FA Cup: ‘It has been a fairytale’ – Boreham Wood out but not down

Goodison Park proved to be the end of the line for Boreham Wood in this season’s FA Cup, but for the National League side it has been far more about the journey than the destination.

A victory on Thursday was always unlikely, despite the desire of romantics – this game a hurdle just too lofty to clear against a weakened but still talent-packed Premier League side.

But the players, staff and fans of this ambitious club from Hertfordshire still treated the evening like a win from start to finish.

For almost an hour they gave one of English football’s most decorated sides – one 78 places above them on the football ladder – the jitters, leaving more than a few home fans to wonder at half-time if the unthinkable might just happen.

Thanks to Salomon Rondon it didn’t quite pan out like that, but Wood’s immediate financial future is secure for now after years of uncertainty, those involved in the run have memories to treasure and share with loved ones and if things pan out as they hope there could still be more celebrations to come.

It has been quite the run for the National League side – one that began with a battling 1-0 win at Barnet way back in October.

While Everton sank into crisis, Wood were seeing off Eastleigh, St Albans, AFC Wimbledon and, most impressively of all, Premier League-chasing Bournemouth, to book Thursday’s tie against the five-time FA Cup winners.

To lean into the cliche, some of the moments that brought them to Merseyside were magical, including the celebrations that greeted Adrian Clifton’s game-sealing volley against Wimbledon and 37-year-old captain Mark Ricketts overcoming injury to score the winner at the Cherries in round four.

They failed to fashion one to top the lot at Goodison, with all of their effort spent staging a masterclass in how to frustrate a superior opponent. But in managing that for so long here is something special itself.

The 57 minutes of goalless football took them past 500 minutes in this season’s FA Cup without conceding.

The run has also brought much-needed monetary reward for a club that was kept alive by chairman Danny Hunter, who paid wages and shopping bills during the pandemic and remortgaged his house in March 2020 to keep it running.

Prior to Thursday, the club had raked in around £500,000 in prize money, with a sell-out at Goodison and TV coverage of that tie set to boost that considerably.

Manager Luke Garrard has been at the centre of it, his 17-year association with the club as player and now manager giving him as good an insight as any into just how much it all means.

Luke Garrard
Boreham Wood manager Luke Garrard pays tribute to his side’s fans after the game

Throughout Thursday’s game he was on his feet, pointing, shouting, at one point showing one of his players how he should have shoulder barged Abdoulaye Doucoure.

At full-time, he sprinted across the pitch draped in a Boreham Wood flag to punch the air and send the already joyous visiting fans into further cheers.

“Did I think we were going to beat Everton? I thought we would have moments,” he said afterwards, when BBC Sport were finally able to get a moment of his time.

“The team he [Frank Lampard] picked was tremendous, he has not disrespected us and we have given a great account of ourselves.

“It has been a fairytale, we have gripped the nation’s hearts throughout this cup run and the moments at Bournemouth will live long in my memory. The fans have been colossal and they have been shouting all game.

“It has been brilliant, the whole journey from Barnet. Did I think five games on we would be at Goodison? Not in a million years.

“What we have achieved as a small town club, let’s hope the fans turn up and really give us a push until the end of the season.”

Few of Boreham Wood’s regular starting XI have Football League experience, with substitute striker Nile Ranger the only man to have appeared in the Premier League, as a young up-and-coming striker with Newcastle.

Midfielder Josh Rees has a single Championship game and a handful of League One appearances to his name, while goalkeeper Taye Ashby-Hammond is on loan from second-tier leaders Fulham.

Kane Smith, a boyhood Everton fan who arrived at Goodison earlier on Thursday to pick up tickets for the Blues’ game with Tottenham on Monday, told ITV: “I had a few injections and a lot of tablets but I just needed to play and I’m glad I got through 70 minutes.

“I knew the fans would give me a great reception but it was outstanding. I cannot thank them enough and that will live long in the memory.”

Garrard says he will give his players a few days off, but after that his side have other business to take care of. They are currently fourth in the National League table, eight points behind leaders Stockport but with three games in hand.

There may yet be more joyous scenes to come for this remarkable side.

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