CHRIS Simpson has devoted countless hours to Stratford Town over the past 20 years and seeing the club make FA Cup history this weekend will make every one of them worthwhile.
Simpson is the chair of Town’s Independent Supporters Association and will be among the 2,800 fans in attendance as the Bards welcome Shrewsbury for their first ever match in the first round proper of the world’s oldest knockout competition.
Many of them will be admitted by Simpson’s wife, who also volunteers at the club by running the turnstiles, and the Stratford super-fan hopes this weekend’s clash – which is live on ITV4 – will act as a ‘springboard’ for the club.
“It’s absolutely immense,” he said. “We’ve never been in this situation before and it’s absolutely fantastic, not just for the fans but for the town of Stratford-upon-Avon.
“The FA Cup first round is what you dream of. We went to Boston in the previous round, 46 of us hardy souls, and to bring them back for a replay was fantastic.
“The atmosphere in the replay was phenomenal and the town has bought into it now. All that hard work over the past 20 years of supporting Town is all worth it for this one game – with the bonus of being on TV.
“It has put us on the football map and win, lose or draw, we’ve won by getting to the first round proper.
“Hopefully this can be a springboard and all the fans coming in for this one game will buy into it and come to other games. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Stratford sold out their ticket allocation for the match within two hours and are one of nine clubs from across the Pitching In Northern Premier, Isthmian and Southern Leagues looking to continue their fairytale runs.
All nine, along with more than 200 others, are supported by Pitching In, a landmark grassroots sport investment programme set up by Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain.
As well as financial support, the initiative focuses on the importance of volunteers at non-league level and Town’s have come to the fore as they prepare for a day like no other.
“My wife and I have become more involved since the club re-sited to Knights Lane 13 years ago and we’re happy to volunteer in any way we can,” he said.
“We’ve had to make significant changes to the infrastructure to allow such a large crowd, so as volunteers we’ve been helping with fencing, building ramps to car parks, numbering all the seats – it has been pretty full on.
“But it will all be worth it when the game starts. One of our long standing supporters, who does match stats and all sorts, said after the win against Boston ‘that’s the last item on my bucket list complete’.
“That’s how much it means to fans, especially the older generation.
“The magic of the FA Cup means there’s always giant-killings. I’d like to take them to a replay. I’m predicting 1-1. But win, lose or draw, we’ve already won by getting this far.”
Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. For more details visit https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/