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Wednesday 03 November 2010
The Road to Wembley goes via AFC Wimbledon

Our tie against Ebbsfleet United is the latest step on ITV’s FA Cup trail which began in August. The idea is a simple one – pick one team from the very first round and follow it until it loses – then follow the winning team until it loses.

This year’s ITV FA Cup story began in the Extra Preliminary Round when their chosen tie was Greenwich Borough v South Park. They joined a crowd of 134 to see South Park win 2 -1. As a result, South Park became the team they adopted for as far as they would go in the competition.

If ITV had chosen Hythe Town or Tipton Town at that stage, they’d have been with them all the way through to this weekend, as the smallest clubs left in the competition. But that wasn’t a feat South Park could pull off. The Preliminary Round saw them as the underdogs even though they were at home to Horsham YMCA. So it was a great day for South Park to emerge as 4 – 0 winners and progress to the First Qualifying Round and an away tie at our former adversaries Cray Wanderers.

Now the cameras were off to join in Cray’s celebrations of their 150th year. They fancied marking that anniversary with a cup run of their own to help pay for the new stadium they’re planning while they ground share at Bromley. South Park were looking good for a replay, with no sign of a goal as injury time approached. But Laurent Hamici came up with a winner to take Cray into the draw for the Second Qualifying Round, and their turn in the ITV spotlight for as long as they could keep winning.

Cray were rewarded with another home draw, albeit against a higher ranked club in Ebbsfleet United. The team from Blue Square Bet South were clear favourites and, with the game poised at 2-2, Ebbsfleet were awarded a late penalty. Instead of scoring a winning goal, they presented ITV with their first replay of the FA Cup trail - on a very wet night in Kent.

Remarkably, when Ebbsfleet were awarded another penalty in the replay they missed again. But they went on to win 4-2, and subsequently travelled to East Anglia and overcame Needham Market 1 - 0.

This took Ebbsfleet to the Fourth Qualifying Round and one more match for the big prize; a place in the First Round proper. The Fleet were drawn at home against Boreham Wood and the game was effectively over when Wood’s Leon McKenzie was sent off. Calum Willock’s third goal of Ebbsfleet’s FA Cup campaign made the score 3-0 and Liam Daish and his team were into that draw at Wembley.

We know what happened then – we were paired with Ebbsfleet and, by this time, Liam Daish’s side have already become accustomed to having the TV cameras around.

While it’s traditional for the cameras to set out on a Road to Wembley, ITV’s intention was initially to concentrate just on the qualifying rounds, to ensure interesting coverage for non-league clubs in the programme that would concentrate on the First Round draw.

There was no guarantee to carry the ITV trail forward to the First Round Proper, but when Ebbsfleet’s name came out beside ours, they decided the tie was too good to miss, and chose it for the highlights coverage.

So the stage is set for the next step on the ITV trail. While Saturday’s game has been chosen as one of the main featured games, there is no promise that the winners are guaranteed the same treatment in Round 2.

But this story, from Greenwich to Wimbledon, makes the victorious club of special interest to them. If we can win and then get an attractive tie in the Second Round draw we are in with a good chance of being selected for a live game. But first we have to win……..

You can view Ned Boulting's piece on the ‘story so far’ by clicking on The Road to Wembley starts here.