It is the game they are calling the half a million pound match. Well, they could do.
For the winners of Wednesday’s FA Cup second round replay between Newport County and Plymouth Argyle, the spoils are a third round tie at Liverpool. A share of gate receipts and TV revenue could mean either League Two side earning close to £500,000 as well as the chance of a footballing lifetime in facing Jürgen Klopp’s Premier League title contenders. It’s no wonder some people are getting a little anxious at the prospect.
“Funnily enough, I’m getting married next week but I’m a lot more nervous about the match,” says Newport’s co-chairman Gavin Foxall. “There’s a couple of reasons. Firstly, the prize for the winning side is a trip to a club that Newport County have never played before, an enormous occasion for players and fans alike. Secondly, for a club like us, the financial perspective almost makes or breaks a season.
“We turn over £2m a year but if we beat Plymouth, the next match could be worth anything up to half a milllion for us. That’s a massive boost in terms of capital injection. I did explain this to my fiancee, and told her I might get a bit agitated, but she knows what football entails.”
For Derek Adams, the Plymouth manager, the motivations are similar. While he says there is no pressure on his side to advance, he too acknowledges that the prospect of a tie at Anfield is a big deal for his club. “Argyle have been through difficult times for a number of years and hopefully we’re coming out the other end of it now,” he says, “but it’s always nice to think that there’s a financial reward for winning. It’s a big game, it’s an FA Cup replay but at the end of it all what both teams really want is Liverpool at Anfield. It’s a venue most players would love to play at.”
Argyle currently sit at the top of League Two, while County are bottom and battling to stay in the division, but neither Adams not Foxall sees this tie as a distraction from more pressing concerns. “Obviously, we’re at the bottom of the league and we could do with a boost,” says Foxall. “If you’re a League Two side, or even League One, how often do you get the chance to be pitched against Liverpool or another big side? In reality, it’s not going to happen in the league. At the same time, it’s taken us 25 years to get back into the Football League and it’s an absolute must for us to stay up. We’re not adrift by any stretch and hopefully a win in this tie can help put us where we need to be.”
The first match between these teams took place at Home Park at the beginning of the month and could be counted as a moral victory for County, who held the Pilgrims to a goalless draw despite being reduced to 10 men for 70 minutes. “They defended very well on the day,” says Adams of a frustrating result for his side. “We were unable to get the goal our play deserved. We had opportunities we didn’t take and we’ve got to make sure we take any that come our way tomorrow night.”
Plymouth will be taking a travelling support of more than 1,000 to south Wales, to a Rodney Park stadium that has been beset by problems this season. A lack of efficient drainage has led to three of Newport’s home games being postponed, but a late intervention by the club in conjunction with the FA has meant the pitch will now be protected by an inflatable cover.
“We’ve been building up to this game since the weekend – Graham Westley takes things on a game by game basis and wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Foxall of his manager. “But our supporters believe this is a must-win game. We’ve incentivised the match so that anyone who attends has the chance to buy a ticket for Anfield if we get there. We’ve had a steady flow of sales and while we don’t want massive queues if we can avoid it, tickets will be available right up to kick-off.”
After the queues have died down and the game is over, Foxall can return to planning his wedding. As for Adams, is he at all excited about the prospect of locking horns with Klopp? “We’ll have to get through the tie, that’s our main focus first,” is his thoroughly diplomatic response.
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