Bury's boss know about FA Cup's magic

BURY Town boss Richard Wilkins knows all about the magic of the FA Cup as he tells CARL MARSTON two days before his side face Alfreton Town in the first round proper.

Carl Marston

BURY Town boss Richard Wilkins knows all about the magic of the FA Cup as he tells CARL MARSTON two days before his side face Alfreton Town in the first round proper.

THERE aren't many footballers who can say that they have played in an FA Cup quarter-final tie at Arsenal, and taken the Gunners to the wire, but Wilkins is one of those select few.

Wilkins is preparing his young Bury side for the biggest game of their lives this Saturday - an FA Cup first round tie at Alfreton Town.


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The Suffolk side will again be the underdogs, as they were in the previous rounds against the likes of Chelmsford City and Basingstoke Town, but Wilkins is no stranger to fighting against the odds.

It was 17 years ago that a youthful Wilkins, operating as a central midfielder, was part of John Beck's celebrated Cambridge United team that combined league success (two successive promotion campaigns) with a sensational FA Cup run.

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The Abbey Stadium outfit made it all the way to the last eight in the 1990-91 campaign, booking their quarter-final berth at Highbury thanks to a fourth round 2-0 win over Second Division Middlesbrough, and then a dazzling 4-0 home victory over high-fliers Sheffield Wednesday.

Wilkins featured in each of these games, and also shrugged off a shoulder injury to start against George Graham's Arsenal.

The Londoners were eyeing-up a possible double that season - they went on to be crowned First Division champions - but they only just managed to squeeze past Third Division Cambridge by a slender 2-1 score-line in front of a crowd of 42,960 on March 9, 1991.

Kevin Campbell scored in the first-half, but any fears that Cambridge would simply buckle under the pressure were dispelled when Dion Dublin flicked home a 50th minute equaliser. It needed a scrappy goal from Tony Adams to save the Gunners blushes.

“That was quite a Cup run! It was certainly the best of my career,” recalled Wilkins.

“I remember thumping Sheffield Wednesday. They were top of the table (old Division Two, equivalent of the Championship), but those were the days when Cambridge were very much on the up. And our reward was a dream tie in the quarter-finals.

“The Arsenal game was a great occasion. It was a superb experience, but we had the chances to even win that day.

“It was 1-1 when John Taylor (former Sudbury Town and Colchester United striker) had two one-on-ones with David Seaman in the Arsenal goal. He tried to go around him both times.

“Arsenal's winner was also a scrappy affair, with Tony Adams bundling it home. George Graham came into our dressing room to give us a crate of champagne at the end.

“That was a brilliant FA Cup experience, and although it's at a different level, it's happening again with Bury. It's an exciting time for us,” added Wilkins.

Bury will play in the first round proper of the FA Cup for only the second time in their history on Saturday, following a previous encounter with Bournemouth & Boscombe in 1968.

Wilkins continued: “Alfreton are two levels above us (Blue Square North), so it will be a tricky test, especially as we are away from home this time. But we will have 200 plus fans making the trip, and we are out to do our best.

“Of course the best outcome would have been for us to have drawn one of the big guns, like Leeds or Leicester away, and had a big pay-day in front of a big crowd, perhaps earning £100,000 for the club. But that's what all the smaller clubs wanted.

“The most disappointing thing is that we will have had to play three games in six days. We had to play the Trophy game against Dulwich Hamlet (3-0 away win) on Sunday, because they ground-share with Fisher, who are the bigger club and therefore take precedence.

“And the League (Southern League) made us play against Leighton Town on Tuesday night (4-0 win), even though the chairman had tried to get the game rearranged. We know that we will have to play catch-up in the league, but it's a shame that we have had to have this build-up.

“Premier League managers often moan about fixture congestion, and now it's happened to us. It's not ideal, but that's the price you pay for cup success,” added Wilkins.

As a foot-note, Wilkins' former boss at Cambridge United is masterminding a new success story with another unfashionable club - Beck is currently the coach at Histon, who are currently sitting proudly in third position in the Blue Square Premier, a stone's throw from the Football League!

“I gather he still plays the same sort of football, the long-ball style. He loses a few fans, but then others come instead because they like to see a winning team,” explained Wilkins.

“It's good to see Histon doing so well, and hopefully Cambridge United can get back to where they belong - in the Football League.”

On Saturday, however, it's all about Bury Town and the FA Cup. For a few hours, at least, Alfreton will be the equivalent of an Arsenal for the minnows from Ram Meadow.

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