In the midst of a global pandemic, football results pale into insignificance, but for that 3pm release on a Saturday afternoon, a visit to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium has been sorely missed for 11 months and counting.
So after former England striker Peter Crouch pulled ball number three out of the FA Cup hat, swiftly followed by the big hitters from the Etihad Stadium, Robins fans would’ve been celebrating a bittersweet moment, knowing that one of the biggest occasions in the club’s history will come and go without their attendance.
Having spent over £800 million on transfer fees alone in the past five years, Pep Guardiola’s star-studded Man City side travelled to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium 16 games unbeaten, having qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 and made an assault on Liverpool’s Premier League title in recent weeks.
Welcomed by neighbouring Cheltenham fans on the doorsteps of Whaddon Road, the likes of Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus would demonstrate their superior quality to score three late goals after Alfie May put the hosts in a shock second-half lead. But with a strong virtual following, Cheltenham fans were keen to back their local club in any way possible.
Including 2,305 backers from the 1887 Army, Cheltenham managed to amass an attendance of 7,518 – a virtual attendance that incredibly surpasses the capacity of the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Each £10 ticket sold is worth its weight in gold for a club like Cheltenham, and despite a healthy £85,000 gain for an FA Cup live broadcast fee on the BBC, plus an FA prize fund of £22,500, the generosity of Robins fans and even Manchester City supporters will go a long way in the current economic climate.
Cheltenham Commercial Assistant Luke Saunders has thanked City fans for donating generously to the fundraising drive to support the League Two club.
“City fans have been first class,” Saunders told Park Life Sport. “‘They’ve helped turn a catastrophic loss into a bad loss.
“Like Guardiola said before the game, we all come from Cheltenham, we all come from these lower league teams, and the supporters of City got behind it.
“Social media has been incredible, almost overwhelming really for everyone at the club and that has been fantastic.”
In what was a dream draw at the wrong time for the Robins, the 1887 Army also launched a fundraising drive shortly after the draw was made to ask both sets of fans to donate the money they would spend on a ticket, to be donated to the club. Within 24 hours, the £5000 target was reached, and the pot now stands at over £30,000.
A signed Sterling Man City shirt was raffled off thanks to a donation from a City fan enthusiastically backing the fan group’s campaign to cover Cheltenham’s shortcomings this season.
The thankful Gloucestershire-based club unveiled a banner over the seats of the Colin Farmer Stand, saying: ‘MCFC OK’, in a display of gratitude towards their big-hearted Manchester counterparts.