Published: 06:00, 22 May 2021
It's a who's who of former Gillingham personnel when Hornchurch take on Hereford in the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
Hornchurch boss Mark Stimson had a rollercoaster time as manager of Gillingham and comes up against a player he once signed for the club - Josh Gowling. Former Gills defender Gowling, now 37, is the manager of Hereford and the teams fight for the Trophy this Saturday.
Liam Nash is one of the former Gills players on the books of Hornchurch. He believes the 'heart-breaking’ prospect of not playing football for months has been the key factor behind Hornchurch’s fairytale run to the FA Trophy final.
The striker struggled to make an impression with Gillingham but has bagged six goals in the Urchins’ run to Wembley and goes into the showpiece occasion against Hereford as the competition’s top scorer.
His tally has included a last-gasp winner in a 5-4 fifth-round triumph over Maidstone and a double in March’s semi-final against National League giants Notts County, who were beaten on penalties to set up Hornchurch’s date with destiny.
County are one of six higher-division sides Stimson’s men have disposed of on their run to date - including Maidstone United and Tonbridge Angels - despite not having played a league match since November, with the Pitching In Isthmian League initially suspended before being curtailed in February.
Far from using it as an excuse, however, Nash - who also had a spell at Dartford - believes the Urchins have used the lack of regular action as the driving force behind ensuring Trophy matches have continued to appear in the diary.
The prolific frontman, still on 25, said: “We have treated every game as a cup final – now we’re in one.
“Every game was scaring me as I was thinking ‘if we lose this, I won’t play football for a few months.’
“Football is my life – it always has been and it always will be. Every round has meant so much as we’ve known throughout that defeat would mean three or four months without football, which would be heart-breaking for most of us.
“Knowing each game could be our last has been a real motivator.”
Nash, like his team-mates, will be taking a step into the unknown when he walks out under the Arch having only previously visited Wembley to watch England.
The squad were given a taste of what to expect by former Three Lions skipper Stuart Pearce, who visited an Urchins training session in his role as a Pitching In ambassador in the build-up to the final – while boss Stimson has plenty of FA Trophy knowhow having won the competition four times across his playing and managerial career - a glittering record that led to him landing the Gillingham job.
Stimson's squad also includes former Gillingham and Maidstone midfielder Ollie Muldoon, the manager's son Charlie Stimson, who was also on the books at ME7, and striker Chris Dickson, who had a couple of loan spells at Gillingham and who was at Dartford before joining his old boss for the FA Trophy run.
Gowling first joined the Gills on loan from Carlisle under Stimson and later signed permanently, making 50 league starts for the club. The final kicks off at 4.15pm.
*Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. For more details see here