FA Cup: Chichester City embracing club-record run to second round

Chichester City players and staff celebrate beating Bowes & Pitsea in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup
Non-league Chichester City began their FA Cup campaign in August, and have reached the second round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history
FA Cup second round: Tranmere Rovers v Chichester City
Venue: Prenton Park Date: Sunday, 1 December Kick-off: 15:00 GMT: Coverage: Updates on BBC local radio and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Chichester City have produced one of the most talked-about moments of this season's FA Cup without even stepping foot on a pitch.

The lamentable and protracted demise of Bury meant that one club involved in the draw for the first round would receive a bye.

City's players watched the draw from West Sussex via television as the balls were plucked from the bowl by Karen Carney and Jermaine Beckford.

After a long wait, theirs was eventually the last ball out, meaning the lowest-ranked club left in the competition would be going through to the second round for the first time in their history without playing.

Their celebrations that night have since been viewed more than 1.2 million times on Twitter.

For manager Miles Rutherford, it was the "best moment in football" the 52-year-old has experienced.

"It was a surreal feeling and one we didn't expect," captain Connor Cody told BBC Sport. "I don't think anyone in the room thought it was going to happen. It was phenomenal."

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FA Cup: Chichester City set to embark on second round challenge

Yet that footage and reaction meant the Isthmian League South East Division side's achievements in the FA Cup thus far have been somewhat overlooked as they prepare to face League One Tranmere Rovers on Sunday.

A start in the extra preliminary round

Chichester City are enjoying their first campaign in the eighth tier of English football, having won the Southern Combination Football League title last season.

Centre-back Cody was "sulking a bit in the summer" thinking their success could not be repeated. How wrong the 25-year-old personal trainer proved to be.

City began their FA Cup campaign back on 10 August in the extra preliminary round - a stage they had failed to get past in the previous three seasons - and played seven games as they progressed through six rounds to reach the first round proper.

Cody missed the first qualifying round tie at home to Chalfont St Peter while he was away on holiday in Turkey, but sat on his phone "refreshing Twitter hoping for the result".

Chichester are the first team in 70 years to make it from the extra preliminary round all the way to the second round proper - and the club have won more FA Cup ties in 2019-20 than they did in the previous 26 seasons combined.

They have pulled off a few giant-killings, too, knocking out three clubs from the tier above, and victory at Bowers & Pitsea in the fourth qualifying round took the Lilywhites into the first round for just the second time in their history.

"Everyone has forgotten how hard the club worked to get to the first round," said coach Darin Kilpatrick. "For us as a club to do what we have done is outrageous."

The financial impact

The second-round draw presented Chichester with a trip to a League One club, with Tranmere eventually becoming the destination after Rovers overcame Wycombe in a replay.

The match has been chosen for television coverage, giving City a £75,000 broadcast fee and taking their earnings from their run to just over £157,000.

After receiving the bye, club chairman Andy Bell has said the club will make a donation to Bury once the future of their would-be opponents has been decided.

The money has given Chichester, who were close to bankruptcy last season, the hope they can become self-sustainable in step four of the non-league pyramid.

The local council are set to install an artificial 3G surface at their Oaklands Park home in 2021, which will allow the club to use the pitch for all their youth sides and become a community hub.

"None of us are oil-rich chairmen and no-one throws money at this club," said Bell. "It will only survive if the men's first team are doing well."

For Rutherford, it is about the prospect of stability.

"This season is probably going to cost us £30,000 and at the beginning of the season we had £20,000.

"We knew we were going to be in trouble just after Christmas if we didn't find some more money. The FA Cup has probably secured three years in the league we are in."

Chichester City captain Connor Cody in action against Bowers & Pitsea
Chichester City captain Connor Cody will be looking to keep Tranmere Rovers' strikers quiet on Sunday

A trip of a lifetime

There are five divisions between Tranmere and Chichester - the equivalent of Premier League and FA Cup champions Manchester City facing a club in National League North or South.

"Chichester City are a proper non-league side with minimal resources," said Rutherford.

"Not one of the players is on a contract, which shows the level we are at. Most clubs around this area are probably a little bit envious."

Chichester will train at St George's Park - usually home to the England team - on Saturday before staying in the north-west before the game.

The players and staff will also have a night out on the town after playing Tranmere, with the pubs and bars of Liverpool likely to be visited before the squad travel back south on Monday.

The media attention has been something to contend with, too.

"It is nice because more than likely come Monday, there probably won't be a camera around," said Cody.

"We need to use it to get the whole city involved and get as much exposure for the club as we can."

On the club's only appearance in the first round, in 1960-61, Chichester lost 11-0 to Bristol City as England striker John Atyeo netted five goals.

"There is a bit of trepidation about it," said chairman Bell. "It could be our heaviest-ever defeat."

What are their chances?

Tranmere will provide a massive step up from Chichester's previous opponents in the competition, while Prenton Park will provide a febrile atmosphere compared to what City's players have previously experienced.

The club's highest home crowd this season was for the third qualifying round win over Enfield Town, when around 550 were present to see a 1-0 victory.

"It is somehow about trying to take the emotion and magnitude out of the game," said assistant manager Graeme Gee.

"The players need to relax as much as they can."

Chichester City manager Miles Rutherford and coach Danny Potter ahead of a game at Bowers & Pitsea
Chichester City manager Miles Rutherford (left) joined the club in October 2015

Rutherford, a self-employed industrial roofer when he is not in the dugout, said City are "in the real world" about their chances.

"All the players would have to have the game of their lives and Tranmere would have to have a bad day," he said.

"We are talking about proper part-time footballers. We need lots of luck, but we can't go there without some belief."

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