One step away from immortality
When they step out at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane in The FA Sunday Cup final this weekend, Gym United will have already written their names into the history books.
But player-manager and chairman Matt Morton is calling on his players to now make sure they do not let a golden chance to take the final step to football immortality pass them by.
The Bury & District Sunday League outfit, who are based in Bury St Edmunds but dominated by Thetford Town players, are also the first Suffolk club to ever reach the final of a competition that has been determining the country’s best Sunday side since the 1960s.
But if they can overcome north-east-based reigning champions Hardwick Social to lift the prestigious trophy at Sheffield United, they will complete a journey that will never be surpassed.
“When I think back to some of the headlines the Bury Free Press has given us, the one that sticks in my mind is ‘let’s make history’ and that is something the team have used,” said Morton.
“There is a bit of a difference between making history that can be beaten and one that cannot. If we go on to win the competition it cannot be eclipsed.
“We really need to make sure someone can equal us but cannot have the opportunity to be better and eclipse us.”
He knows it will be a tough task against a Stockon-based side whose starting XI is likely to contain nine players who have made it through to next month’s FA Vase final, and have the added advantage of having won The FA Sunday Cup at the same venue last year, via a penalty shootout.
In the mind games leading up to the match, the holders’ manager has claimed they will still be the underdogs, but Morton has responded by saying: “We do feel and have done since the quarter-finals that the spotlight is on us and everyone is watching and hoping.
“We have not felt the pressure from it but we do feel a responsibility to do our best as it has become apparent how much it means to people outside the club. It is a bit weird how that has boosted us.”
Two coaches full of supporters, one leaving from Bury and one from Thetford, will travel up north on the morning, but the Suffolk contingent is expected to be heavily outnumbered by those from the north east.
“It will be eclipsed by Hardwick as they have told the FA they are taking 600 but their catchment area is Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland,” said Morton, whose side won a coin toss to use the home dressing room, while supporters will again be segregated, as at the semi-final stage.
“As long as we can focus on what we are doing on the pitch, it does not matter if they have 600 to our 100.
“Knowing the people who are coming, they are good friends and family and that is the thing that really motivates us.”
Morton put together a motivational video to play to his side before their semi-final victory against Liverpool side Mayfair FC at Solihull Moors, but said he will not be repeating that trick this time.
“It takes the edge off it doing it twice,” he said. “I was determined to do everything I could to get us to the final.
“This time it will be more about emotion and reminding people why we are there and why we are doing it.”
He added: “It is not about pressure and expectation, it is about achievement and how much we want to make that number one or number two in the country.
“I think we can play with more freedom in the final than we did in the semi-final (2-1 come-from-behind win against Mayfair FC) where we seemed a bit nervous.”
Regular left-back Cordell Jackson’s absence (holiday) is described as a ‘massive blow’ as coupled with Thetford’s first choice left-back Alex McIntosh’s season-ending knee injury, which will require surgery, leaves Morton without a recognised player in that position.
Usual wide forward Jack Brame could be deployed there but the plan to bring in Thetford’s Ben Anderson to allow that to happen had to be ripped up this week after he pulled a quad muscle.
But Tanner Call (dead leg) and Wayne Proctor (ankle) are both wide options that are said to be in line to make their Gym comebacks.
Morton said he was grateful to Saturday club Thetford for offering all Gym players, with the exception of goalkeeper Will Viner, who is set to start on the bench on Sunday, a rest this weekend to keep them fresh.
Sizing up Sunday’s opposition, Morton said: “I have watched them twice and they are a top side and it is no coincidence they have made the final twice and no coincidence nine of their 11 are in the FA Vase final a couple of weeks later.
“Having said that, the Gym mentality is unbelievable and I believe is now rubbing off on Thetford and means we are capable of beating teams better than us. We are capable of doing it.”
He added: “Hardwick are a very, very well organised outfit and have these two banks of midfield and defence. Watching them, you can see they have been playing Saturday and Sunday quite a while together as they know what each other is going to do and where they are going to be.”