safe.
“Walking out for the warm-up and getting a big clap, it was great to feel that support from everyone. Loads of support from old acquaintances, friends in the game and fans who were just jumping on it. It was a good atmosphere down there last night.”
Burnham have another friendly with Chalvey on Saturday before visiting Leverstock Green in the FA Cup on September 12.
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