It’s been sixty two years in the making but finally Hellenic League club Longlevens AFC will make their FA Cup debut this weekend.
A tenth place finish in last season’s Hellenic League was enough to secure their first venture in the FA Cup for the Gloucestershire club.
Cherry Red Records Combined Countied Football League club Bedfont and Feltham will be the visitors to the Levens’ Saw Mills End home, with the winners of the tie rewarded with a trip to Farnborough.
The tie marks a notable landmark for the club and for manager James French.
He is heading into his tenth season with the club, after initally joining in a player-manager capacity, but now with his focus solely on guiding the club from the technical area, he is probably the best placed person to comment on the progression of the club over the last decade.
And ahead of their historical appearance in the FA Cup, French explained just how far the club have come in his time in charge of the Levens.
He said “From a club point of view it is absolutely massive.
“Until two or three years ago playing in the FA Cup wasn’t even a possibility because we were still playing in step nine in the Gloucestershire Senior League.
“We were playing at a council playing field at one point but we wanted to move the club forward, we were going nowhere and we couldn’t develop the ground at all.
“We had a chance to move to Saw Mills and it gave us the opportunity to put up barriers and floodlights, it helped us progress.
“It has been a successful period with back-to-back promotions and we played in the FA Vase for the first time.
“The FA Cup is the next step and we are hoping we can kick off another success story for Longlevens AFC because it has been a long time coming”
The progress of the club, including those promotions and their maiden FA Vase tie, means that the Levens go into their FA Cup tie with Bedfont and Feltham with momentum behind them.
A solid tenth placed finish in their first season in the Hellenic League’s top tier marked a notable step forward in the club’s history.
Now French hopes that momentum can continue into this season, as he looks progress in, what he described as, “a wonderful competition”.
“We have a lot of momentum going into the tie with the successes of the past few seasons and we hope we can continue that.
“Any money we get goes into the facilities but we have a good group of players.
“They are playing for us because they want to play together, they enjoy the team spirit and we want to keep the momentum going.
“We had a good first year in the Hellenic Premier last season, finishing mid-table but we flirted with the top five for a while.
“We are hoping that with a year behind us, having played some great teams including the likes of Hartley Whitney, and after a good pre-season, we are in good stead going into the tie and we hope we can get a win in a wonderful competition”
Their opponents Bedfont and Feltham kicked off their 2016/17 Combined Counties Football League Premier Division campaign with a 2-9 home defeat against Epsom and Ewell last weekend, their first fixture in the league after securing promotion from the First Division last season.
French (pictured below left) admitted that he knows little of their opponents but doesn’t believe that is a negative, as he urged his players to make the most of home advantage in the tie.
He said “We know nothing about them but I don’t think that is a bad thing.
“Sometimes you can give your players too much to think about.
“We just want the lads to focus on us, focus on doing the right things and we know we have a good home record with this group of players.
“We hope we have a good support behind us and we know that Bedfont and Feltham had a good season last year and they will be confident but we hope home advantage will give us an extra edge”
On such a historic occasion for the club it should be expected that the Levens will receive a healthy amount of support.
They saw off the challenge of fellow first-time FA Cup entrants Ashby Ivanhoe, Chester FC and Coventry United to become the subject of Non-League Daily’s ‘TeamSnap Search For a Giantkiller’.
French revealed that as well as the media coverage drumming up support for the club, the Levens first team will be backed by officials and players from all levels within the club on Saturday.
“The Non-League Daily coverage is helping obviously with the publicity from this and the players and those behind the scenes have used social media to help us win the poll.
“We are trying to work with our youth teams to have some games and competitions before the match because this is a massive occasion for the club as a whole.
“We want as many players from under the Longlevens banner supporting the club on our big day.
“We run five adult teams and the third, fourth and fifth team haven’t arranged friendly games for the weekend because they want to support the first team.
“Our second team requested an early kick off and they start at midday so they can come over to our first team pitch and support us in the game. It’s a real club effort and I am proud of that”
Pride seems to be a recurring them as French discusses his club and their involvement in the competition.
I threw one final question his way and asked him to explain just why the FA Cup is so
And he couldn’t have been any more emphatic in his answer.
“The competition is world-renowned, it’s absolutely massive for any club involved.
“I grew up as a massive Everton fan and we had great success in the eighties, although not so much recently apart from in 1995.
“It is a chance for everyone, for the underdogs, for any non-league club to get recognition, to get publicity and to get a little bit of money, which is vital for every non-league club.
“It’s special seeing non-league clubs get the publicity when they reach the proper rounds, it’s the dream that one day you will get there as a club.
“We are at the start of that journey in more ways than one”
That journey will be one that James French and everybody at Longlevens AFC will hope can take another step on their big day on Saturday.