Forest Green Rovers travel to St Albans City in the FA Cup first round on Sunday, November 7, in a game that will be televised live on BBC Two.
St Albans will be looking to cause a shock against the League Two table-toppers, in front of a sell-out crowd of over 4,000 at Clarence Park.
It’s not the first time that the clubs have met in a cup competition. The sides locked horns in a famous FA Trophy two-legged encounter in 1999, which wasn’t short of drama.
“For the more longer term St Albans City fans, this game is a throwback to the FA Trophy semi-final in 1999, where we lost to Forest Green on a dodgy refereeing decision,” says St Albans fan Jacob Ellacott, host of the Podful of Saints Podcast.
The first leg was played at St Albans’ Clarence Park in front of a crowd of 2,132, with Forest Green taking a good following to Hertfordshire. Rovers took the lead just two minutes into the tie thanks to a penalty from former Watford defender Jason Drysdale, before the Ryman Premier Division outfit equalised to set up the second leg nicely.
The second leg was played a week later in front of a record crowd at The Lawn (3,002) and Rovers completed an epic comeback on an emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon.
Forest Green found themselves 2-0 behind at half-time early on, with an own goal from Rovers centre-back Mike Kilgour – father of current Bristol Rovers centre-back Alfie – and a strike from Steve Clark giving Forest Green a mountain to climb.
Rovers’ record appearance holder Alex Sykes – who was also the top scorer in the FA Trophy campaign with seven goals – gave the home side some hope on the stroke of half-time.
Ian Hedges sent the record home crowd into bedlam with a 73rd minute equaliser, but with six minutes left, substitute Gary Smart scored with virtually his first touch of the game to complete an improbable comeback and despite a nervy seven minutes of injury time, Forest Green held on and secured their first trip to Wembley in 17 years.
The win also meant that they became the only club in the country to play in an FA Vase and an FA Trophy final.
Forest Green manager Frank Gregan joked with Smart post-match: “You may be 35, but you’re fresh and they’re all shattered!”
Rovers were eventually beaten 1-0 in the final by Kingstonian (who beat Cheltenham in the other semi-final) and they suffered more FA Trophy heartbreak two years later, losing to Canvey Island in the final at Villa Park.
The clubs now meet again in a cup competition 22 years on, but this time in very different circumstances.
Forest Green are no longer a plucky non-league side, they’re an established Football League outfit. St Albans are 6/1 outsiders to win the clash, although they are sitting second in the National League South table.
So, do Saints fans still hold a grudge from that classic FA Trophy tie? Will it give this televised fixture an extra edge?
“It’s an extra narrative, but I imagine it’s more of a narrative for us than it is for Forest Green,” says Ellacott.
“We have so many fans who still hark on about those games (against Forest Green). It’s the closest we’ve ever got to Wembley – we’ve never been that close since. It’s the best we’ve done in the FA Trophy and actually the best we’ve ever done in any cup competition.
“A lot of our fans still want revenge for that.”