Players pinch themselves 
as their FA cup dream goes on

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IF FABRICE Muamba had moved his hand an inch to the right in Sunday’s televised draw then Hastings United may well have been off to White Hart Lane next month for a dream tie against Tottenham in the FA Cup.

Instead Sean Ray’s Cup heroes could be travelling north again to Middlesbrough if they can win through to the third round of the world famous competition.

First of all they must face Harrogate Town on Thursday in a second round replay at the Pilot Field.

But the game takes on much more significance than the average mid week, blood and thunder, non-league football tie.

An audience of millions could be watching live on sports TV channel ESPN.

It is impossible to imagine the magnitude of what this means to the dozen or so ordinary lads who play week-in, week-out for their local team.

“It’s still not sunk in yet,” said player-manager Sean Ray. “It’s the biggest game of their lives and we’re still pinching ourselves.

“Some of us go to college or university while the rest work full time to pay the bills.

“And there we are in the draw for the third round of the FA Cup.

“We were watching the draw live and we had a chance of pulling the big boys but I am happy with Middlesbrough.

“We just can’t believe what is happening to us.

“I am constantly doing interviews and talking about the FA Cup - it’s a bit of a distraction from the league to be honest.

“But we want a full house on Thursday because the fans do make an impact.

“And I can’t understand why a town this size doesn’t get more support each week. It makes such a difference to small clubs like ours.

Mr Ray added: “We really want to go to Middlesbrough and pit ourselves against multi-million pound players like Jonathan Woodgate and Martin Emnes. We will give it our best shot.”

The club has won £45,000 in prize money so far with ESPN revenue bringing in another £40,000 and gate revenue expected to be around £20,000.

Club chairman David Walters now believes the short term future of the club is safe.

Speaking to the Observer on Tuesday he said: “It secures the short-term future of the club for sure.

“But the ongoing maintenance gets more and more expensive.

“It would take an awful lot of money to do anything about that in a meaningful way, bearing in mind the fact that we nearly ran out of money at the end of last season.

“Nevertheless we are in a much stronger position than the vast majority of non-league clubs.

“We have certainly had messages of good luck and support from people like Amber Rudd, which is terrific.

“There is a lot of interest in the game, that’s without question.

“The fact that it’s live on TV will add to that interest.

“We are expecting a crowd of 2,000 plus but are starting to believe it could be as much as 4,000.

“On the draw there was an element of disappointment because it was a huge achievement to actually be in it.

“Having said that we are looking at a club near the top of the Championship, Middlesbrough.

Mr Walters added: “This is one of my proudest moments and I can’t give enough credit to the management team and the players because they ultimately achieved this.”