HAVING travelled almost 5,000 miles, Andy Gander’s FA Cup adventure will come to an end at Wembley on Saturday, when Arsenal meet Aston Villa in the final.
The 49-year-old former Lancing, Wick and Wealden (now AFC Uckfield) boss and former Burgess Hill assistant manager has been to every round of this season’s FA Cup.
He started off at Shoreham versus Crawley Down Gatwick in the extra-preliminary round and has then followed the winners of each match since.
His adventure has taken him to 17 games and visits to Littlehampton, Maidstone, Biggleswade, Stevenage, Wrexham, Stoke, Rochdale, Liverpool, Blackburn and Wembley.
Gander, who has also been manager of the Sussex FA senior side and is currently assistant of the Sussex under-18 team, said he came up with the idea during last season’s FA Cup final between Hull and Arsenal.
He said: “The idea came to me during last year’s final when Hull took a 2-0 lead against Arsenal.
“I’ve always had an affinity with the FA Cup, having played and managed in it. It’s been much maligned, really, because of the Champions League and the Premier League but I thought I’d set about on an FA Cup tour.
“The first few rounds are pre-drawn, so I knew that if I started at two County League clubs, I’d probably end up at Maidstone, which was the case. It went on from there really and the draws were always exciting to see where I was going next.”
On making sure he got a ticket for each game, Gander said: “I haven’t had any problem. I’ve made some contacts as I’ve gone along and got in there early. Rather than just going to someone in a ticket office, I’ve contacted people a bit higher up at the clubs and explained what I’m doing and, as football people, they understand and have been very helpful.
“I went to Rochdale versus Stoke on a Monday evening and the guy at Rochdale who I dealt with came and found me and said ‘where’s mad Andy’. But football people seem to understand the affection of the FA Cup and why you might want to do it.”
On the best game he has seen, Gander said: “It was Maidstone versus Brentwood and Maidstone scored a last-minute goal to win 2-1.
“The other one was Blackburn against Stoke, when Blackburn won. But each game is always good on its merit.
“The lower non-league clubs really buy into what you’re doing, the higher up you go you lose a bit more of the personal touch but they’ve always been very interested.”
Gander admits he could manage again in the future and said: “I don’t think I’m finished with managing but it is a case of as and when.
“I’ve got lots of commitments with family and work but I’m certainly not ruling it out.
“I’ve always enjoyed being involved and still watch plenty of football. I’m now helping out with the Sussex under-18s, which I enjoy so I’m keeping my hand in and am keeping abreast of what’s going on. When the time’s right, I feel I’ll still have something left to offer and would like to do it again at some stage.”
Finally, on a prediction for the final, Gander said: “You wouldn’t bet against Arsenal but it’s the FA Cup. You look at the Chelsea versus Bradford result and what can happen. It’s the only cup in the world where you do get freak results like that.”
Gander’s route to the final: Shoreham 1, Crawley Down Gatwick 1; Crawley Down Gatwick 1, Shoreham 3 (replay); Littlehampton 4, Shoreham 2; Maidstone 10, Littlehampton 0; Maidstone 2, Brentwood 1; Biggleswade 0, Maidstone 2; Maidstone 2, Welling 1; Stevenage 0, Maidstone 0; Maidstone 2, Stevenage 1 (replay); Wrexham 3, Maidstone 1; Stoke 3, Wrexham 1; Rochdale 1, Stoke 4; Blackburn 4, Stoke 1; Liverpool 0, Blackburn 0; Blackburn 0, Liverpool 1 (replay); Aston Villa 2, Liverpool 1.
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