NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL: A fairytale within a fairytale for one of the St Neots Town heroes in the FA Cup
- Credit: Archant
The stunning St Neots Town story in the FA Cup comes complete with a tale of triumph following adversity for one player.
Striker Gary Wharton is one of many heroes of Saints’ terrific run to within 90 minutes of the first round proper.
Wharton climbed off the substitutes’ bench with his side trailing 3-1 at Coalville Town in a third qualifying round replay last Tuesday night (October 9) and promptly hit his first two goals for the club to take the tie into extra-time before Saints eventually prevailed 5-3 on penalties.
And no-one is more deserving of a role in the club’s fairytale than Wharton - a man who has been through a footballing nightmare during two years out of the game with a career-threatening anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Wharton was hurt on the opening day of the 2016/17 season when playing for Dunstable Town against Cambridge City and had to suffer for nine months until going under the surgeon’s knife the following May.
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During his time out injured he moved to St Neots, made contact with Saints, completed rehabilitation work under the club’s expert physio Kayleigh Burt and earned himself a place in Matt Clements’ first-team squad.
Now he’s part of a squad who are making headlines and creating magical memories with their FA Cup exploits.
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“It was only a few minutes into the first game of that season when the injury happened,” recalls Wharton. “I went to close down the ball, but I landed badly and knew I’d done a lot of damage.
“I was told that I would find it very difficult to ever play again if I didn’t have surgery, but there was a long wait until the following year for the operation.
“Packing up was never in my mind. I come from a background where you carry on with things no matter how hard it gets.
“The injury happened just before my first child was born and it was great to be able to have something other than football to focus on.
“I moved to St Neots with my partner and son while I was out injured. I knew the club was just up the road and I’d always admired the set-up when coming here as an opposing player.
“I got in contact during last season and everyone has been fantastic to me ever since. It was nice to be able to do my bit when the club really needed it in the replay at Coalville.
“I told myself to be positive if I got opportunities to score and it paid off. It’s very difficult to come back after being out for so long and I was over the moon to get two such important goals.
“I’d never scored in the FA Cup before either so that made it even more special and it just shows that we can never be written off.
“We’ve got a great management team and a terrific set of lads who won’t give in.”
After Wharton’s double dragged Saints back from the brink of FA Cup elimination, Taylor Parr, Dion Sembie-Ferris, Dylan Williams, Nabil Shariff and Johnny Herd all tucked away penalties to secure shoot-out success and complete another barely believable chapter in an utterly astonishing journey.
It’s an adventure which now takes them to National League North side Alfreton Town tomorrow when victory would earn a place in the first round proper of the FA Cup for Clements’ comeback kings