This Satuday’s FA Cup Fourth Round match against Conference South side Havant & Waterlooville is probably the very last thing in the world that Liverpool want right now. With growing concerns about their financial woes, the unwelcome prospect of a no-win match is looming large on their horizon.
Havant & Waterlooville, a semi-professional team who play their trade six divisions below The Reds, will be rolling into town on Saturday afternoon complete with four and a half thousand or so very noisy supporters. The Hawks were only formed in 1998 (eight years after Liverpool last won the Football League Championship), but they’ve packed a lot into their ten years.
Formations & Merger
The club was formed from the merger of two failing, smaller clubs. Havant FC were formed in 1883 on the outskirts of Portsmouth, and played in the Portsmouth Football League for much of the next century, merging with Sunday League club Leigh Park in 1969. Their growth as a club was hampered by Front Lawn, their home ground, which had such spartan facilities that the club were unable to move up the ladder. In 1980, they acquired the site of West Leigh Park, their home ground and under the new name of Havant Town moved in 1982. The hoped-for promotions soon followed: to the Wessex League in 1986, and then into the Southern League in 1991.
Waterlooville FC were founded in 1905, joining the Southern League in 1971. They spent much of the next twenty years in the Southern League Premier and Southern Divisions, before financial difficulties led them into the merger to form Havant & Waterlooville FC in 1998.
Success was more or less instant. They won the Southern League Southern Division in 1999, and came close to winning the Southern League Premier League championship (which would have promoted them into the Conference) in 2002, before eventually finishing in third place. The following season, they reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy before losing to Tamworth.
In the summer of 2004, non-league football was restructured to fit in two regional divisions below the Conference, called the Conference North and Conference South, and Havant’s twelfth place finish in the Southern League in 2004 was enough for them to squeeze into the Conference South. Their first season in the Conference South saw them at the bottom of the table at Christmas, before they managed to pull themselves to safety. In 2006, they finished just outside of the play-off places, and last season they were beaten in a play-off semi-final after drawing 3-3 on aggregate with Braintree Town. At the time of writing, they are in twelfth place in the Conference South, although they could somersault into the play-off places if they win all the games in hand they have over the teams above them in the table.
So, who’s who at West Leigh Park? Manager Shaun Gale started his career at Portsmouth, and he went on to play for Barnet and Exeter City before finishing his career at Havant & Waterlooville. His assistant manager, Anthony Philip David Terry Frank Donald Stanley Gerry Gordon Stephen James Oatway was named by his father after the Queens Park Rangers team that was promoted into the First Division in 1973. He’s better known as Charlie Oatway: the nickname Charlie comes from an aunt who remarked, upon hearing that he was being named after an entire football team, that he’ll sound like a proper charlie. He played in the Football League for eight years for Brighton & Hove Albion before retiring through injury last summer.
Having tried bringing in former star players such as Dean Holdsworth, Fitzroy Simpson and David Howells only to see it fail, there are few household names in the current Havant team. Midfielder Gary Hart was a stalwart in the Brighton & Hove Albion midfield for almost ten years, but the rest of the players (including Rocky Baptiste, whose goal earned them a replay against Swansea City and who then scored in said replay as well) are non-league journeymen, part-time players with full-time jobs.
How difficult, then, will Havant & Waterlooville’s job be at Anfield on Saturday? Well, there were eighty-three league places between Havant and Swansea, the team that they beat in the Third Round recently. There are one hundred and twenty-three places between Havant & Liverpool. Nobody making the long trip north will seriously be expecting them to get a result there and, in some respects, they have already won. They’re expecting to make between £600,000 and £800,000 out of Saturday’s match: enough to pay their wage bill for months and months, as well as paying off any debts that they may have laying around. For a club of the size of Havant & Waterooville, this is a life-changing amount of money.
But the dream of glory also remains. Sutton United, of the Conference, beat Coventry City in 1989. Exeter City and Burton Albion, both of the Conference, held Manchester United to draws in the last few seasons, and Exeter did it at Old Trafford. Havant & Waterlooville are a division below them, but Liverpool FC is a mess of in-fighting and mud-slinging at the moment. It’d be nice if they could at least give The Reds one hell of a scare.
Highlights of their Third Win against Swansea City are available here.
Photo credit: JonHall