Sheppey United are dreaming big after their FA Cup exploits in Wales.
Their reward for beating Merthyr Town last Saturday is an away trip to Isthmian Premier side Billericay Town in the fourth and final qualifying round of the competition. Win that and they’re in the First Round proper, alongside clubs from the bottom two divisions of the Football League.
It’s an historic FA Cup run for the club - they’ve never been this far before in more than 100 years - allowing them to dream of what could be around the corner.
Manager Ernie Batten said: “The First Round is where we want to get to, it’s everyone’s dream, you are entering dreamland now.
“We have an opportunity by winning the next round the potential to play League 1 and League 2 clubs, teams like Derby County. Could you imagine them at home!? Bolton Wanderers, Charlton, Gillingham, there are a number of teams which would be unbelievable, that’s the dream.”
The next round at Billericay is set to take place on Saturday, October 14. They avoided the National League clubs and, like Merthyr Town before, are facing a side one level above them in the football pyramid.
“Anybody we play at this stage is going to be a massive challenge,” said Batten. “We just wanted to play someone where we had a chance to progress.”
Prize money continues to increase as the Ites march on. There’s £9,375 for winning teams and £3,125 for losing sides in the next round and it all helps at Holm Park, having had to start the season by reducing the players’ wages.
“It all helps,” said Batten, who is also part-owner of the club.
“With Matt (Smith, the chairman) leaving we lost some sponsorship at the start of the season and I had to go to the players and ask them if they would be willing to take a reduction to what Jack (Midson, the former manager) had agreed to previously and to a man they all agreed.
“That solidarity, that togetherness and wanting to stay as a squad was massive, I think. We have got a good group of lads and they have proved that they have got this togetherness to use it and be successful.
“The money is fantastic and it has been very, very welcome.”
Sheppey pocketed £5,625 for winning at Merthyr and will also take a cut of the gate money.
Batten’s no stranger to cup success. When he was last in charge of the team they won three domestic Finals and a league title. They also beat Welling United of National League South on the way to the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup in 2021.
Saturday’s win at Merthyr was up there with the best of them.
He said: “We beat Welling United and they were in National South when we were in the Southern Counties East League, three leagues above us. It was during Covid and we were limited to a crowd of 300, that was a fantastic day.
“With this one we had been up since five in the morning on the coach and to go down there and put on that performance, it certainly equals it, and may surpass it considering the circumstances.”
Sheppey announced on Sunday the death of their vice-chairman David Ingram, stating that he has been “instrumental in helping put SUFC back to where they are today”.
A club statement added: “He will be very much missed but never forgotten. Our deepest thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.”