Towards the tail end of the 90s and start of the 2000s, Canvey Island established a reputation of being one of the top non-league sides in England. They were the original ‘pub team from Essex’ giving numerous bigger clubs a bloody nose as they rose up through the Isthmian Leagues to the Conference, won the FA Trophy and reached another final as well as enjoying numerous successful FA Cup campaigns playing and often beating league opposition along the way.
In the 20 plus years of supporting the Gulls, I’ve enjoyed many great moments. Recent times have been leaner with relegation to the Isthmian North in 2017 extremely hard to take but the 10 years or so either side of the millennium was a roller coaster ride I’ll never forget.
Getting to the Conference and travelling to the likes of Exeter, Carlisle and York as well as the FA Trophy win in 2001 are amongst my favourite memories but if I had to pick one, it would have to be the 4-4 draw with then League One side Port Vale in the FA Cup in November 2000.
It was the game that put Canvey on the national football map and made people sit up and take notice. Gulls ultimately won the replay at Vale Park before bowing out to local rivals Southend United in front of a capacity crowd at Roots Hall in the second round.
It’s the game at Park Lane that I want to concentrate on. This match had everything.
Vale, who had recently been relegated from the then equivalent of the Championship, boasted a number of top names in their line up- including Jeff Minton who would later go on to play with much distinction for Canvey.
Port Vale were by far the better team in the first half in front of a crowd of just under 2,500, and Canvey seemed down and out at half time, losing 2-0 with Vale even having the luxury of missing a penalty. What Canvey’s management team of Jeff King and Glenn Pennyfather said at half time must have done the trick, because a scorching long range drive from defender Peter Smith reduced the arrears.
Vale went 3-1 up but Canvey were always in the game and a Steve Tilson penalty soon after made it 3-2. When Minton scored a 4th Vale goal with 15 minutes remaining, Canvey’s brave resistance looked over- but the magic of the FA Cup took over.
Going into injury time, Canvey were 4-2 down- but first an Andy Jones strike unsettled the Vale defence, and the comeback was complete when Wayne Vaughan tapped home on the line to give Canvey a replay in a quite sensational game.
Cue absolute bedlam amongst the home fans. I still smile recalling this game and feel proud that we were involved in one of the great FA Cup ties.
That era was an amazing time for the club and I feel privileged that I was there to witness it.
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