Needham Market's FA Trophy heroes have received the backing of former England captain Stuart Pearce ahead of Saturday’s historic trip to Yeovil, writes Paul Martin.
Pearce played with Marketmen boss Kevin Horlock at Manchester City and the pair combined to help Kevin Keegan’s side romp to the Division One title in 2001/02 – the last of Pearce’s 19 seasons as a professional.
Two decades on, they were reunited by Southern League partners Pitching In - for whom Pearce is an ambassador – as part of a unique piece of pre-match build-up ahead of a fourth-round tie which has captured the imagination of the Marketmen faithful.
An extra coach is being put on by the club, who can normally house their travelling support on the players’ bus, and Pearce is well aware of the importance of such occasions to non-league clubs across the country.
“Going back to my non-league days, these are the days you remember,” said Pearce, who started his career at Wealdstone.
“The furthest I got in the Trophy was the quarter-finals when we went to Wycombe and got beaten 1-0 – we really thought we had a chance of going all the way that year.
“For the people that volunteer and are part of the set up and the community, these days are so important for them as well as the players.
“It’s fantastic to take supporters on the coach. At the top level, the divide between players and fans is so vast now but that’s certainly not true of non-league.”
Pearce admits Horlock was low on the list of City teammates he expected to go into management – a feeling echoed by the former Northern Ireland international himself.
But he has thrown himself into life in the dugout since taking over at Bloomfields in February 2020 and is now challenging his players to show what they are capable of at a stage of the competition the club have never reached before.
“It’s a massive challenge but we’ll give it a right go,” he said.
“We have some very good young players and I believe a lot of them can play at National League level and beyond in the future, so Saturday is a good yardstick for us.
“I don’t want the lads to play with fear, I give them license to go and express themselves. I want the young players to enjoy it and play with freedom.”
A self-confessed joker in the pack as a player, Horlock has worked hard to cultivate a strong team spirit within the Marketmen squad and it has come to the fore in their Trophy run so far.
Defeating National League side – and Pearce’s former club – Wealdstone in the third round has been the highlight to date but emerging victorious from Huish Park would raise the bar once more.
“I’m at an unbelievable football club and the reason I came back was the people involved,” said Horlock, whose side are among more than 200 to be supported by Pitching In – a multi-million-pound grassroots sport investment programme established by Ladbrokes with the support of its owner Entain.
“They want the club to have moments like Saturday and I’m really pleased for them we’ve got this far – and I want to go further.
Friends reunited 🤝@needhammktfc boss @KevinHorlock6 and Pitching In ambassador Stuart Pearce were title-winning teammates at @ManCity 20 years ago 🏆
This week, we brought them together to look ahead to the Marketmen's huge FA Trophy trip to Yeovil 👇#MCFC #FATrophy pic.twitter.com/pOsZxfCdvN
— Pitching In (@PitchingIn_) January 14, 2022
“The lads are all excited – hopefully they do the supporters proud and whatever the result, it’ll be a great day out.”
And while Pearce operates at a contrasting end of the football pyramid, he insists there are still parallels to be found between Premier League and non-league.
“Togetherness is the sort of thing that gets you results at any level,” he said.
“It’s a basis of what we do at Premier League level and you need that in abundance at non-league level, especially on big days like the Trophy.
“I wouldn’t say Kevin jumped out at me as someone who’d go into management but he sounds like a manager who empowers his players.
“The big thing on days like this is to relax and enjoy the occasion, as they come and go so quickly.”
Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. For more details see: https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/