Written by Connor Lawson
Eastleigh FC of the National League are one of five non-league teams left in the FA Cup, and they face a trip to Championship Brentford this weekend hoping they will be able to cause an upset.
Who Are Eastleigh?
Eastleigh are members of the National League and play their home games at the Silverlake Stadium in Eastleigh, just outside Southampton. The Spitfires are managed by Martin Allen, who has managed his fair share of Football League sides including MK Dons, Cheltenham, Barnet and Saturday’s opponents Brentford. They are perhaps one of the wealthiest clubs in the National League and they are getting a new stand and clubhouse built in the near future. They have grown massively in recent seasons, getting promoted from the National League South has seen their average attendance rise from around 500 in the 2010/11 season to 2,000 last season. They currently sit 11th in the National League, nine points outside the play-offs, so they will want to improve their league form.
“We have a quality squad and for some reason we haven’t been getting the results” said Lee Stevens, an Eastleigh fan, who follows the club home and away, “our season has been slightly disappointing in the league”. Isaac Woolley, an Eastleigh season ticket holder of six years, added “I think Eastleigh have been sub-par this season, I think that too many changes have been made, we have spent an awful lot of money on players not needed in the first place, then they don’t perform up to standard and we’ve wasted time and money on them”.
The Spitfires also boast some very reasonable ticket prices, with an under-7’s season ticket free, and an adult season ticket priced at £120, which Lee Stevens informs me is the cheapest in all five leagues from the Premier League to the National League. Just to put that into perspective, an adult season ticket works out at roughly £5.20 per home game.
credit Lee Stevens
Eastleigh and the FA Cup
This season is the second consecutive season that Eastleigh have reached the Third Round of the FA Cup, and it is also the furthest they have ever progressed. Last season, they had to beat Bromley away to advance to the First Round Proper where they played Crewe Alexandra away from home. They came away with a 1-0 win thanks to a Ben Strevens penalty. In Round Two, they played Stourbridge away, who are incidentally one of the other five non-league clubs remaining in this years cup. They comfortably disposed of the Glassboys 2-0 to land a home tie with Bolton. The initial tie finished 1-1 forcing a replay at the Macron where they just lost 3-2.
This season in the cup they started off in the Fourth Qualifying Round with a 6-0 thrashing of eighth tier North Leigh. In the First Round they were drawn at home to League One Swindon. They managed to to force a replay at the County Ground and secured a historic upset by beating them 3-1 in front of 750 travelling Eastleigh supporters. In the Second Round, they found themselves 3-1 down until sixteen minutes from the end against Halifax when, first, they pulled it back to 3-2 and then, in the 90th minute, Mikael Mandron scored to get Eastleigh a replay at The Shay, where they won 2-0 thanks to the same pair who scored in the original tie, Wilson and Mandron. Their next obstacle is Brentford at Griffin Park, where they will be hoping to reach the Fourth Round for the first time in their history.
Eastleigh and Controversy
Eastleigh have come under fire from many National League supporters who criticise the amount of money they have. Some claim it is damaging what non-league football is all about. So I decided to put this question to the fans of Eastleigh themselves.
Isaac Woolley said “I don’t see a lot wrong with the money we’re spending, that’s the only way you can get out of this league as there’s so much talent from the recently relegated football league sides and it appears the only way we can get out is by spending money.”
Lee Stevens said “clubs like Eastleigh are not damaging the conference because they have money. Our chairman has made our club into a friendly family club and made the football very affordable. On the field he has attracted good players and off the field especially the business side of things he has generated a lot of money through sponsorships renting out our car park to Southampton airport. Clubs like forest green have definitely thrown the money in but Eastleigh are being sensible.”
In my opinion, and I must concede I am not particularly knowledgeable on this topic, as long as Eastleigh don’t overcharge their fans or visiting supporters, then there isn’t much of a problem with the money they are spending. They are clearly spending money on improving the club and are focussed on getting to the Football League. They money they have is evidently spent with positive intentions.
Saturday will see Brentford host Eastleigh in the first ever meeting between the two sides. We have spoken plenty about Eastleigh, so what about the hosts?
Brentford are sitting 14th in the Championship which really isn’t where they want to be especially considering they have established themselves as a Championship club and will be looking to try and advance up the table and be challenging for play-offs. Their key man is Scott Hogan, who has bagged fourteen goals for the Bees this season. Last season’s top scorer Lasse Vibe will be eager to improve on his scoring record this season, having only bagged two so far.
Manager Dean Smith is enduring his first full season in charge of the West London club, and he will be undoubtedly looking to improve his squad in the January window.
Brentford will be coming into the game off the back of an away win at Birmingham, in which Scott Hogan and Nico Yennaris bagged for the Bees. The win extended their unbeaten run to three league games, so they are on decent form ahead of their tie with Eastleigh.
The Spitfires are coming into the game after putting an end to a three game losing streak with a draw then a win against Boreham Wood. They will be hoping for a big result that could not only grab them the headlines, but serve as a huge boost to their league form which is greatly needed.
View From the Terraces
Over 1,400 Eastleigh fans are expected at Griffin Park, and I spoke to two of them.
You have already heard opinions on Eastleigh-related matters from fans Isaac Woolley and Lee Stevens, who both very kindly agreed to answer my questions, but what do they think of other topics such as their key players, their expectations for Saturday, and who they would love to get in the next round should they progress.
On their key players, Lee Stevens told me “our key players are in form striker James Constable who started the season slowly but since Martin Allen has come in he has been excellent. Mikael Mandron is a superb young player who is our leading goal scorer and is one for the future. The main man to look out for is Luke Coulson, he will cause fullbacks problems. He should be playing higher.”
Isaac Woolley added “our keeper Mark Childs is one of the youngest players in the squad but since he got into the side due to injuries he’s been a star, keeping us in games and has definitely won points for us.”
I then asked the pair about their expectations for their big tie on Saturday.
Both were keen not to write their team off, but definitely understood the challenge the game presents. They were both confident that the strong and loud away following could really help their team progress.
So, what if they were to get through? What would be their ideal draw for the Fourth Round?
Lee Stevens told me “Man United away at Old Trafford in the next round would be nice. Or a short trip across to Southampton.”
“If I could chose anyone it would be Leicester City at home! My mums side of the family are all from there and were ecstatic after last season. They’re a great team and would be great to see them at the Silverlake”, said Isaac.
Saturday’s game will definitely be an interesting one. Eastleigh fans will be eager to have a good day out if nothing else, but who knows? It’s the FA Cup after all.