Curzon Ashton’s FA Cup Second Round tie against AFC Wimbledon has a unique feel about it according to Nash boss John Flanagan.
There are many FA Cup ties scheduled for this weekend where Football League clubs take a trip into the unknown to face a non-league club, but AFC Wimbledon know exactly what to expect when they travel to the Tameside Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It was May 2002 when the Dons were formed a group of disgruntled Wimbledon supporters, disillusioned by the decision to move the club almost eighty miles north to Milton Keynes.
The new club, AFC Wimbledon, began life in the Combined Counties League, step five of the non-league pyramid.
Success quickly followed and the bandwagon was rolling.
Fourteen years and six promotions later the Dons find themselves in SkyBet League One, their latest promotion was sealed with a 2-0 League Two play-off final win over Plymouth Argyle in May this year.
They notched up a notable achievement in October, as they passed MK Dons in the league standings for the first time in their history and currently sit eight points and twelve places ahead of them in English football’s third tier.
Their journey has brought many admirers from outside the club, including the man whose side they will face on Sunday afternoon.
Flanagan said “It’s a special game because they understand what we are about, they know what it takes to run a club at our level.
“You won’t get that in many other ties in the competition.
“They were FA Cup winners, they beat the very best and then when the decision was taken to relocate the club the supporters said no.
“They set up their own club, they started from the bottom and they have worked their way up.
“They are now in League One but they know where they have come from, so that adds to the unique feeling of the tie, it’s a very special tie”
Flanagan’s admiration for the Dons is obvious, but the former Mossley manager is far from in awe of Sunday’s opposition.
He is honest in his assessment of his side’s chances in the biggest game in their history, stating that he is “comfortable” with what they will face.
But he also accepts that anything can happen in the FA Cup.
“We have had them watched, I went to watch them myself and it was the best thing I could have done.
“I didn’t come away scared, I know we are in for a tough game but I wasn’t scared of what I saw.
“We will be organised but I came away from the game feeling comfortable with what I saw.
“We know we have to be at our best, we know we have to have luck at both ends of the pitch, we know they have to have an off-day.
“That said they could come out all guns blazing and we could take a hammering.
“But in the FA Cup anything can happen”
The journey that AFC Wimbledon have been on since they were founded has made national headlines.
However Curzon Ashton have been on a very special journey of their own in recent years.
Now in his fifth season with the club, Flanagan has led them to successive promotion, with the Vanarama National League club now plying their trade at the highest level in their fifty three year history.
Their first season in the National League North saw them finish in mid-table, ahead of former National League clubs Telford United and Stalybridge Celtic and the club they were promoted alongside; FC United of Manchester.
Their cup tie with the Dons was sealed with a First Round replay win over Midland Football League club Westfields and marks a “high point” according to Flanagan, providing him with an occasion he has craved for a long time.
“This is the high point, it’s something I have always wanted to experience” he admitted.
“The two promotions were special and a great achievement but this game is something I have wanted for a long time.
“We have played Premier League and Football League clubs in pre-season, but this is our first time in a competitive match.
“What pleases me is that we have progressed with a group of players that have stuck together. We have added new faces here and there but it is largely the same group of players.
“It is another step for the club and one that is very special for everyone involved”
That special atmosphere has enveloped their Tameside Stadium home.
BT Sport will be broadcasting the game live, with TV gantries popping up around the stadium. As this interview was taking place another company delivered pitch covers to the stadium, should they be required.
An unlikely event according to Flanagan.
Preparations have been a family affair, with Flanagan’s son Aaron – a writer for the Daily Mirror – helping out.
The buzz is clear, with Flanagan Senior admitting that he can’t wait for the big day to arrive.
“You can sense it, the excitement around the place.
“I have been at the stadium working, we have volunteers doing the same. My son Aaron has been selling tickets and helping out here and there, which has been great.
“I said to him the other day when you see the TV gantries going up around the place, the company dropping off pitch covers, it just adds to it and you can feel the buzz, the excitement and expectation.
“Come Sunday that will be even higher and I can’t wait for it”
The Nash are in the Second Round for only the second time in their history.
The last time, in the 2008/09 season, a 2-0 away defeat at Kidderminster Harriers robbed them of a Third Round trip to former FA Cup winners Coventry City.
Now, just ninety minutes away from a potential glamour tie against a Premier League giant, Flanagan won’t stop his players dreaming of Third Round day, because he wants that experience too.
He said “I can’t control how the players think, I can’t stop them thinking about the Third Round because that is what we have ahead of us.
“They go out on to the pitch on Sunday thinking they are just ninety minutes away from what could be a massive tie.
“It is close and there is no reason to stop them thinking about it, I am.
“You look at what other non-league clubs have done. I remember Havant and Waterlooville going to Liverpool a few years ago, that is the stuff of dreams.
“They did well there, very well in fact and we would love to have that sort of experience too”
Flanagan will hope there is another “unique” experience for his Curzon Ashton players when Third Round weekend comes in January.