The best weekend of the season is among us, as the third round of the FA Cup arrives and with it the hopes and dreams of sixty-four teams across England’s top four leagues and beyond. To celebrate this season’s competition, we’re looking back on some of the great cup ties from years gone by. Not necessarily the biggest shocks (you won’t find Micky Thomas’ free-kick for Wrexham against Arsenal here), nor even the most entertaining games (Xabi Alonso’s goal from the halfway line against Luton? Forget it), but matches that offer a reminder of why the FA Cup remains one of the most storied competitions in the world. So, with a plethora of glorious matches to choose from, which stone-cold stonker from Third Rounds gone by have we plumped for? Havant and Waterlooville against Swansea City? Eh?
For a non-league team on their way to meet one of English football’s goliaths, the fun is more often found in the journey rather than the destination. Take Lincoln City’s remarkable run to the quarter-finals in the 2016/17 competition. Fans of the Conference side were hardly going to bed dreaming of a five goal howking at the hands of Arsenal, but beating Burnley, Brighton and Ipswich Town on their way there gave supporters some unforgettable moments. Havant and Waterlooville had their time in the sun in 2008, making it into the hat for the fourth round draw for the first time in their short history and being rewarded with a potential plum tie at Liverpool. First up though, they’d have to navigate a replay against League One Swansea City.
The Hampshire club had been formed in 1998 when Southern League sides Havant Town and Waterlooville merged and moved into the former’s West Leigh Park home, presumably to save on groundskeeping costs. From their very first season, the Hawks were a side on the up (literally - Havant is 26 meters higher above sea level than Waterlooville). Promotion from the Southern League Southern Division was secured at the first time of asking, and the club eventually qualified for a place in the restructured Conference South in 2004. Amidst challenging for the playoffs during their first four seasons in the sixth tier Havant were quickly becoming FA Cup regulars, having reached the first round for the first time in their history in 2000, only to be beaten by Southport. Dagenham & Redbridge would get the better of Liam Daish and Mick Jenkins’ side in 2002, while Millwall - the first Football League side to come up against the unified Havant and Waterlooville, dashed any dreams of reaching round two in 2006. The West Leigh faithful wouldn’t have to wait much longer to see their side make cup history, however.
Havant’s long and winding road to Anfield began on the last weekend of September 2007 in the second qualifying round. A 2-1 victory at Bognor Regis Town would prove to be manager Ian Baird’s last game in charge of the Hawks, as he defected to take the vacant manager’s role at Eastleigh two days later. In his stead came Football League stalwart and assistant manager Shaun Gale, with over two hundred appearances for Portsmouth, Barnet and Exeter City under his belt, alongside a three year spell at West Leigh Park to end his career. Alongside steering the Hawks through the remainder of their Conference South campaign, it also fell to Gale to try and succeed where his predecessors had failed and take the club beyond the first round of the FA Cup. Having squeezed past Fleet Town in the third qualifying round, level nine side Leighton Town were easily sidestepped to send Havant through to the first round proper.
Though avoiding a meeting with a Football League side in the first round, the Hawks were still dealt a tricky task, being drawn away at Conference side York City. The Minstermen had come close to promotion the previous season, but manager Billy McEwan was coming to the end of his two-and-a-half year stay at the KitKat Crescent having hit a poor run of form. With uncertainty in the dugout, Havant and Waterlooville made the most of City’s crisis of confidence, causing an upset in the first round with a 1-0 win courtesy of Mo Harkin’s goal. Celebrations for the Hampshire side’s historic achievement were doubled when they were drawn at League Two Notts County in the second round. As one of the founder members of the Football League, the Magpies were considered a plum tie for the non-league minnows, though like York City, County were in the middle of a trying season, and would narrowly avoid relegation to the Conference come May. Once again, the Hawks capitalised, with Tony Taggart this time the hero, scoring the only goal in another shock victory, and earning the club a place in the third round.
While fellow non-leaguers Chasetown were rewarded with a home tie against Cardiff City, Gale’s side were drawn away at fellow south Walians Swansea City, flying high in League One under Roberto Martinez, and fresh off the back of a 6-2 victory over Horsham in round two. On a grim and grizzly day by the bay, Havant and Waterlooville rode their luck as Kevin Scriven’s goal faced a barrage of attacks from the Swans. With Jason Scotland, Leon Britton and Darren Pratley all smashing the crossbar, it looked like the Hawks might just hold on for the replay, until Andy Robinson’s long-range effort with a little over fifteen minutes to play looked to have won the tie for the hosts. Enter Rocky Baptiste. With both sides down to ten men following an on-pitch melee, Havant’s star striker drilled an effort into the bottom corner with three minutes remaining, earning the club a lucrative replay.
It was only Baptiste’s ninth goal of a relatively quiet season for the 29 year old. Having made his name as a clinical frontman in non-league with Farnborough Town, Baptiste had struggled with the step up to league football with Stevenage Borough, and until joining the Hawks had looked to be leaving that early promise behind. Joining from Margate in 2005, Baptiste had hit the ground running at West Leigh Park, banging in a remarkable sixty-five goals in his first two seasons with the club. In his third and final season on the south coast, he’d score the two most important goals of his career, both against the Swans.
Having watched agog as their team were plucked from the draw for a provisional trip to Liverpool, 4,400 supporters crammed their way into West Leigh Park on a freezing Wednesday night for the replay with Swansea, though by the time many had found a decent vantage point, the hosts were already ahead. With just four minutes on the clock, Brett Poate’s in-swinging cross was met with a stunning diving header from Swans centre-back Garry Monk, leaving Dorus De Vries no chance of preventing the own goal. Delight gave way to delirium twenty minutes later, when Jamie Collins bundled an effort over the line to double the Hawks lead, and disbelief would follow eight minutes before the break when Baptiste tapped in at the far-post to give the Conference South side an incredible three-goal lead. That cushion would be reduced to two within sixty seconds, as Guillem Bauza’s raking effort sneaked past Scriven, and Havant hearts were in mouths when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Bauza, but Leon Britton’s spot-kick was comfortably saved.
Swansea continued to turn the screw in the second half, with Scotland’s goal minutes after the restart injecting nerves into the raucous crowd, but with the League One side adhering to the now trademark Martinez gung-ho gameplan, the Hawks extended their lead on the break in the 65th minute. Poate was again the architect, looping a cross into the penalty area that was met by Tom Jordan (son of Joe) to bounce into the net. With a two-goal lead restored, there was still time for plenty of scares as the Swans were once again denied by the woodwork on three occasions. Gale’s side held on, however, writing Havant and Waterlooville’s names into the history books with a remarkable result.
The trip to Liverpool provided two more incredible moments in an unforgettable campaign for Havant, with Richard Pacquette giving the minnows an eight minute lead, and Martin Skrtel’s own goal making it 2-1 after half an hour. Rafa Benitez’s side would recover, however, and an inspired performance from Yossi Benayoun helped the Reds to a 5-2 win. Whilst it signalled the end of Havant and Waterlooville’s journey, the funds generated from their historic cup run were enough to clear the club of debt and go towards refurbishing the stadium. Subsequently the Hawks have failed to make it past the first round of the FA Cup, but after relegation from the Conference South in 2016, the club have secured back-to-back promotions and now sit proudly in the National League.
Though they might have only been founded twenty years ago, Havant and Waterlooville have shown that, when it comes to the FA Cup, the history books are always being updated.