FA Cup: Paralysed player turns owner & village known for beer

By Gary RoseBBC Sport
FA Cup
Non-league clubs are potentially three matches away from meeting a league club in a televised tie

A month into this season's FA Cup, 160 non-league clubs find themselves three rounds away from the first round proper.

Among those dreaming of a tie with a Football League side are the paralysed footballer who bought his former club, an ex-Premier League striker taking his first steps in management and a team that has not played a home game in more than 3,000 days.

BBC Sport looks at the stories of some of the clubs involved in this weekend's second qualifying round.

The paralysed player who bought his club

Having just broken into his hometown club's first team and been put forward for England schools trials, George Dowell appeared to be at the start of a promising career as a footballer.

But, at the age of 17, that was cruelly taken from him when a car crash in 2010 left him paralysed from the chest down.

George Dowell
George Dowell played as a right-back for Worthing FC before he was involved in a car crash in 2010

It was a devastating blow, but one that Dowell would not let get the better of him and, despite his condition, he was determined to remain involved in football.

So he did, by buying the club he once played for.

"I am enjoying it," said Dowell, a former defender for non-league side Worthing FC.

"It is busy but being chairman of the club gives me a purpose and it is all good fun at the moment."

Dowell is now 22 - making him one of the youngest owners in the world - but the progression from his accident to buying Worthing FC was not easy.

He had been the passenger in a friend's car when it came off the road on the way back from a fast food restaurant, crashing into a field.

Worthing connections
There are two main football clubs in the Sussex town of Worthing - George Dowell's Worthing FC and Worthing United
Worthing FC play in the eighth tier of English football, while Worthing United are in the ninth tier
Two of Worthing United's players were killed in the Shoreham air crash last month

Dowell cannot remember much about the accident itself, instead waking up in hospital to be told he would never walk again.

"I broke my spine," he added. "It was hard to come to terms with my situation to start with.

"There were some long days and it was not great, but I have great friends and family and they helped me come through it."

During his 10 months in hospital, he and his friends made plans to start a football team when he returned home, but such talk was put on hold while he underwent rehabilitation.

"I wasn't in the right frame of mind to do it straight away," said Dowell. "However, around 18 months ago I asked a few of my mates if they were still interested in getting a team together and they said yes, so we did it."

Creating a team with his friends was his first foray back into football, but soon after he learned that his former club Worthing FC was struggling financially.

With debts of £200,000 - and £6,000 a day needed just to keep the Isthmian League Division One South club's doors open - Dowell, who had received a payout from the driver's insurers, decided to act.

"I had read in the local newspaper in November last year that Worthing were struggling financially and I still knew some guys at the club," he said.

"I spoke to them about it and they set me up with a meeting with the people in charge at the time. It went from there really."

All the debts are now paid off and the club is making a profit but Dowell's input has not stopped there.

George Dowell
Since George Dowell became majority shareholder at Worthing, he has overseen the installation of a 3G pitch at the club's Woodside Road ground

Since taking over in April, he has overseen a complete revamp of the club's 4,000 capacity Woodside Road ground, the crown jewel being the installation of a state-of-the-art 3G pitch.

"It is no longer just open on match days but seven days a week," Dowell adds. "The 3G pitch is fully booked from 5pm until 10pm every night and now we are just starting up a development centre for under eights and under 16s."

Dowell has now set his sights on overseeing success on the pitch in the long term.

"I have a five-year plan and that is to get promoted to the Conference South," he said. "That's two promotions and it would be the first time for the club to get to that level, which would be amazing."

On Saturday, they travel to Evo-Stik Southern Premier side St Neots Town in the FA Cup second qualifying round.

"You saw the magic of the FA Cup last year with some of the runs non-league teams went on," says Dowell.

"If you go on a long run then it really puts you on the map."

'I'm not going to suddenly blow £700 on a player'

Hook Norton may be more famous for beer than football, but the Oxfordshire village's local team is looking to change that as they continue their historic FA Cup journey this weekend.

Located a stone's throw away from the village's brewery, Hook Norton FC - nicknamed the Brewery Boys - won their first FA Cup game in their 117-year history by beating Frimley Green 5-0 in the extra preliminary round on 15 August.

Hook Norton
There has been a brewery in the village of Hook Norton since 1849

Since then, they have seen off Burnham and Eastbourne United to set-up a clash with National League side Weston-super-Mare.

It has the potential to be the upset of the round, with Hook Norton, from the 10th tier of English football, playing four divisions below their opponents.

"It is basically like a Conference team playing a Premier League team," said primary school teacher Joe Davies, Hook Norton's 26-year-old manager.

"That is the enormity of the game and to welcome a club of Weston-super-Mare's size is massive for us."

