Bevan keeping Torquay's Cup dream alive
The romantics amongst you hoping to see an FA Cup fairytale unfold this season might be looking at Crawley Town's tie with Torquay United this weekend and licking your lips at the prospect of a non-league side making the fifth round. After all, only five teams from outside the Football League have reached that stage since the end of World War II - and none of them got any further.
Any purists, however, should probably be aware of the huge amount of money the big-spending Blue Square Premier leaders have spent on their squad in the last few months as part of what they term 'Project Promotion'. Crawley are minnows in the loosest sense of the word.
But luckily you don't even have to leave Plainmoor to find a true tale of an attempt to triumph against the odds in round four. The key to the Gulls' hopes of reaching the last 16 for the first time in their 111-year history lies with inspirational goalkeeper Scott Bevan, a man who has come within a couple of kicks of entering Cup folklore before now and also had a brush with death along the way. Now that's what I call a fairytale in the making.
Bevan saved a spot-kick in a shoot-out against Stoke in 2006... but still lost. Photo: Getty
As Bevan (who is no relation by the way!) told me, it's not even clear who the underdog will be on Saturday. "On paper we are a division above and at home so you would think we are favourites," he said. "A few of my mates have rung me up saying 'You have a great chance of getting through now'.
"But then you look at the money Crawley have chucked around and you realise they have got a bigger budget than most League One sides, let alone ones like us in League Two, so they are going to fancy their chances as well."
It's immediately apparent the Cup means a lot to Bevan, and it's also obvious why - it offers the chance of a rare day in the sun. Players like him who ply their trade entirely in the lower divisions can dream of becoming a giantkilling hero or taking on world-class players even though they have no hope of lifting the famous old trophy itself.
"For a club of Torquay's size to get through to the fifth round would be fantastic but, as an individual, you want your little moment of glory too," the affable 31-year-old explained.
"I went down to the club to watch the fourth-round draw and we were first out of the hat. It felt like a bit of an anti-climax when Crawley and Derby came out next (they played their tie the next day) because even if you have got no chance of getting a result against the big-boys, you want the experience of playing the top internationals.
"To get past Crawley and hopefully get a big team next is our incentive but that will be the same for them too."
Bevan's nomadic career has contained plenty of highs within the context of his modest surroundings - he helped Torquay get back into the Football League in 2009 and contested the first competitive match at the new Wembley when Kidderminster lost the 2007 FA Trophy final against Stevenage.
He has played his part in plenty of Cup upsets too, most recently helping Torquay reach the fourth-round in the same year they went up and also helping part-timers Tamworth reach the third round in 2006 while he was on loan from MK Dons.
Including this season, he has claimed a total of six League One scalps in the competition while playing at least one level lower, but you get the feeling he won't be satisfied until he collects the career-defining seismic shock he craves.
He has come frustratingly close in the past too. "It has been a case of so near but so far on a few occasions," the former Southampton trainee recalled. "Torquay gave Coventry a real battering two years ago and then they got a winner in the last minute which was a sickening feeling.
"I came even closer with Tamworth when we took Stoke to a replay and forced a shoot-out. You don't get a lot of recognition at that level and I remember thinking before it started that this is my moment to get into the limelight."
Bevan did his bit too, saving one penalty to take the spot-kicks to sudden death - but could not repeat the trick, and a miss by his team-mate Michael Touhy meant the tie was lost. "I was distraught," he said.
He was left feeling a lot worse only a week later after an incident which almost meant sudden death on a very different level. Bevan went up for a cross during a league game against Forest Green and took a stray kick in his side from Rovers striker Julian Alsop, which initially seemed harmless enough.
Bevan has rebuilt his career since his freak kidney injury. Photo: Getty
"I had to come off because I was winded straightaway and I thought I might have cracked a rib," Bevan explained. "But as soon as I got home after the game, I started being sick. I went to hospital and they put me on a drip, rushed me to A&E for an X-ray and told me I had shattered my kidney and it would have to be removed.
"I was in intensive care for a few days and in a coma. When I woke up my first question was whether I was going to be alright and my second was whether I could play football again because it was all I had ever known since the age of 16. The doctors turned around and said 'no'. It was a devastating few days.
"Just before it happened, it had just struck me for the first time how big the Cup was because of the recognition we had got at Tamworth in newspapers and on TV. It gave me a taste of how the top stars live and I was on a high. I went from that to the worst moment of my life."
Fortunately, Bevan was able to make a full recovery, and along with Brighton defender Jim McNulty, he is one of only two professional footballers in England to have only one kidney (Bolton striker Ivan Klasnic has two after a successful transplant).
"Once I got home and started going to the gym again to get a bit of fitness back the doctors were quite pleased with my progress and they eventually gave me the all clear after a few month," Bevan said. "They warned me that that if I took another knock it would be more serious but the risks were minimal so it was up to me - I had no doubts I wanted to get back into football and I have had no problems since."
After a successful stint with Kidderminster, he joined Torquay, initially on loan in September 2008, where he has been ever since. "I'd had 12 clubs before I came here, so to stay for a couple of years and counting is great.
"I'm used to being in relegation scraps so to win promotion back to the League was a fantastic feeling, and we still have a chance of going up again this season, too."
The Cup will again take priority this weekend, but will Bevan's big day end in disappointment again? Not if he can help it.
"From my own experiences, I know Crawley will come here without any fear and play with freedom," Bevan said. "I'm sure that will have been the way they approached their game with Derby last time out.
"But we are full of confidence too and we will be giving it our all. It is going to be a battle and a really physical game but, as long as we get through, that is all that matters. This time, a last-minute winner would be nice."
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