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Sheppey United chairman Tony Hughes says bid for FA Cup First-Round proper berth doing wonders for club’s profile

Sheppey United are back in FA Cup action on Saturday - just one step away from dreamland.

Victory over Billericay Town would put them into the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first time in their history, with the possibility of playing a Football League club.

Sheppey's Danny Leonard, left, takes on Ramsgate's Jack Parter in their FA Trophy clash last weekend. Picture: Randolph File
Sheppey's Danny Leonard, left, takes on Ramsgate's Jack Parter in their FA Trophy clash last weekend. Picture: Randolph File

It’s hard for Sheppey not to think about what could be around the corner, having progressed to the Fourth Qualifying Round after thumping South Wales side Merthyr Town 4-1 away.

“This is absolutely huge - it’s history-making,” said club chairman Tony Hughes. “The club has stepped to a different level to get to this round.

“To be one win away from the first round proper is very exciting for the club.

“I think it will be a bit tougher (than Merthyr). They are a league above us and we think the leagues around this area are stronger than down in South Wales.

“It was a magical day (in Wales), fantastic for everyone. We were 4-1 winners and all of their fans, their committee, they all congratulated us saying we were the better team, we outplayed them in the second half, we outclassed them and they didn’t get near us.”

The Ites were beaten 4-1 on Saturday at Ramsgate in the FA Trophy, but this is the cup competition that matters for most.

“Everyone hears about (the FA Cup),” said the chairman. “We have had some really good press about us and we have two coaches going up on Saturday and two mini-buses. You definitely hear more people talking about the club and people I talk to have been wishing us luck.

“If we can get through this game and into the first round, it would be absolutely fantastic. It’s a dream and that’s what the FA Cup is about. We have given ourselves a chance, like we did at Merthyr, and if the boys play like they can play there’s a chance we can get through the tie.”

They head to a Billericay side who are looking strong in the league above, playing in the Isthmian Premier Division.

Mr Hughes has only been chairman since the summer, taking over from the departed Matthew Smith. Manager Jack Midson had also left which meant a return to the dugout for director of football Ernie Batten, named interim manager in the summer.

There’s been little need to bring in anyone to replace Midson while Batten enjoys his time back in the hot seat. The Ites won the SCEFL Premier Division title and three cup trophies in his last season in charge.

“Ernie is doing a good job,” said the chairman. “We’re getting the results that we want and the club is going along well, it has been really good.

“He’s the manager for now, he is enjoying it and credit to him. He knows what he is doing.

“I have loved it here and I’m still looking to make some changes, to make it more of a community, get the youths involved more. We want to be a sports and social club, we want it to be open five or six days a week, we want people to come even when there isn’t football on to come up the clubhouse and have a drink, a game of darts, or watch a game of football, that kind of thing.”

The Ites went into their last-round match at Merthyr in a relaxed mood, helped by a few games of darts, and they’ll be heading into Essex early again this Saturday to enjoy the FA Cup atmosphere.

Mr Hughes said: “We had a really relaxed day at Merthyr, which is why we are leaving early this weekend, to get there nice and early and soak up the atmosphere. If they have darts we’ll have a game and we’re putting one up in our own clubhouse now because the boys enjoyed it so much!”

Sheppey return to league action on Tuesday night, with a trip to Littlehampton Town - unless they need to replay their FA Cup match with Billericay that night at Holm Park. Because of cup commitments, The Ites have only played three league games so far, their last coming at the end of August.

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