To say Hook Norton are minnows would be an understatement. With a population of 2,000, the entire village could fit inside Weston-super-Mare's 3,500 capacity stadium with plenty of room to spare.

"It has brought the village together," added Davies.

"Our U12s are going to be mascots and the U17s will be car park attendants, while the village shop is providing our food for the whole weekend.

"The brewery called us the other day to say they will send a couple of crates of beer down. It is a really exciting time."

For a club of Hook Norton's size, the financial rewards of an FA Cup run are massive. So far, they have earned £7,000 in prize money. Win this weekend and a further £4,500 will be coming their way.

Davies, though, is wary of lessons learned from several clubs from the professional ranks who have ended up spending beyond their means, only to fall upon hard times.

"I am not a manager who is going to blow 700 quid on a player," he added. "It goes back into the club.

"The players deserve the plaudits for winning the games but behind the scenes there are a lot of hard-working people.

"This FA Cup run is such a reward for their hard work and they deserve all the credit they can get."

The club without a home for almost a decade

Gloucester City kick off their FA Cup campaign when they host Kidlington on Sunday but, for the ninth season in a row, they will not actually be playing 'at home'.

Since 2007 they have been playing at the stadiums of other teams after a flood left their Meadow Park ground almost completely submerged in water.

Meadow Park
Gloucester City have not played a competitive match at their own home since 28 April 2007

"It was devastating," remembers Tim Harris, the current manager who was also in charge of the team eight years ago.

"Within three or four hours the water was up to the goalposts."

Since 2010, they have played their home games at Cheltenham Town's Whaddon Road - located 12 miles away from Gloucester - but were given a boost in October last year when plans for a new stadium at Meadow Park was given the go-ahead by the local council.

A significant step taken in their bid to return home, it was a massive boost for the club and its fans.

A year, on however, it is still not clear when exactly Gloucester City will finally be able to give up their nomadic existence. Some 'technical issues'external-link with their application for full planning permission earlier this year led to a delay in work being able to start on their new stadium.

"It has been moving slowly, but we will get there," added Harris.

"What we need is a good cup run. That would help revitalise the club."

Matt Jansen: A non-league Sam Allardyce?

Scoring in the FA Cup on his return to football following a near-fatal motorcycle accident was a special moment for Matt Jansen.

The former Blackburn striker got two goals in a third-round tie in 2003 as Rovers won 4-1 at Aston Villa. A remarkable achievement, given that just five months earlier he had been in a coma following the crash in Italy.

Now Jansen is hoping to recreate that winning feeling in the FA Cup once again - this time as manager of Conference North side Chorley.

Jansen, now 35, took his first steps into football management earlier this year when he moved up from assistant after previous manager Garry Flitcroft - the ex-Blackburn Rovers captain - resigned to spend more time with his family and his business.

"I'd been concentrating on my coaching badges, so it came out of the blue a little bit," said Jansen, who had been Flitcroft's right-hand man at the club since 2010.

"However, when I was offered the chance I was delighted. I get less time on the golf course now and my handicap is suffering, but I wouldn't swap it for the world."

Matt Jansen
Matt Jansen played in the Premier League for Blackburn, Bolton and Crystal Palace

Jansen also played for Crystal Palace and Bolton in the Premier League and worked under the likes of Terry Venables, Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce during his playing days. He has tried to incorporate the best of their management styles into the way he works at Chorley.

"You wouldn't want to cross Graeme Souness, but he was a good guy too," added Jansen.

"Sam Allardyce was another guy you wouldn't want to anger, but at the same time he was a funny guy and he knew how to get the best out of you.

"I try to take the best from all of them, but I am not a ranter and raver. Generally I prefer to talk to my players on an individual basis and get the best from them that way."

The injury Jansen suffered in 2002 while on holiday in Italy prevented him from building on the heights he had reached in the early part of his career.

But his time at the top had seen him develop some useful contacts in the game and that set him up well for the world of management.

"I live next door to Wigan boss Gary Caldwell and he said if I ever need players, to let him know," Jansen said.

"I also know Uwe Rosler at Leeds and Simon Grayson at Preston. It is good to have these contacts because it is a long season and injuries can set in."

With five wins from the last eight games, things are going well for Chorley and Jansen.

Next up is Frickley Athletic in the FA Cup on Saturday. Having enjoyed cup success during his playing career, Jansen is hoping to be able to inspire his Chorley players to pull off a surprise or two in this year's competition.

"I scored when Blackburn beat Tottenham to win the 2002 League Cup," Jansen said. "I only mention it about two or three times a week to the lads.

"It should be good for the players, though. Doing well in the FA Cup can really raise the profile of the club and hopefully we can do that this season."