With most of Walthamstow under about a foot of water, I ventured to sunny Lakenheath, for The Heath’s first ever FA Cup tie. Their opponents were Mulbarton Wanderers, also in the Eastern Counties Premier, who themselves are only in the FA Cup for the second time. Mulbarton were in Division Six of the Anglian Combination 11 years ago, but were promoted six times in six years, and eventually to the Eastern Counties Premier earlier this summer.
Mulbarton are clearly a very ambitious club, and arrived by coach, despite the journey being a little over 40 miles. The decision looked to have backfired, as they only arrived at the ground at 2pm.
Lakenheath’s raffle was pretty special, with prizes of wine and a box of fruit and veg on show, and a gammon being chilled in the clubhouse fridge. Also making good use of the clubhouse facilities, were the three officials, who forwent the traditional warm-up, with one enjoying a pint half an hour before kick-off.
Despite it being Lakenheath’s first-ever FA Cup game, the crowd wasn’t as large as I had expected; perhaps the lure of the Lakenheath Village Fete was too much to resist.
Mulbarton were still on the coach – metaphorically at least – at kick-off, and were behind after just three minutes, Shaun Avis heading home well from about six yards.
Heath were looking good, and Craig Nurse was keeping things ticking over in the middle. Mulbarton’s vastly experienced player/joint-manager Danny Self was all over the place for the opening quarter of an hour and possibly at fault for the first goal, but by the time he warmed up, he was comfortably the best player on the pitch.
Mulbarton levelled, somewhat against the run of play, with a long-range effort which crept in at the keeper’s front post just before halftime. After the break, it looked like they’d worked Heath out, and the previously effective Nurse became almost a passenger. Mulbarton had a good ten-minute spell where they took the lead following a free-kick.
They couldn’t build on this though, and the game got increasingly niggly. Heath were guilty of overhitting almost every cross since the one that lead to a goal in the third minute, and Mulbarton, comfortable at the back, looked like they’d see the game out.
But in the 99th minute, the ball dropped to Heath centre-back Casey Underwood who unleashed an unstoppable half-volley befitting the occasion into the top corner, setting up a replay on Tuesday.
At the end of the game, the assistant referee gave an absolute earful to the (more senior) referee. His main beef seemed to be with how long added time was played; “we’re supposed to be a team out there, and you’ve embarrassed us”, he said.
The 11 minutes over didn’t seem unjustified, and Mulbarton didn’t seem to have any problem with how long was played. I’d never seen anything like it before. Then again, I’ve never seen the officiating team skipping a warm-up, and having a pint in the bar half an hour before kick-off.