By the time Hornchurch forward Chris Dickson started the lonely walk for their fifth and final penalty, teammate Mickey Parcell had seen enough.
Instead of looking, the defender turned and stared into the deserted family stand.
When Dickson scored, the unthinkable became a reality and Hornchurch’s bodies poured out of the dugout. Parcell fell on his back. There he stayed while the bundle bulged elsewhere.
Seventh level AFC Hornchurch reached their first FA Trophy final with victory in Notts County
The Urchins beat County fifth tier after going through a penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw
This week, Parcell is walking Cinderella Path back to Clowns Nursery in Golders Green – those toddlers won’t be teaching themselves a gym.
The first line of his resume reads, “Strive for the best I can.” Well this will take some topping up. For him – and for Hornchurch.
Non-League scalps are valued no more than Notts County and yet this variegated squad from the seventh tier made their way through Meadow Lane on their way to a first-ever FA Trophy final.
Three times they followed, three times they did not want to lie down.
Notts County led against Hornchurch three times, but their brave rivals refused to lie down
Lewwis Spence (left) took the first of three goals from the Urchins on Saturday
“Just a pub team from Hornchurch,” their players sang. A bit harsh, but it sums up their crazy story.
Six teams from higher divisions have fallen for these part-timers, who have not played an Isthmian Premier Division game since November. Nothing in their 98-year history comes close to this.
No wonder their players have hoisted manager Mark Stimson into the darkening sky.
The route to Wembley is now known – he could win a fifth FA Trophy in May.
“We’re in dreamland,” said Stimson. “It’s a great day, something you can only dream of.”
Hornchurch has not played a league game since November, but is now in the FA Trophy final
Manager Mark Stimson (center) was lifted into the air after the win was confirmed
Which would have given his opposite number for a shot at his first.
Ian Burchnall did not arrive on Meadow Lane until Thursday, after Neal Ardley’s dismissal. The 38-year-old met Graham Potter while coaching college football in Leeds and soon followed him to Scandinavia – where he worked as Brian Deane’s assistant and then Potter’s replacement at Ostersunds.
He caught the attention of clubs in League One, but was instead lured by this experiment at the world’s oldest professional club.
Danish brothers Christoffer and Alexander Reedtz saved County in 2019 after falling into non-League and facing financial danger.
Notts County compete for promotion to the Football League, but their hopes for trophies are over
Their other venture, Football Radar, provides data analytics for the gambling industry. Now it helps to inform how County is run.
Portuguese Ruben Rodrigues and Elisha Sam, a Belgian forward who was picked from Bulgaria, were signed by their new recruiting model. Both scored here.
Some call them the National League Brentford, and County saw last season’s promotion finish in the play-off final. They were on the hunt this time when the Reedtz brothers boldly drove out Ardley.
Burchnall had only 45 minutes on the training ground, but his team should have been out of sight by the time Hornchurch equalized twice before half time.
Covid shortened their past two league seasons, so to fuel this cup run, their group of teachers, personal trainers – and former Ghanaian international Dickson – honed the ‘terrible side’ of football: physicality and running.
A dramatic encounter saw Liam Nash (right) score a stoppage time equalizer to enforce penalties
Even after Sam’s late sicker, the Urchins would not leave. When Liam Nash turned an injury time equalizer, Parcell fell to the ground.
He was a wreck as his teammates also kept their nerves in the shootout.
Stimson was engaged in a furious confrontation sparked by some bad disruption tactics from County goalkeeper coach Jake Kean. But after Joe rescued Wright from Jake Reeves, Hornchurch had the last laugh.
Chris Dickson scored the winning penalty for Hornchurch to cause delirium among the players
One penny for the thoughts of Alexander Reedtz, who had come from London to see his theory put to the test.
His university thesis studied the impact of management layoffs. ‘There are many irrational ones,’ he explained in 2019. ‘We look beyond the result.’
All very considered. The problem? There are no charts on trophy cases or the rankings. And make no mistake: County must rise soon.
As for Hornchurch, it’s up to Wembley Way for a showdown with Phoenix club Hereford.