LES HARE, chairman and driving force behind North Ferriby United’s rise through non-League for the best part of two decades, is unequivocal when it comes to the importance of tomorrow’s FA Trophy semi-final second leg.
“The biggest game in the club’s history,” insists the club’s long-serving chairman when speaking to The Yorkshire Post about the impending visit of Bath City. “It has to top everything.
“Absolutely huge because of the prize that is at stake. This is a level that is far higher than anything we have achieved in the past.”
A place at Wembley, of course, is the prize that both North Ferriby and Bath are hoping to claim by tea-time tomorrow.
The stakes being so high means the second leg is sure to be a tense affair, especially with the scores locked at 2-2 after an eventful – and controversial – 90 minutes at Twerton Park that saw the Yorkshire side race into a two-goal lead before being pegged back.
A debatable penalty award let the Conference South outfit back into the tie just after the hour, but before that the Villagers had been in control and Hare, who is hoping for a bumper crowd for the return tomorrow with fans able to pay on the day, believes that should give the players confidence.
“As is always the case, goals change games and that was definitely the case at Bath,” he says. “It was an extremely soft penalty, no one in the ground thought that it was a penalty.
“But it was given and that changed everything. The impetus was totally with Bath, and they used the significant slope very well. We are talking 12-15 foot from one end to the other, which has to be one of the biggest around.
“Up until then, we had been in total control and we were good value for the lead. It was disappointing not to hold on but we would have taken being level going into the second leg before travelling to Bath.”
North Ferriby went to the old Wembley in 1997 for an FA Vase final that the club lost 3-0 to Whitby. It is a day that, even allowing for the result, those who have followed the club through thick and thin continue to treasure.
“In 1997, we took about 3,500 fans with us,” said Hare. “That is a massive number in a village of around 4,000 people. Of course, we worked hard in terms of getting people from surrounding areas interested.
“A lot of people from in and around Hull came along and it was a great occasion. We are hoping football fans from the area can come along this weekend.
“Hull City are away, which is good news for us. It is pay on the day.”
If North Ferriby can edge out Bath, the Conference North side will face either Torquay United or Wrexham in the March 29 final.
It would also mean the East Riding club emulating neighbours Hull City, who have been to Wembley three times since the national stadium was rebuilt in 2007.
Hare, a lifelong Tigers fan, was at both the Championship play-off final and last May’s FA Cup final so knows just what the Villagers walking out at one of the world’s most famous stadiums would mean to the club.
“I have been to the new Wembley on a couple of occasions with Hull City,” says the North Ferriby chairman. “I am not one of those to just go along for any old game, it had to be for ones that matters.
“So, I went to the 2008 Championship play-off final when one of North Ferriby’s ex-players (Dean Windass) got the winner. I was behind the goal that day and you really couldn’t have written that sort of fairytale ending. Incredible stuff.
“I was also there last May for the Cup final. I don’t agree with semi-finals being played at Wembley, but the final was a special day. For a while, everyone was dreaming of a wonderful victory, but it wasn’t to be.”
Asked how those experiences would compare with North Ferriby making it to the Trophy final, Hare replied: “You can’t compare the two, not at all. I have supported Hull City all my life and yet been involved here for so many years.
“Both would be special. What I will say is it would be a tremendous privilege to have a team that I have been involved with for so long get to Wembley. It would be a day to remember for a long, long time,
“I can’t think of too many non-League clubs that have been to the old Wembley and then the new one, and for a team such as North Ferriby, that would be an incredible achievement.”