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Look back at Kent's classic FA Cup ties as Gillingham take on Cardiff City

By Chris Britcher

This weekend used to be one of the most eagerly anticipated in the football calendar.

And while some of the magic of the FA Cup has been shed over the years, the third round with the potential of pitting minnow against giant still retains a special place for many.

League One Gillingham entertain Premier League Cardiff City on Saturday - the only Kent team left in the contest - but the desire to progress in the world's most famous club competition will not be diminished.

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(6129998)

Not least for the financial rewards smaller clubs can benefit from.

We take a look back at some of the classic FA Cup games involving our local teams over the years - not all from the third round - as a reminder to just how this competition can still leave memories which last forever.

Ashford Town v Fulham

November 12, 1994 (First Round)

Dave Arter and Nicky Dent celebrate in the mud after Ashford Town's FA Cup home draw with Fulham
Dave Arter and Nicky Dent celebrate in the mud after Ashford Town's FA Cup home draw with Fulham

There were fears this game would be postponed after torrential rain made the Homelands pitch something of a mud bath, but the horrendous conditions only added to the 90 minutes of drama which were to follow.

With Sky TV cameras in attendance - the deciding factor in the game going ahead - Southern League Ashford were the underdogs against a Fulham team then in the bottom league of the professional game.

Yet with 10 minutes remaining the home side led 2-0 - courtesy of goalscoring machines Dave Arter and Nicky Dent.

The fairytale was not to come true, however. As players slipped around the pitch, Ashford conceded two late penalties to end the game 2-2.

Ten days later, they met again at Craven Cottage for the replay. Ashford were 2-0 down within 20 minutes, but, incredibly, came back to level the game 3-3 in the final minutes courtesy of two goals from the inspirational Mark Stanton. Town finally went down 3-5 in extra time.

Arsenal v Gillingham

February 16, 2002 (Fifth Round)

Thierry Henry came off the subs bench to help Arsenal defeat Gillingham in a classic cup clash
Thierry Henry came off the subs bench to help Arsenal defeat Gillingham in a classic cup clash

The Gills enjoyed some high profile cup runs during their golden era around the turn of the century.

In the season they won promotion to what is now the Championship, the 1999-2000 campaign, they reached the sixth round before a 5-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. The following year they pulled the Premiership side again and lost 2-4 at Priestfield.

But the following year they gave one of the big guns a real scare. Drawn against Arsenal in the fifth round, they travelled to Highbury to face the likes of Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Lee Dixon.

Twice behind, they pulled themselves level before an unnerved Arsene Wenger deployed Thierry Henry and Robert Pires to steer his side to a 5-2 victory.

Arsenal would go on to win the tournament and the Premier League during the season - completing the fabled domestic double.

Aston Villa v Gravesend & Northfleet

January 6, 1996 (Third Round)

Back in the days when Ebbsfleet United were still known as Gravesend & Northfleet and Aston Villa were Premiership big boys, more than 4,500 fans made the journey from Kent to Birmingham dreaming of a giant-killing.

The game had been drawn to be played at Stonebridge Road. But with the lure of a bumper pay day, Fleet bosses agreed to switch it to the splendour of Villa Park and cash in to the tune of some £100,000.

Despite the Fleet's best efforts, the result was a disappointing 3-0 defeat - with the first coming after just two minutes. Such were the efforts of the non-league side, they were cheered off the pitch by the home fans.

Tonbridge v Norwich City

November 22, 1952 (First Round)

For the third year in a row, Tonbridge found themselves in the first round of the FA Cup. Having pulled in more than 8,200 fans to the old Angel Ground for the previous year's match against Aldershot, there had been hopes of attracting more than 10,000 for the visit of Division 3 (South) side Norwich City. This back in the era when huge crowds would flock to non-league matches.

But miserable weather put many off and in the end 'only' 5,600 were there to watch a game which ended up 2-2. The replay took place a few days later where a controversial goal - which many thought was offside - denied the Angels a route to the second round.

Since then, there has been precious little to delight fans when it comes to the cup. A first round appearance in 1972 saw them tonked 5-0 by Charlton Athletic.

Gillingham v Charlton, 2004

Gillingham knock-out Premiership Charlton in a 3-2 FA Cup victory in 2004
Gillingham knock-out Premiership Charlton in a 3-2 FA Cup victory in 2004

For many years, Gills chairman Paul Scally felt Premier League Charlton's marketing of their club to the good folk of Kent was a little too much - and at the expense of his team. So you can imagine his delight when the two were drawn together in the third round. A pulsating match saw Scally have the last laugh as the Gills emerged victorious, 3-2.

Maidstone v Charlton Athletic

January 9, 1979 (Third Round)

A clash against south-east London side Charlton is always one to be relished, and back in their original incarnation, Maidstone enjoyed many a glorious moment.

And one particular one was a fiery cup clash in 1979. Not only did the Stones manage a draw in front of nearly 13,500 fans at the Valley, but the match would live long in the memory after two Addicks players started swinging punches at one another. Both Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan, who had just scored the equaliser, in the match which ended 1-1, were sent off as a result.

The replay at the old Athletic Ground didn't pass off without incident either. Having just grabbed a goal to put themselves back in the game at 2-1, the crowd of more than 10,500 were then plunged into darkness as the floodlights failed - halting proceedings for almost 20 minutes. It wasn't enough to save the Stones, though, and they were knocked out.

Margate v Fulham

November 16, 1997 (First Round)

For many years Fulham found themselves rather down at heel. But when Harrods boss Mohamed Al-Fayed took over in 1997, he ushered in a dream ticket managerial team of Kevin Keegan as chief operating officer and the late, great Ray Wilkins as first team coach. With media interest piqued, they were drawn away at Margate in the first round of the cup. A classic banana skin if ever there was one.

And when they went a goal down after six minutes, the Hartsdown Park faithful were on the road to their dreams. It wouldn't last. With less than 15 minutes to go, Fulham completed the comeback and sealed a 2-1 win in front of the live TV cameras.

Gillingham v Dover

November 6, 2010 (First Round)

And this was for just reaching the second round...Dover celebrate in style after a 2-0 win over Gillingham at Priestfield
And this was for just reaching the second round...Dover celebrate in style after a 2-0 win over Gillingham at Priestfield

Sometimes the footballing gods create a tie so destined to go one way the result comes as little surprise.

Gills legend Andy Hessenthaler had led Dover to two consecutive promotions before controversially leaving the club in the summer of 2010 to once again take over the reins at Priestfield. It was a move which left plenty of bad blood - especially as he took much of his backroom team with him.

Fate decided they would face each other at Priestfield in the first round.

An abject display from the Gills saw Dover march to a confident 2-0 win and secure the giant-killing headlines.

Whitstable v Margate 2006

Big crowds flocked for a qualifying round clash between Whitstable Town and Margate in 2006
Big crowds flocked for a qualifying round clash between Whitstable Town and Margate in 2006

While many think the cup begins with the first round, for most non-league sides there are six ties to navigate first. In 2006 more than 1,100 fans crammed into Whitstable Town's Belmont Ground to watch the Kent League side face neighbours Margate in a second qualifying round clash. In an entertaining game, the Gate secured a 2-1 win.

Hythe Town v Staines Town, 2010

Hythe became the first Kent League team in more than 50 years to reach the first round proper with an excellent 2-0 home win against Conference South side Staines Town at Reachfields. The run didn't last long though. Drawn as the lowest ranked team in the contest away to Football League side Hereford United, they lost 5-1 in the first round.

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