GOSPORT Borough duo Danny Smith and Andy Forbes can complete a rare FA Vase and FA Trophy double after reaching Wembley for the first time.
Alex Pike will become the first manager to win both of non-league’s major cup competitions if Gosport beat Conference high-fliers Cambridge United in next month’s Trophy final, 22 years after he masterminded Wimborne Town’s Vase triumph.
But there are three Gosport players hoping to improve on their Vase final experiences on March 23, following the dramatic 2-0 victory against Skrill South rivals Havant & Waterlooville at Privett Park.
Tim Sills’ brace of headers ensured a 3-1 aggregate win in front of a crowd of 2,901 – Gosport’s biggest since the 1950s – that means his strike partner, Mike Gosney, has the chance to go one better than the Vase defeat he suffered with AFC Totton at Wembley in 2007.
But that 2-0 win against AFC Sudbury in 2004 – when striker-turned-defender Forbes scored the 76th goal of a remarkable season before captain Smith lifted the trophy – was achieved in the relatively humble surroundings of St Andrews, home of Birmingham City, because the new Wembley was still being built.
“After winning a major competition like the Vase I never thought I’d reach the final of a cup competition at a higher level and play at Wembley,” said 31 year-old midfielder Smith, who works for Mountbatten School, Romsey and coaches at Totton College. “We didn’t expect to go so far but now we’re there we’re going to enjoy it and try to cause an upset.”
Gosport could be three divisions below Cambridge next season and are the lowest-ranked team to reach the Trophy final for a decade.
No extra incentive will be needed on the day but Smith, who lives, with wife Kirsty and baby daughter Isabella, in Hedge End, has one. “I’ve been praying we’d get them throughout the competition as my sister-in-law’s boyfriend, James Cutting, works for Cambridge as their foundation development manager and my wife’s family live in the area,” he revealed.
“Eastleigh got them in the quarter-finals but now we’re playing them at Wembley! It’s going to be a big test for us but we’re not going to fear them.”
After kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes due to crowd congestion, Gosport took the lead at the end of a tense first half, when Sills headed in an inswinging corner from the excellent Adam Wilde, a Southampton barber who began his career at Cambridge United. Former Basingstoke striker Sills, who also gave Gosport the lead in the first leg, eluded his marker again to double the lead on the hour.
Gosport captain Brett Poate, a former Saints trainee, was sent off for kicking Havant midfielder Perry Ryan immediately afterwards – his second red card in three matches against his old club. But Gosport could have won by more, even with ten men.
“I didn't think it would be our day when my daughter started crying after five minutes and had to be taken home,” laughed Smith, at the end of an emotional afternoon. “We knew it would be tight because of the occasion but we felt comfortable and had belief after drawing at their place. They didn’t cause too many problems and we took our chances when they came.”
Pike, who celebrated Gosport’s second goal like a latter-day David Pleat, is looking forward to pitting his wits against a former Football League club.
To put his achievements in perspective, Cambridge were only a couple of wins from the inaugural Premier League the year he won the Vase with little Wimborne – when Gosport’s relegation to the Wessex League began a fallow period in the club’s history.
“When you take your hometown club to Wembley it feels even better,” said 53 year-old Pike, below, who is in his eighth season as Gosport’s manager. “I lived in Wimborne when we won the Vase in 1992 and Gosport’s where I was born and brought up, where I had my first job and my family still live here.
“This is probably worth over £200,000 to the club and we had eight players out! I doubt we would have beaten Cambridge or Grimsby over two legs, had we drawn them in the semi-final. But we can beat anyone in a one-off game.”