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Bristol Manor Farm and The Virtual FA Cup

Bristol Manor Farm determined to drum up support for big FA Cup final occasion

Bristol Manor Farm determined to drum up support for big FA Cup final occasion

BRISTOL Manor Farm are gearing up for one of the most memorable and exciting days in their 60-year history – even though there will be no actual ball to kick!

The Creek club have reached the final of an unofficial but nonetheless captivating virtual FA Cup tournament devised by an ardent groundhopping, social media savvy duo named Hopper and Son which has captured the imagination of a nation.

In essence the concept is simple: using the Twitter platform football fans across the country have been casting votes on a raft of ties which began, just like the real thing, with a series of qualifying round fixtures before entering the ‘proper’ phases.

An eye-watering 736 clubs initially signed up from right across the football spectrum including Arsenal, who Manor Farm defeated in the sixth round, and Liverpool, who lost out in the semis to Farm’s final opponents this Saturday, May 2, Hashtag United, an Essex Senior League semi-pro outfit.

Now anyone can make their choices between 3pm and 6pm on the big day by visiting Hopper and Son’s and Bristol Manor Farm’s twitter pages and following the links.

Firmly immersing himself in a novel competition shaping up extraordinarily well for his team, ardent matchday mascot Tony the Scarecrow, aka commercial manager with the Creek club Tony Parsons, explained: “With football in lockdown and fans in need of a lift, one of our supporters entered this virtual Twitter competition on behalf of Manor Farm.

“We’ve played 12 rounds and as it’s progressed it’s become increasingly interesting and exciting for us. We’ve been building momentum massively.

“We’re now into the last two and anyone across the world can cast their votes on the afternoon. Whoever clocks up the most gets to win the virtual FA Cup. If it were to go our way it would be unbelievable but then it’s been unbelievable anyway.”

Manor Farm have enjoyed backing from well known local sportsmen and women, Geoff Twentyman, Scott Murray, Trevor Challis and Jane Couch among them.

Bristol-born midfielder Herbie Kane, 21, currently on loan with Hull City from Liverpool, has also put his weight behind the Creek cause.

The Bristol hopefuls breezed through four qualifying rounds, which included victories over Southern League compatriots Bideford and Sholing, before seeing off Yeovil Town for starters in the ‘proper’ stages and then Colchester United, Burton Albion, Birmingham City, Dulwich Hamlet (National League South side from London) and mighty Arsenal.

Farm then galvanised enough support to overcome Eastern Counties League outfit Kirkley and Pakefield from Suffolk in the last eight in dramatic come-from-behind fashion before more convincingly beating Channel Islanders Jersey Bulls in the semis to set up Saturday’s mouthwatering showdown with Hashtag.

Asked why he felt Manor Farm had done so remarkably well locking horns with several distinguished opponents en route to ‘Wembley,’ scarecrow Tony insisted: “Much of it has to do with the atmosphere we as a club create both on our Southern League travels and at home.

“We really are a family friendly set-up; people warm to us and love the image we present wherever we go, win, lose or draw.

“Opposition fans really seem to enjoy the scarecrow mascot thing which I do in tandem with my 15-year-old apprentice scarecrow Callum, who beats the drum and sings his heart out alongside me at games and is destined to take over from me some day. In fact we even sign autographs and pose for pictures!

“It’s not just about Manor Farm: this is about Bristol football and this crazy situation we find ourselves in on and off the field. It’s such a good news story in these strange lockdown times.”

Bristol born and bred, Tony, 48, continued: “This virtual FA Cup has been a massive success all round, to the extent Hopper and Son have started doing a Scottish Cup version. It’s been organised brilliantly.

“Of course we want as many people to log on to our twitter page on Saturday as possible between 3pm and 6pm and cast their votes for us. Together we can bring the FA Cup back to Bristol!

“The exciting thing is the match, just as has been the case with all the rounds, can be followed live thanks to regular updates as to who is ahead percentage-wise.

“We’re massive underdogs but we'll be giving everything to drum up support and I firmly believe we can do it.

“Our dedicated and long-serving chairman Geoff Sellek has been scratching his head and wondering where all this support for us has been coming from!

“When we were in the Western League our average gates were around 40 and that figure has risen to about 175 now we’re in the second tier of the Southern League.”

Tony emphasised: “We’re very much about the community too: on Sunday three of us – our highly enthusiastic first team manager Lee Lashenko, our merchandise manager John Hughes and me – safely under the circumstances delivered around 50 Sunday roasts to our supporters and others in need at this time.

“It’s just a huge shame our wonderful former secretary Steve Hillier isn’t around to witness all this and our virtual cup final occasion.

“He tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 60 last Thursday (May 23) and had been enthusiastically following our FA Cup adventure.

“It was lovely that Steve at least knew about us reaching the final and was thrilled about it along with the rest of us before his passing.”

Tony the scarecrow from Bristol Manor farm