WHEN Hastings United’s heroes step out onto the turf of Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on January 5 they will face a side that earns more collectively in one week than their club’s annual budget.
Most of Sean Ray’s troops hold down full time jobs during the week as plumbers, salesmen or lifeguards while others are full-time students.
But Sean is unfazed by Boro’s star-studded squad of multi-million pound players like Jonathan Woodgate who once cost Real Madrid £13m.
Chief reporter Sol Buckner took a closer look at United’s squad and discovered the magic of the FA Cup is alive and well in Hastings.
NOT many football teams can boast the son of a former Premier League club owner and the son of a world famous tennis umpire among their ranks.
But in Bradley Goldberg and Matt Armstrong-Ford, Hastings United have two players who can turn heads not just
for their good looks and long flowing locks.
Bradley is the son of Mark Goldberg the former owner of Crystal Palace FC and current manager of Bromley FC.
Matt is the son of Gerry Armstrong, a former All England Lawn & Tennis umpire who once threw John McEnroe out of the Australian Open for verbal abusing his match officials.
And the giant 22-year-old goalkeeper has been carving out a bit of reputation off the pitch.
“Matt worked as a naked butler,” said player-manager Sean Ray, nickname Razor. “He was working on stag and hen parties and earning a bit of extra money. He was getting ribbed a bit by the lads - I just hope it puts the Boro players off when he’s in goal next month.”
The pair are now part of a band of brothers who have cemented their place in folklore at the Pilot Field having won through to the third round of the FA Cup.
The players earn between £100 and £300 a week depending on experience and age.
But this is no ordinary squad.
Off the pitch United possess one of the most colourful and intriguing group of players ever assembled by a non-league club.
Along with the usual, everyday jobs, the team includes a fairground worker and a hair product salesman.
Scott Manning works in the fairground industry helping his father at a popular family amusement park in Eastbourne.
Local lad Lee Carey works as a full time salesman for a hair product company working across the south east.
And the story of Josh Jirbandey is the stuff dreams are made of.
The 24-year-old should have been in America studying for a four year soccer scholarship.
But he failed to submit his application in time for September and was stuck in Hastings waiting for the next draft.
On January 10 he will fly out to the States to start his course.
“We’re like a band of brothers now,” said Sean. ”The FA cup run is the stuff of legends and all my players are heroes.
“It’s what we all dream about when we become footballers. It’s not about money - it’s personal ambition.
“Some of them could have gone elsewhere in the league and earned a lot more money.
“We are only the second non-league club to get this far in the competition ever. That is history.
“The boys are part of history.
“We’re not going to Boro for a day out - we’ll give them a game. It’s 11 versus 11.
“It is a David and Goliath situation but we want to play against the best.
“We are a colourful bunch of guys and we all have to pay the bills.
“Some lads do a 50 hour week in their jobs and pull their boots on for £100 a week here.
“There has been talk about the FA Cup losing its magic. But when you look at last Thursday night, we could have twice sold out our ground.
“Just look at the story of Josh and the memories we will all have. The magic is here and we know the club, fans and the town are loving every minute of it.”
The Hastings United Squad
KEY: Name, age, hometown, job, playing position
Matt Armstrong Ford, 23, Eastbourne, part-time tennis line judge, goalkeeper
Danny Ellis, 26, Hastings, plumber, midfield
Bradley Goldberg, 18, Bromley, no full time job, attack
Josh Jirbandey, 21, Hastings, no full time job, defence
Tom Vickers, 18, from Hastings, no full time job, released from Brighton earlier this year, midfield
Elliot Cox, 20, London, full time lifeguard, defence
Zac Attwood, 24, Hastings, football coach (level two), striker
Scott Manning, 20, Eastbourne, works in his father’s fairground business at Fort Fun, defence
Jamie Crellin, 21, sports science student in Brighton, midfield
Matt Whitehead, 20, from Worthing, sports science student in Brighton, defence
Sean Ray 31, Hastings part time player-manager, full time football coach running his own business, defence
Dee Okojie, 24, north London, full time football coach, attack
Jack Dixon, 22, Eastbourne, works in a gym in Eastbourne, midfield
Jono Richardson, 24, Maidstone, school teacher, defence
Lee Carey, 25, Bexhill, hair product salesman, midfield
Bailo Camara, 27, works in a store in Eastbourne, attack
Joe Winchester, 18, Hastings, student, goalkeeper
Charlie Bachellier, 17, Hastings, student, midfield