Littlehampton Town's amazing Road to Wembley: the seven hurdles they've overcome

Eight days to go! Eight days until Wembley goes gold. That's how long now before Littlehampton Town walk out at Wembley to face Newport Pagnell Town in the FA Vase final. We will have new previews on this website EVERY day between now and then, with articles by me and Trevor Knell, and if you're local, don't miss an exclusive eight-page supplement in the Littlehampton Gazette on Thursday.

Littlehampton get the better of Moneyfields in the first round / Picture: Chris Hatton
Littlehampton get the better of Moneyfields in the first round / Picture: Chris Hatton

We start with the story of how the Marigolds have reached the final. And here's a stat for you - when they won the quarter-final to reach the last four they still had a MINUS goal difference. This is a unique road to Wembley. Relive it here...

Littlehampton have come through seven ties to reach the FA Vase final. Here’s a reminder of who they’ve beaten along the way...

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Round 1 – Littlehampton Town 3 Moneyfields 2

Liam Humphreys fires in the winner against Sheppey in round three / Picture: Stephen Goodger

After a goal-laden start to the season in the league and other cup competitions, the Vase run began with another thriller at The Sportsfield in late October as Portsmouth side Moneyfields visited.

Lewis Jenkins, George Gaskin and Rory Biggs got he goals to secure a place in round two.

Joint boss Mitch Hand said: “It was a great win and a really good performance from the boys. I told them on the day these games are for them and to just enjoy themselves and the first half was the most dominant we’ve been for a long time against top quality opposition as well.

“For the first time in a while I had the majority of the squad to pick from and when I’m able to bring the likes of Lucas Pattenden off the bench you’ve always got a chance.”

Lee Garnham strikes in the 3-3 draw with Brockenhurst - which ended in a 4-1 Golds win in the shootout / Picture: Stephen Goodger

Round 2 – Deal Town 1 Littlehampton Town 2

Was this the first time the Golds thought they might be able to do something special in the Vase?

Against former winners and highly fancied Deal in Kent in mid-November, they overcame the sending off of Jordan Clark to go through thanks to second half goals by Joe Benn and Dave Herbert - the latter five minutes from time.

Round 3 – Littlehampton Town 1 Sheppey 0

George Gaskin celebrates his winner in the last eight against North Shields / Picture: Stephen Goodger

Littlehampton Town reached the fourth round of the FA Vase for the first time since 1990 – the season they got to the semis.

It was a goal from Liam Humphreys that was enough to dump highly fancied Sheppey out in front of a big crowd at the Sportsfield two weeks before Christmas. What an early present for them.

Hand said: “The boys we’re unbelievable, “e knew we were coming up against a quality side who I’d say were the equivalent of a top Isthmian south side, so it was important we set up in a way that could nullify their threats and it’s exactly what we did.

“Possession wise they had plenty of the ball but created very little where as we had the clear cut chances by playing on the counter, it was the most disciplined performance we’ve put in this season and it was great for the club to get to the fourth round for the first time in over 30 years.”

It's 3-0 in the semi v Loughborough Students after Shay Wiggins strikes / Picture: Martin Denyer

Round 4 – Athletic Newham 5 Littlehampton Town 0

It was a grey January day to forget for Golds – and seemingly the end of their Vase dream. The goals rained in from the start and Rory Biggs was sent off and Joe Benn picked up a dislocated shoulder as Newham went through.

Hand said: !A bad day at the office. I have to give credit to Newham they were superb and not only did they play us off the park but they ran us ragged and the scoreline didn’t flatter them in the slightest.

“Our worst performance of the season by a mile which was disappointing but I’ve not got a bad word to say about the players, they’ve been unbelievable all season and they had an off day and it’s as simple as that.”

But as it transpired it wasn’t that simple... Newham, it turned out, had played an ineligible player and after an FA hearing it was confirmed they had been thrown out, with Golds reinstated and taking Newham’s fifth-round tie at home to Brockenhurst.

Round 5 – Littlehampton Town 3 Brockenhurst 3 (Golds win 4-1 on penalties)

Not only were Golds now back in the Vase, they were in the quarter-finals for only the second time in their history, and the first time in 31 years. Having been reinstated because Newham played an ineligible player in beating them 5-0, Golds saw off Brockenhurst of the Wessex League to reach the last eight.

Typically they did not do it the easy way. Goals from Joe Benn, Aaron Capon and Lee Garnham put them 3-1 up and seemingly on their way - only for the New Forest side to hit back and make it 3-3 with the equaliser deep into injury time.

In the penalty shootout Golds kept their cool and scored all four of those they took - while Brockenhurst missed two out of three to see Golds win 4-1.

