Mirror Football’s Aaron Flanagan got to witness Curzon Ashton’s dramatic exit from the FA Cup at close quarters in his position at the club’s Media Manager.
The club reached the Second Round of the competition for only the second time in their history this season and got themselves within ninety minutes of a potential Third Round tie against a Premier League giant.
Their dreams were dashed by AFC Wimbledon, as the Dons came back from 3-0 down to win a remarkable tie with virtually the last kick of the game.
Here, Aaron takes us through the motions of a dramatic and historic day for the Vanarama National League North club.
It’s 1:20pm and the second half is in full flow. Curzon Ashton are leading but under a barrage of pressure from AFC Wimbledon, who were slowly recovering from the shock of going 2-0 down in the opening 45 minutes.
In total, over 1,700 people are packed inside the Tameside Stadium. Some visiting for the first time, while others have followed Curzon’s journey right from 1963 to this, the FA Cup second round and the biggest day in the club’s history.
One of those men is Harry Twamley, the softly spoken founder of Curzon Ashton, who to this day remains as chairman.
It was all too much for Harry. He couldn’t watch a single minute of the match.
Underneath the hundreds of people crammed in the main stand, he had locked himself in the club office, where he was pacing back and forth, gathering his thoughts.
It was at the point of the game where the stewards and police were required to be informed of the attendance and I was asked to go and see Harry and find out the total.
I knocked on the door and he reluctantly turned the key to let me in. As our short discussion took place, there was another roar.
“Bloody hell, they’ve got one back,” Harry said.
I rushed outside. Blue scarves were waving, hands were on heads and randomers started hugging me.
I sprinted back to the office. Harry was looking away. I put my hands on his shoulders and said: “Adam Morgan hat-trick. We’re winning 3-0!”
“Oh my god,” he whispered, as his legs turned to jelly and had to cling onto his desk to keep himself upright.
“It’s not over yet,” he added. “Exeter got back into it too.”
Harry was referring to 2008 and the FA Cup first round, when Curzon went 3-0 up before Exeter worked their way back into the game by scoring twice, but failed to finish the job.
Harry was right. Wimbledon did get back into the game. Three heartbreaking goals in a manic 162 seconds, before a winner with one of the final touches of the game.
Curzon were out. A place alongside the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in the third round had slipped away in the most devastating of circumstances.
The next I saw of Harry was inside the changing room. I was invited in to watch the team talk. The room was in silence. There were tears and there was shock. The players were inconsolable.
My dad, the manager of Curzon, was halfway through his pep talk trying to lift spirits when Harry walked in unassumingly.
Harry had a few words to say but kept his talk brief. In fact, it was so brief, that all I could remember was him saying “you’ve done us all proud, thank you.”
He then proceeded to walk around every single member of the team, shaking their hands and thanking them all individually.
Yes, there were tears and yes, it was the most heartbreaking experience any of us have ever had in football. But the FA Cup run – something that most people in non-league can only dream of – had changed the face of the club. It might have been the toughest of defeats, but we were the real winners.
Prize money and TV paydays ensured that the future of the club was secure and FA-ordered renovations to our facilities could be completed.
The manner of the defeat means that as a club, the nation will have a little soft spot for us. We have had nationwide recognition that will only go a long way to helping improve the status of our little football team, that began as a church team on Curzon Road for a 13-year-old Harry and his mates.
Most of the day remains a little bit of a blur, but those interactions with Harry will stick with me for the rest of my life. The man is nothing short of a legend and, in my humble opinion, deserves a knighthood. He is the life and soul of Curzon Ashton Football Club and he is the reason that we have memories to savour like we do from the weekend.
I’ve had a bit of time to compose myself now and knowing that we would have only had Sutton United in round three went some way to beginning the healing process. It took me a good 50 minutes to check my phone and muster up the courage to find out who ball no.45 had been drawn against.
If anything, the whole experience just proves once again that the FA Cup is the greatest cup competition in the world. In no other competition do you feel the emotions that myself, Harry and the hundreds of other Curzon Ashton fans felt.
It hurt. It hurt like nothing I have ever felt in football before, so who knows what Harry must have been feeling.
But we do it again? Damn right we would… even if Harry wouldn’t be able to watch it!