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FA Cup first round: Stratford Town takes a 5-1 beating at the hands of Shrewsbury

Wrapped in a coat of synthetic chain mail and leather, with a plastic crown on his head, Henry V prepared his battle cry.

The FA Cup, English football’s own Hundred Years War, had reached a new battlefield and thus, surrounded by television trucks and portable toilets, the stadium announcer raised the microphone to his lips.

“I see you standing like greyhounds on slips,” he barked at Bardy’s army below. ‘The game is on. Follow their spirit and on this charge. He yells “God, for Harry, England and Saint George!”

Stratford Town Stadium Host Kevin Hand donned a faux leather chainmail and plastic crown

Stratford Town Stadium Host Kevin Hand donned a faux leather chainmail and plastic crown

The Stratford Town players stepped into the gap, inspired, determined to answer the call of duty. Before long, orange smoke rose from the field and another scream went up. ‘No flares, please!’ begged the same announcer. By then the seventh division team, facing League One Shrewsbury on this maiden voyage to the FA Cup first round, was ahead. And dreaming.

The Paul Davis side is used to being the second violin of this city’s most famous son. William Shakespeare even lives through his nickname, the Bards. This provided an opportunity to briefly remove him from center stage. To write your own story on how to tame shrews, maybe.

Watching his club’s highlight from the other side of the lens was 64-year-old Steve Wood, who has been involved with Stratford Town for nearly six decades. “My dad used to play goal,” he said. He also handled one of the sides. Then he became president. He was treasurer and secretary before that.

The seventh division team went ahead of Shrewsbury Town just five minutes into the game.

The seventh division team went ahead of Shrewsbury Town just five minutes into the game.

The seventh division team went ahead of Shrewsbury Town just five minutes into the game.

Wood’s own CV is similarly packaged. A former physical therapist, he now works as a full-time club photographer and handyman.

This has been an especially busy week. Dozens of new billboards were to be installed. Makeshift fan areas, scaffolding and segregation had to be erected. All in preparation for this, the most important game in the history of Stratford Town. Typically no more than 450 fans enter the Arden Garages Stadium, located amid the fields of nearby Tiddington.

For last month’s win over Boston United, which ended an 80-year wait for a spot in the first round proper, they set a new attendance record of 1,253. This was a total sale of 2,800. It’s no wonder Wood has been keeping busy.

Against Boston, this ground was drunk dry at halftime, even with the help of a local pub. They weren’t going to be surprised twice. Never mind that the computer system “crashed” when the tickets flew off the shelves in a couple of hours.

The club's first foray into the FA Cup first round in 80 years was a total of 2,800 innings.

The club's first foray into the FA Cup first round in 80 years was a total of 2,800 innings.

The club’s first foray into the FA Cup first round in 80 years was a total of 2,800 innings.

Wood and Co turned this into a suitable terrain for television cameras and as I started I was prepared for more photos of the Stratford celebrations. “Those are the ones that stick in my memory,” he said. And it was a lot in five minutes, when a well-crafted free kick saw Stratford captain Will Grocott shoot under Harry Burgoyne’s body.

Steve Cotterill’s Shrewsbury, who was already fighting in League One, lost two players to positive pre-game coronavirus tests. Soon they were behind an army of plasterers, students, and an electrician from the Southern Premier League Central Division.

However, in no time, the four levels and the 82 places that separate these sides began to be noticed. Shrewsbury snatched control of the game and tied through Ryan Bowman midway through.

He then put Shrewsbury ahead shortly after the break and within eight minutes they had killed the tie. Luke Leahy’s rocket from a distance stretched his lead before Elliott Bennett scored a free throw.

Suddenly Stratford’s heads bowed, the skies darkened, and the curtain fell rapidly. One final twist of the knife came in injury time, courtesy of Tom Bloxham.

The four levels and the 82 places that separate these sides began to be noticed when Shrewsbury took control.

The four levels and the 82 places that separate these sides began to be noticed when Shrewsbury took control.

The four levels and the 82 places that separate these sides began to be noticed when Shrewsbury took control.

Davis was “very proud” of his team, the lowest ranked remaining in the competition. But a ‘real sour taste’ lingered after defender Joe Magunda was removed from his starting lineup two minutes before kickoff. Davis insisted that Magunda had served his three-game suspension and the FA’s approval said so.

Davis said: ‘At two minutes to three, they shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions like that. The boy is 32 years old, he has never played at this stage of the competition. So do the right thing. ‘

Much ado About Nothing? Not for Magunda or Stratford.

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