Hornchurch manager Mark Stimson has labelled his side’s FA Trophy win “the impossible made possible” and called on a film to be made about their achievement after West Ham coach Stuart Pearce first suggested the idea.
The Urchins produced one final heroic display in the competition on Saturday to triumph 3-1 at Wembley over favourites Hereford with 3,000 of their own supporters in attendance.
Hornchurch, who ply their trade in the third tier of non-league football, last played in the Isthmian Premier Division on November 3 but despite no regular football progressed from the third qualifying round of the tournament all the way through to the final.
Victory over National League North side Hereford – the seventh team in a row they have beaten from a higher division – completed arguably the story of the season at the national stadium.
Stimson, who has won the FA Trophy five times, told the PA news agency: “I don’t think it will sink in completely because without going crazy I think the impossible has been made possible.
“It shouldn’t happen, as simple as that. Hornchurch shouldn’t be winning the FA Trophy. For the level we play at, it’s ridiculous but we’ve done it and everyone’s put in a massive effort and I am so proud of the players for achieving it. It’s something we will talk about for a long, long while.”
The feat of the Bridge Avenue club is more unimaginable than neighbours West Ham finishing sixth in the Premier League this season and qualifying for the Europa League and yet no one associated with the Urchins will have a bad word to say about the Hammers.
During the two-month gap between Hornchurch’s semi-final win at Notts County and the showpiece at Wembley, Stimson’s side were able to use the training facilities of the Premier League club and also received a financial donation from co-chairman David Sullivan.
Hammers first-team coach Pearce, who started his career in non-league with Wealdstone, also paid a visit to Hornchurch to share his knowledge of playing at the home of football.
“Stuart Pearce came down and did a talk with the players about his experiences at Wembley and playing for Wealdstone and how he never got near with them what we achieved,” Stimson revealed.
“I told the players to take something on board from what he tells you and he said a film should be made about what we have done because it shouldn’t happen.
“Since he said that it has stuck in my head and I think he is right, something should be done about this amazing journey.”
It all started for Hornchurch back on October 31 away to divisional rivals Bowers, a tie which Stimson described as a “tough draw at that stage” with the opposition containing several of their former players.
Urchins were not haunted by their old stars on Halloween though and the beginning of a remarkable run was under way, but their league season was suspended in November and the motivation before a first-round clash with Wingate in December was to extend their campaign.
Once that had been achieved, the underdog spirit was harnessed for victories away to National League South sides Tonbridge Angels and Dulwich Hamlet later that month before their first ‘cup final’ occurred.
King’s Lynn, of the National League, visited in January with the country in lockdown and Hornchurch only able to train once in the build-up, but penalty shootout heroics from goalkeeper Joe Wright set up another home game, this time with Maidstone which produced a dramatic 5-4 success.
Now in the quarter-finals, were Hornchurch starting to believe? “No, no chance,” Stimson insisted. “I never thought we would get anywhere near Wembley, the nearest would be Wembley tube station.
“You get to the quarter-final and in my own experience with Grays and Stevenage, when you are a full-time side you do think about winning then but we thought quarter-finals, let’s build it up to be our cup final and we couldn’t have been drawn away much further.”
Darlington was Hornchurch’s reward and the supporters clubbed together to raise £3,000, with £500 help from West Ham co-owner Sullivan, to ensure Stimson’s side could travel to County Durham the day before their last-eight tie.
After yet another upset, the Urchins boss admitted: “The trip back was the best I have ever had in football. Five hours on a bus with a group you wanted to party with.”
The generosity of the fans did not stop there with a further £3,000 raised which made sure Hornchurch could again travel up the day before the game of their last-four fixture at Notts County, who were in the National League title race.
A second shootout win, with Wright again key, meant the Isthmian Premier Division club could look forward to the unthinkable and a final at Wembley in May.
With more coronavirus restrictions relaxed, it allowed 3,000 Hornchurch fans the chance to attend and goals by Charlie Ruff, Liam Nash and Ellis Brown in the last quarter of an hour earned a 3-1 comeback win to put Urchins’ name on the trophy.
Ex-Newcastle midfielder Stimson added: “The fans was the only thing missing at Notts County, so for 3,000 of them to be at Wembley on Saturday was absolutely perfect.
“And the three goals were at our end as well so when you start to think about things, was it meant to be? I don’t know but I do know the boys have put in so much hard work.
“There is no team that has done anything like we’ve done because of the circumstances. It’s incredible.”