Chichester City players will be told two things before they walk out to play the biggest game of their lives on Sunday: Work hard – and enjoy it.
With the good wishes of the whole city of Chichester behind them, they will be taking on League One Tranmere Rovers – who play five divisions above them – in front of a live TV audience at Prenton Park.
Whatever happens, City’s Cup run has been remarkable. They’ve won through six qualifying rounds and been handed a first-round bye to become the first team for 70 years to go all the way from the extra preliminary round to this stage.
It’s been memorable - but they don’t want it to end just yet.
Manager Miles Rutherford and his assistant Graeme Gee have split the build-up between praising their achievements so far - and telling them to focus on making the most of Sunday’s huge occasion.
Asked how they had managed to get to the second round, Rutherford said: “I don’t really know, if the truth is known. We’ve had a lot of luck and a lot of determination from the players. It’s great credit to everyone at the club. No one can really believe we’re in the second round.
“We were not expected to do anything near where we have. Not one of our players is on a contract, which shows where we’re at.
“We were playing county league football last year and are in the second round of the FA Cup now. It’s unbelievable.
“When we played Enfield (in the third qualifying round) we had a little luck in that they had a few players missing. But the players were very good against Hartley Wintney and Bowers and Pitsea.
“There wasn’t a lot between us and those teams on the day but this one’s a little bit different. Tranmere train every day, but our players go to work and football is a second thing.
“We’ll prepare as well as we can. The two coaches will do what they can and Graeme and I will try to gee the players up. All we ask is that they give us as much as they can and hard work.
“The run is fantastic for the club. It’ll probably keep us going for three years. At the start of the season we didn’t know if we’d have enough money to last the year.”
Before the team run out at Prenton Park, Rutherford will ask for them to work hard.
“I always ask for as much hard work as they can give us. Graeme’s different - he will rally them up in a different way. For me it’s about giving everything you’ve got and I hope they do that on the day.
“Look at the sides out of the Cup. Sunderland are out but little old Chichester are in it and that’s an achievement. We know it probably won’t happen again.
“We’ll go there with a smile on our face, which is normally hard for me, but I’ll be smiling all the way there and the way home.”
Rutherford expects to see some Bury fans supporting Chi City after Chi promised a donation to the stricken club when they got a first round bye because the Lancashire club had been thrown out of the competition.
“They’re in the situation we were in last year. We were in dire straits last year so any help went a long way. That’s what we said to Bury and some fans have picked up on that and appreciated the gesture.
“Being on TV doesn’t make a lot of difference to me. I’m not that worried about it. But it will be daunting when they’re putting the camera in the changing room. Everything you say will be scrutinised - hopefully we won’t swear too much.”
Rutherford said he and Gee worked well together - they liked to bounce things off each other.
“We’ve both got senses of humour. I’m not loud with it. Graeme will be outgoing with it. I’m giggling inside and people don’t know when I’m laughing and taking the mickey.
“We do have a laugh. Being a non-league manager you’ve got to have a sense of humour and not take too much seriously. Danny and Dabba will pull us back and say you can’t do that but that’s where we are.
“We;ll do the funny side and mess around. I have to be a bit careful but Graeme does whatever he wants.”
Gee, meanwhile, said of Sunday's big occasion: “I don’t normally prepare for what I’ll say to the players before they go out. I just try to capture the moment. “I can’t tell you what I’m going to say because strange things happen in my head. Hopefully whatever comes out will come out right.
“I will try to concentrate on taking the emotion out of the game and the magnitude of it. We have to go their with some belief. Players need to relax as much as they can which is going to be difficult.
“We played in the last 16 of the FA Vase the season before last and the occasion got the better of us and we didn’t perform. Sunday is about the guys getting the preparation right.
“I want everyone - players, coaches, volunteers – to enjoy this occasion. I’m a realist and this will never happen again for me. It’s going to be the biggest occasion for all of us. We want to give a good account of ourselves. We’ll see on the day what we’re about.”
Gee said it was important to pay tribute to everyone who’d helped get City from a county league club close to going out of business to national headline-makers in the Cup.
“From the very beginning when me, Miles and Danny (Potter, coach) started here four seasons ago there have been a lot of players who have here and helped get the club where we are. They won’t be forgotten because they’ve all been part of the journey.
“We’re not getting carried away by a lot of media attention because we know it will disappear and we have to get down to the bread and butter of the league.
“On Saturday (City’s 3-2 win at Phoenix Sports) it looked a great result but there were a lot of things we weren’t happy about and if we take those habits into Sunday it ain’t going to be pretty to watch.”
On the double act with Rutherford: “It’s not that Miles and me joke around all the time. I think we’re portrayed as a couple of jokers at the club and we’re happy for that to reverberate around but there’s more to it than joking around. We both have strange methods for getting the best out of players.
“Where we’ve gone up, Danny and Dabba rein us in and remind us what we’re trying to do. But, even with a massive game at Tranmere ahead, we have to remind ourselves that we do this for the love of football. We all work hard (with our day jobs) although Danny and Dabba have really easy jobs. It’s escapism.
“We’re just lucky the squad of players we’ve got this year, bar two of them, are within five miles of the club. It’s the camararderie, the togetherness, it’s prevalent. They drink together, they socialie together, they work hard together on the pitch.
“You feel for the six or seven on the bench week in week out because they deserve regular football too.”
Rutherford, Gee and coach Darin Killpartrick have all played in the ‘proper’ rounds of the FA Cup.
Rutherford said: “You forget over time but you remember things about it. I remember going to Rotherham (with Worthing) and getting a police escort, for example. It’s a big moment but the most important thing is you enjoy the day. But that’s going to be really hard because the moment can take over.”
Gee added: “I don’t think our experiences will help if I’m brutally honest – because all three of us lost!
“Can we do something on the day? It’s a very tough ask. I’m not saying I’d have fancied our chances out on our pitch but it may have given us a very small advantage. We’re going to play on a carpet of a pitch. Tranmere are used to 6,000 or 7,000 fans, we’re used to 60 or 70. There’s a lot of things to contend with.
“We can only go there and try our best and work hard and if we do that we’ll all be happy.”