Baa-rmy army on the march; Cup fever grips Tamworth as 5,000 Lambs fans make the trip to face mighty Everton TINY Tamworth FC take on Premiership giants Everton at Goodison Park today in a dream FA Cup Third Round clash. MIKE LOCKLEY visited the Staffordshire town to soak up the cup fever...
"I DON'T believe it - she's here at last," whooped Brian Whitehouse, his arms held high in a show of triumph as the breathless blonde stumbled into the sparse football club shop.
"This," he laughed, "is our missing fan."
Short of sending out a search party Tamworth FC, the FA Cup minnows who face mighty Everton in a David-and-Goliath third round tie today, couldn't have done more to locate diehard fan Charlotte Parker and hand over her three 'big match' tickets.
"Where have you been?" mocked Brian, The Lambs company secretary, as the 23-yearold St John Ambulance worker shuffled uncomfortably under interrogation.
"We've been on Facebook, forums, our website, 192.com, the phone book... " Such is the bond betwixt fans, club officials and players at the mud and nettles tier of English football.
Premiership club supporters have the opportunity to berate their pampered stars on internet sites.
'Tammies' - the collective noun for followers of the Blue Square Premier outfit - can give them an earbending in the bar afterwards.
Of the near 5,000 flock of Lambs supporters who will travel in 40 coaches and three trains to Goodison Park, Charlotte is a straggler: one of the last to collect the treasured pounds 20 tickets.
"First chance I've had to get off work," she shrugged, greedily snatching the slips. "They're for me, my ex-boyfriend and his dad."
Eyeing my notebook suspiciously, Charlotte added quickly: "He was my ex-boyfriend BEFORE I got the tickets."
She's been following Tamworth - one of the smallest clubs, with the smallest budgets in the former Conference division - since the age of 14.
"I have a funny feeling," she winked, scanning the dream ticket, "that we're going to win 2-1."
That f u n ny feeling isn't shared by ashen-faced Everton supremo David Moyes. Frankly, it isn't shared by many at the heart of Tamworth FC.
Officials do, however, have a funny feeling today's flirtation with domestic soccer's elite will result in a six-figure pay day. Unlike Charlotte, they're probably right.
There's also the pin-money from a battery of cup merchandise, including commemorative mugs, polo shirts and kits, to consider.
And 'friendship scarves', incorporating Everton and Tamworth's colours, have proved the fans' favourite 'must have' item - with over 300 snapped-up at pounds 10-a-throw.
Tamworth general manager and secretary Rod Hadley, 60, put down the half-eaten slice of toast on his cluttered desk and talked hard cash, not giant killing.
"It means for the rest of the season we are not paying bank charges on an overdraft,'' he said.
''It means for the second year running, we've broken even. It means we can do things to the ground, such as the floodlights."
He admits chances of a cup fairytale are slim for his team.
"I hope they won't be disgraced, that's the one thing you dread. I hope we will be good enough to give them a game.
''I wouldn't be too disappointed if we could bring them back here. That would be a phenomenal achievement and put the club in the history books. Any goalscorer would be remembered for all time."
Everton's big-earners would not relish a replay at Tamworth's windswept and well-worn home, The Lamb.
It takes a certain kind of football fanatic to endure 90 shivering minutes in one of the exposed stands. Tamworth FC, on a good day, has 1,200 of them.
None, however, are more fanatical than 49-year-old Andy Farrington, self-styled head of The Lambs' baaaa-rmy army.
The businessman has snappedup 70 tickets for today's game. They'll be distributed to fellow members of The Tamworth Train Crew - an elite knot of supporters known for their club tattoos. Andy, who has followed his beloved side for 30 years, intends to make the most of the Merseyside adventure. "We're going for a good day out and as long as they try, that's all we can ask.
"But," he warned, "I can't see us winning."
Chris Clearly - boss of The White Lion, a favourite haunt of fans - also fears the worst.
The 50-year-old has created a 'Tamworth Cup' cocktail to mark the occasion, but believes it will be bought to drown sorrows following the game.
He said: "I think we'll get tanned. Tamworth aren't firing on all cylinders at the minute and I'm going for 2-1 Everton. Mind you, at 16-1 it's worth putting a few quid on."
Yet Tamworth are no strangers to cup upsets.
In 2006, they drew 1-1 with Stoke City away - also in the third round - before losing the replay on penalties.
Then, they had the talisman of mascot Tammy the Lamb, aka Jason Treadwell. Today they do not.
He was injured in a motorbike accident and told press members: "I wouldn't be able to do the cartwheels, or anything like that." Super-fan Andy Paylor has splashed out on a 'Tammy' T-shirt for his five-year-old daughter.
"I'm a fanatic," admitted the 32-year-old, who is travelling by train to the big game.
"I've still got my inflatable carrot from the FA Vase final in 1989.
"I hope we win, but I'll be happy with a draw."
Despite the stampede for tickets, the town itself is surprisingly devoid of banners and shop-window displays. It's not so much football fever in the centre, more a head-cold.
"It's weird," said 21-year-old Ashley Smetham, "and disappointing that shops haven't put up scarves. I think they could have done more. Maybe it came too soon after Christmas."
Those who run Tamworth Football Club have not lost sleep over the lack of public displays of allegiance.
That's because, win, lose or draw today, The Lambs are about to make a mint.
OUR SAY: PAGE 14 FA CUP NEWS: PAGE 43 SEND US YOUR FAN PHOTOS Are you on the march with The Lambs' baa-rmy army? Please email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Big day: Players Dianne Courtney and Jonathan Hedge get hold of the cup. Here we go: Charlotte Parker waves the flag along with, right, from top, Andy Farrington and John Hewitt. Below, landlord Chris Cleary with a Cup Cocktail.