FA Cup still special to Hinckley United's Dean Thomas

By Owen PhillipsBBC Sport
Richard Lavery
Richard Lavery is a hero of previous Hinckley FA Cup runs

Not many managers can lay claim to a 14-year spell in charge of the same club.

But even fewer can do so with the added boast of being the only manager in the club's history.

Dean Thomas is into his 15th year in charge of Hinckley United and is celebrating in style by leading the Blue Square Bet North club into the FA Cup first round for the fourth time in their short history.

The Knitters may only be 17th in their league, but they breezed to a 3-0 win over Blue Square Bet Premier side Darlington in their fourth qualifying round replay to set up Saturday's home tie against Tamworth.

And although Thomas fears that the FA Cup's importance tends to get "a little bit overlooked and underestimated" by those at the very top of the game, the 140-year-old competition will always remain special to him.

"Ten years ago I think the players tended to appreciate the FA Cup a bit more than they do in this day and age," Thomas, 49, told BBC Radio Leicester.

"It's only us dinosaurs that keeps the interest going and actually relate to the players how important it is.

"I think the players have started to realise what I have told them and have gained that buzz of beating Leek and Matlock, and Darlington as well.

"All of a sudden it has become a little bit more important to them. It's good that they have taken things on board.

"They realise there will probably be 1,500-2,000 people here on Saturday and it's a massive game to look forward to.

"They can make history for themselves but there are financial rewards as well. It's an important competition for us."

Hinckley have already picked up £25,000 in prize money from this year's run and could bank another £18,000 if they see off Tamworth of the Blue Square Bet Premier.

The financial significance of a good FA Cup run will certainly not be lost on anyone associated with the club.

Least of all, the former Wimbledon, Northampton and Notts County defender Thomas.

Since his appointment in 1997 - when the town's two clubs, Hinckley Athletic and Hinckley Town, merged - life has been anything but smooth.

After initial, steady progress, which saw promotion to Conference North, the Knitters have been beset by financial worries, off-pitch struggles and consequently relegation battles.

The club have recently recovered from the very real threat of bankruptcy, a time in which they came perilously close to going out of existence.

But through it all, Thomas has remained loyal and brought much-needed stability.

A win over the Lambs on Saturday and Thomas can start dreaming. A place in the second round means they would be just one win away from facing one of the biggest sides in the land and a potentially huge payout.

Thomas has twice guided Hinckley to the FA Cup second round - in 2001 and 2004. But the make-up of this year's side is slightly different to previous seasons.

Midfielder Richard Lavery, a veteran of more than 300 games and a goalscorer in the famous 2-0 win over Torquay United in the Cup run of 2004, brings vital experience.

Lavery returned to the club in October 2010 after 18 months away. But he will be one of the few experienced home players on show and, because of injuries, will have to fill in at centre-half.

"We have seen a lot of changes at the football club over the years. I have constantly had to build teams. The team has got younger and we lack a bit of experience," Thomas added.

"We have got a quite a thin squad but it's the same squad that we took to Darlington so hopefully we can draw inspiration from that. We were good enough over two games against Darlington so hopefully we can be good enough again against Tamworth."

You can hear live commentary on Hinckley's FA Cup first-round tie against Tamworth on this website on Saturday.