Hand said: “I feel like I’ve said this a few times this season but honestly what an unbelievable game of football and what a way to win. I said about how dangerous it is to write off this group of players despite the players we had missing we were unbelievable.

“I can’t put the win down to anything particularly tactical or even our technical ability but more down to just pure passion and commitment from a special group of boys. I thought Brockenhurst played the better football on the day but I felt we won the fight and it’s by far my proudest in football so far and all credit goes to the players.”

Round 6 (QF) – Littlehampton Town 1 North Shields 0 by Trevor Knell

Littlehampton Town were 90 minutes away from Wembley after knocking favourites North Shields out of the FA Vase - although they were made to work hard for it by their northern opponents.

A goal from player-manager George Gaskin 11 minutes from time sealed the Golds place in the last four of the competition the last touch coming off the front man despite the best efforts of Shields keeper Oliver Marshall.

Town dominated on chances created and limited their visitors to very little over the course of the 90 minutes and as the game wore on it did look like the home side would rue a few missed chances - before Gaskin’s late strike.

Lucas Pattenden was the Shields’ chief tormentor with his pace causing no end of problems and that speed should have given Golds the lead less than ten minutes in but the flying winger over-ran the ball and Marshall gathered easily. The visitors could have scored just two minutes later as Callum Smith was alert to pounce on a short headed ball but James Binfield was out quickly to smother the shot.

Pattenden had Town’s next opportunity moments later, put clean through with his pace but his lob over Marshall also cleared the crossbar. Despite the early efforts both sides took some time to settle into the match and Shields patience with the ball was being matched by Town’s press and closing down the space.

Liam Humphreys’ fierce shot was well saved by Marshall eight minutes before half time and defenders came to the keeper’s rescue on the stroke of half time clearing off the line as Town finished the first half the stronger. The game tipped in favour of the Golds six minutes into the second half, Shields centre half Anth Myers sent off for a bad challenge on Tom Biggs, giving the visitors an uphill task for the remainder of the game.

Pattenden was again at the heart of Town’s best chances, unable to get enough curl on the ball to trouble Marshall as Golds went looking for the breakthrough. Shay Wiggins was close on 58 minutes, arriving late from a corner his effort couldn’t quite hit the target.

Marshall was in action again with under 20 minutes to play to tip substitute Dave Herbert’s long range drive around the post as Golds started to make the man advantage pay before Gaskin’s goal sent a majority of the 2,245 crowd into raptures.

Cramp became a feature for the home side in the final ten minutes as the previous 70 minutes’ exertions started to show and despite Shields pushing forward with more urgency as time ticked away they had very little to trouble Binfield and his backline even through seven minutes of stoppage time.

There was one last chance for the visitors but the ball didn’t sit kindly and was cleared away with Gaskin breaking for a second goal as the final whistle went and the continuation of the fairytale for at least 90 minutes more.

Semi-final – Littlehampton Town 4 Loughborough Students 0 by Trevor Knell

Littlehampton Town were Wembley bound for the first time in their history after an emphatic 4-0 FA Vase semi-final win over Loughborough Students to seal their place in Non-League Finals Day in May.

Their ruthless demolition of the Leicestershire-based outfit will no doubt give their opponents plenty to think about.

Town were given a dream start after just 38 seconds, joint manager George Gaskin firing past Ben Whiting after a ball poked through to him left the striker with just the keeper to beat.

Gaskin had a chance 15 minutes in to extend the home side’s lead but couldn’t beat Whiting this time and despite a flurry of corners for Golds they couldn’t quite find a way through.

Jordan Clark thought he had doubled the advantage just after the half hour mark but instead brought a fine save out of Whiting. However, Whiting couldn’t prevent Clark’s downward header hitting the net on 35 minutes for Golds second of the game and control of the tie.

Loughborough were not done though, a bouncing ball inside the box from a free kick was struck against the Town bar from George Ward just to remind the home side there was still a game to win.

Golds almost went into the interval with a three goal lead, Liam Humphreys seeing his strike ruled out for offside as Loughborough struggled to contain Town especially at set pieces.

The next goal in the second half was always going to be crucial and 11 minutes in Littlehampton had the arch in sight, full back Shay Wiggans smashing the ball home from eight yards out after another superb Scott Kirkwood set piece.

With the visitors needing to push on to find a way back into the match, gaps were beginning to appear as the game stretched and Clark was close to his second and a fourth for Golds but his effort was cleared off the line.

James Binfield kept the scoreline blank with 13 minutes to play, a fine save to his left hand side as Loughborough continued to look for a way back into the game.

However, just two minutes later Dion Jarvis broke away leaving Borough defenders in his wake and crossed for Gaskin to tap in his second and Town’s fourth to end any hopes of a comeback for the visitors and sent Littlehampton Town to Wembley in front of 3,142 fans at The Sportsfield.