Chichester City captain: Few outsiders think we can get a result at Tranmere, but we believe
You’ll struggle to find many people giving Chichester City a cat in hell’s chance of winning at Tranmere today, or even scraping a draw to set up a replay.
But Chichester City’s players and staff don’t mind that one bit. They’d be surprised if it were not the case.
There is a much bigger gap between City and Tranmere than there was between the boys from Oaklands Park and the higher-placed teams they despatched in their past three Cup rounds, but it was the same story when Chi played Hartley Wintney, Enfield and then Bowers and Pitsea.
Chi will go out to the higher-division team. That was the general consensus. But each time they defied the odds.
And now, with a side five divisions above them waiting for them at Prenton Park on Sunday, they are happy to have anyone write them off.
Skipper Connor Cody relishes the underdog tag – however big an underdog they have now become.
“We’re playing Tranmere and it’s a challenge we have to relish,” Cody told the Observer.
“It’s all a bit surreal really, but we’re making sure we enjoy every minute of the Cup run. And the build-up to this game is no different, in that we are savouring it and enjoying the experiences it brings.
“We’re not naive. We know they are a professional club who play five leagues above us. But it’s probably the biggest week any of us will have in our football careers.
“You look at what we’ve achieved in the cup so far and it was three rounds in a row, before the first-round bye, in which we beat sides from higher leagues.
“We went to Hartley Wintney from the Southern League and most expected them to beat us.
“But we felt we were the better team in drawing 0-0 at their place and then winning the replay 1-0. That was a turning point for us.
“Next we played at home to Enfield, a really big non-league name. No-one other than the squad and the management believed we could get through but we did.
“We won with a late goal by Lloyd Rowlatt and I do think the way we beat them helped increase the buzz around the place.
“Suddenly everyone was thinking ‘how far can we go?’.
“Then we went to Bowers and Pitsea, where both teams knew they were a win away from the first round. It felt like a chance that might not come the way of either team again for a long time because normally in that fourth qualifying round, you’d draw a National League side.
“We had a bit of luck but we won.
“Each time there have been people saying we’re going out, and we have not gone out. And in the dressing room, I think we all feel the same about this game. People will say we’ve no chance, and that’s fine, but we don’t think like that. We believe in ourselves.”
Cody is one of many in the City squad who is a truly local lad. The 25-year-old centre half went to Chichester High School for Boys and Chichester College where he learned and developed his football.
He has had spells at Bognor and Worthing but looked to have been lost to West Sussex when he moved to Australia.
Down under, he played for Waverley, a team based not too far from Bondi Beach. But his time in Oz came to an end last year – and when he returned,
Chi City seemed the natual club to join.
A couple of months into last season Cody was named team captain – and he led the side to the Southern Combination premier division title, meaning promotion to step four of the non-league pyramid for the first time in the club’s history.
That seemed like reward enough for the squad’s hard work and they have made an excellent start to life in the Isthmian south-east. Now the Cup run has taken them into a different sphere altogether.
“We’re unbeaten on the road in the league and FA Cup for about four months, which is quite an achievement.
“Now we have all this attention on us and the chance to play a League One side on live TV.”
What’s the key to their chances of causing a huge upset?
Cody said: “There’s bound to be nerves and we have to calm those before the game and in the early stages. We don’t want to let in any early goals.
“I watched the Tranmere-Wycombe league game the other week in the pub but I don’t know too much about them. Sometimes you can worry too much about the opposition. You need to concentrate on your own game.
“We must not make mistakes, or at least minimise them. It’s a huge challenge but we’ll be ready.”