FA Cup: Alfreton Town hope to reach second round for first time in 11 years

Alfreton Town are determined to keep making home advantage count as they look to reach the second round of the FA Cup for the first time in a decade.

The Reds face National League South team Worthing on Saturday in a third successive home tie in the cup.

Manager Billy Heath reached round two with his former club FC Halifax in the 2016-17 season and is a firm believer in the "romance" of the competition.

"Home advantage is big. It's huge in any competition," he told BBC Derby.

"If you're at home it gives you a chance against whatever opposition you play, especially in the FA Cup. We'll take it, embrace it, and hopefully use it to our advantage.

"It's become a running topic within the club that the last few rounds of the FA Cup in the last few seasons have been all away. So it was quite a surprise when we got drawn out of the hat, and this is the third home tie we've had in it so long may it continue if we get through."

It has been a while since Alfreton last tasted FA Cup first-round action, losing 4-1 to Fleetwood in November 2018.

Despite the Reds manager having recent experience in the second round proper, the wait for a return to that stage has been even longer for Alfreton.

The club will be looking to reach the second round for only the third time in their history, with their last second-round fixture ending in a 4-2 loss to Leyton Orient in 2012.

Heath said: "We've had a couple of years where we've not really progressed as we've wanted to, not getting through many rounds.

"It will be the first time we've ever been in the second round if we can get through, so it's huge for the football club.

"It gives you another chance to play in the competition. It will be another chance to dream even further."

The story so far

  • Second qualifying round- Cleethorpes United 2-4 Alfreton Town

  • Third qualifying round- Alfreton Town 1-0 Emley

  • Fourth qualifying round- Alfreton Town 3-1 Macclesfield

'The FA Cup still has the romances'

Alfreton Town hosted Newport County in the FA Cup first round in 2016, but lost in a replay
Alfreton Town hosted Newport County in the FA Cup first round in 2016, but lost in a replay

When the competition begins in early August with the extra preliminary round, most teams see the third-round proper as a pipe dream.

However, eighth-tier Marine were rewarded with a home tie against Jose Mourinho's Tottenham in the lockdown 2020-21 season, giving a decent account despite losing 5-0.

Reds manager Heath is certainly not writing off his team's chances of making a little history this season.

"It's always a big occasion when you get to the first-round proper when you're non-league," he said.

"The FA Cup still has the romances. It doesn't matter who you are and where you are in that journey, but everyone talks about the third round.

"You see it, one non-league club usually does it and that's what the romance is really - can you get to the third round and get a real big fish?

"It's a chance to move away sometimes from the league and it's different, different teams, and it always brings that bit of spice when you play teams you don't usually come up against."

The life of a Billy Heath is a world away from the likes of Pep Guardiola in the Premier League.

"I'm a foster carer, so we've been fostering, myself and my wife, for 14 years," Heath said.

"We've got three kiddies under two at the minute, plus kiddies of our own, so it's always a busy time in our house. So, I've got slightly more important things to look at than an FA Cup game up until Friday.

"I've been doing football a lot longer than doing that, but we're a part-time team so we've all got other things to do as well."

The Alfreton squad includes a teacher, personal trainer, barber and trade workers as they juggle their day-to-day lives with playing football.

Reds goalkeeper George Willis, however, divides his time with a role as Sheffield United's under-21 team goalkeeping coach.

Willis came through the ranks at Bramall Lane before dropping into the lower leagues with Gainsborough Trinity and Boston United, and he was unsure whether this will be his first appearance in the FA Cup first round.

"I've been about at clubs that have [been in the first round] when I was younger, but I don't actually know if I've played in the first round, it's a good question," he said.

"The FA Cup is the pinnacle for non-league clubs like ourselves, it's a pinnacle of everyone's season to get as far as you can possibly get."

During his younger days, Willis was involved with the England youth team set-up and became particularly familiar with England goalkeepers Jordan Pickford, who had a loan spell at Alfreton in 2013, and Aaron Ramsdale, who followed Willis through the ranks at Sheffield United.

"Jordan was the year above me, I was sort of on the bench for Jordan," he said.

"Rammers was a bit younger than me, and came through Sheffield United a few years below me. So I've not really been in the England squads with him."

Willis' career may not have reached the heights of Pickford and Ramsdale, but whatever your level in football there is still magic to be found - and in the FA Cup, in particular.

He added: "As players, we want to see how far we can get and really challenge ourselves. The magic is definitely still here at Alfreton."