Kingstonian FC head into their FA Cup Second Round game versus National League side AFC Fylde on the back of a resounding 4-0 away victory at League Two Macclesfield Town. The game represents the club’s first appearance at this stage of the competition since 2000.
Manager Hayden Bird is something of a cup specialist, with sides he has managed reaching four out of the last five Specsavers Surrey Senior Cup Finals. Bird also took former side Merstham into the FA Cup First Round where they were defeated by Football League side Oxford United.
Saturday’s game offers the Ks, one of the lowest ranked teams left in the competition, a shot at reaching the Third Round and taking on the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. Ahead of the game, Hayden took the time to speak to us about the club’s cup run so far, his experience in management and Saturday’s game.
Hayden, you’ve experienced a great deal of success as a grassroots manager, including two Specsavers Surrey Senior Cup victories and a further two final appearances. Where does your first FA Cup Second Round appearance as a manager rank for you?
“I got to the First Round Proper of The FA Cup with Merstham where we beaten by Oxford United. It was a great occasion. That experience has held us in good stead this time around, especially the game at Macclesfield.
But if we win it’ll be number one, there’s no doubt about that. I would say this is the biggest game of my career without a shadow of a doubt. When you think of the rewards of this game, potentially if [we] win this game, Kingstonian could be away at a Premier League team. When you take that into consideration, I rank this as the biggest game of my career for sure.”
You reached this stage with an incredible, emphatic victory away at Macclesfield – arguably the result of the round. Can you tell us a bit more about that special day?
“It was amazing. I think in some quarters it’s been a little bit devalued; I don’t think we’ve got the respect that we should have. We were sympathetic towards the problems going on at Macclesfield and clearly it wasn’t their entire First Team. But nonetheless, there were 6-7 senior players on the pitch – loan players from Nottingham Forest, they’re all professional footballers. [They] were complemented by young players fighting to forge a career in football. You’ve got to remember that the fella who was up front on loan from Nottingham Forest was being marked by an electrician! That’s the reality of it.
"The fella who was up front on loan from Nottingham Forest was being marked by an electrician!"
So to go to Macclesfield and win 4-0 was beyond our wildest dreams. The team were well prepared, I trusted my players knowing they would give a good account of themselves but to come away 4-0 victors was a shock, but a pleasant surprise. “
How do you prepare your team for Saturday’s game compared to a normal league game?
“I think to some degree you have to prepare the same. What I did and what I’m doing this week is building it up [slowly]. The players know it’s a big game but if [the preparation] isn’t normal, the players are putting pressure on themselves. However, towards the end of the week when you’re doing your final preparations you need to have a professional focus. So we will train [as usual] with Thursday being a more tactical session, with the first messages being transferred to the players about Fylde. On Friday we are going to a hotel where I will do a video analysis of Fylde. We’ll have a team meeting, we’ll discuss it. We’ll eat together as a club, everybody will be together on the morning of the game and I’ll announce the [starting line-up] in the team hotel. We’ll eat, do final preparations and travel to the game.
Obviously, the last part is very different. We did this in Macclesfield. The reason I did it [there] was we were playing a professional football club, so I wanted my team to prepare in the same way, so no one felt inferior. The reality is that with Macclesfield, our preparation was probably more professional than theirs! It allows me time with the players to make sure everyone is in the right headspace, understands the tactical work and goes to the game with confidence because we’ve prepared thoroughly.”
The reality is that with Macclesfield, our preparation was probably more professional than theirs!
The BBC’s Football Focus team will be in town on Saturday. Is that kind of coverage a distraction or do you enjoy being in the limelight?
“When I look back to the game [earlier in my career versus Oxford United] in the First Round, I think that there were mistakes made in the build-up. The preparations, frankly, turned into a media circus where actually [it was an afterthought] that there was a game to play. This time I’ve kept the players much more shielded from the press.
Football Focus is great for the club. They wanted to come to training. I didn’t want that; I want to train privately. There’s been one or two little bits of media but really I’ve steered clear from that this time so that we can have a professional focus going into the game. Obviously when we get there the cameras will be there and there will be a time with media where we will fulfil our commitments. But largely, we’re going to be in the sanctuary of the dressing room. It’s going to be private; it’s going to be quiet and it’ll be focused.”
Which players should we be looking out for on Saturday – who could steal the headlines?
“Whilst you’re always reluctant to put individuals ahead of the team, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that if you look at the cup run the spine of the team has been very, very good. There’s Rob Tolfrey. In his 10 years at Kingstonian he would have liked to have had more success. I’m delighted that since I’ve come to the club we’re rewarding his hard work with some really magical moments for him. So definitely Rob is one. Ollie Cook is a centre-half who has come with me from Merstham. He was previously at Southampton’s Academy. [A] really exceptional young player with a big future. He’s been instrumental in the cup run. As has the experience of Kenny Beaney, the creative midfield player. Kenny’s been around non-league a long time, a really exceptional midfield player. Up front is the talisman I guess, Louie Theophanous. He was at Kingstonian FC last year [but] probably didn’t have his finest season because of injury. He is a player and a person that I rate very highly. I’ve never worked with a centre-forward as good as Louis. Whether you play in our league, National League South, National League or League opposition – this guy is going to give the centre-halves a very difficult afternoon.”
Finally, how do you fancy your chances of another cup upset and a Third Round appearance?
“I think we have a chance. I can’t sit here and say we’re going to win. That would be completely disrespectful to Fylde and potentially a bit stupid. But I don’t think we can ask for anything more. We’re 90 minutes away from the Third Round of The FA Cup and the potential to play the likes of Chelsea. The only thing you can ask for is a home draw in a game that you think you have a chance of winning. We’ve got that. The supporters have been brilliant since I arrived. They’re truly sensational these guys. [With them] behind us in a full house and we have a team that I think can win. I’m not saying we’re going to beat them, but I think that we can win.”
The K’s game kicks off at 3pm on Saturday 30th November. Tickets for the game are still available and can be purchased here.