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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
FA enforces ban on Havant star for Anfield

Havant and Waterlooville full-back Justin Gregory is set to miss the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Liverpool after the Football Association claimed the club manipulated the fixture list to have him available.

Gregory was scheduled to serve a one-match ban after picking up five cautions, but looked to be available for the Hawks' dream trip to Anfield after a Blue Square Conference clash with Thurrock was re-arranged for this evening.

However, the FA's regulatory commission have decided this was a deliberate attempt to play the system following admissions from Havant and Waterlooville as to the reasons behind the fixture move.

The original ban will therefore still stand for the Liverpool game.

Gregory said: 'It's a nightmare, but there's not much I can do about it. The FA are pretty archaic if you ask me.

'I've written a few emails to officials to explain the situation, but I don't remember them going back on a decision too many times, so I guess I just have to live with it.

'I did an interview saying I was happy there was a league game taking place so my suspension would be cleared, but that was taken out of context.

'The FA officials obviously saw that and think the game has been specifically arranged.'

Gregory added: 'I'm absolutely gutted, but you also have to keep things in perspective.

'Nobody died and it gives someone else the chance to play at Anfield.'

Meanwhile, manager Shaun Gale is preparing for arguably the biggest FA Cup mismatch of all time by insisting: 'We can beat Liverpool!'

The Hawks, languishing in mid-table in the Blue Square South - some six divisions below Liverpool - secured a fairytale fourth-round trip to Anfield after knocking out League One leaders Swansea last week.

The 38-year-old former Barnet and Exeter defender maintains his collection of plasterers, plumbers, binmen and taxi drivers are not merely on a day trip to Merseyside.

'It's fantastic for a club of our level to have achieved what we have, to be going to Anfield in the last 32 of the biggest cup competition in the world,' said Gale.

'As a script you could not have written it any better. For these lads, who are part-time, it might never happen again. And to get to where we are would be a tough task for anyone to achieve again for many years to come.

'We are under no illusions how difficult it's going to be, but every football match we go into we prepare the players right and we'll be going there to give it our best shot, and not just to have a party.

'Anything is possible in football. I would never send a side out just to enjoy it. You don't know what side Liverpool will put out, it's the FA Cup and we will be going out to win like we do every game.

'If Liverpool play fantastic and we play fantastic, then there is only one winner. But if Liverpool don't play so well and we're at the top of our game, then anything can happen.'

Havant also have Barclays Premier League leaders - and Liverpool's arch-enemies - Manchester United in their corner as they attempt the greatest giant-killing act in the competition's history.

And Gale is hoping the boardroom rumblings and the recent pressure on Benitez will also play into their hands.

'We asked Manchester United if we could train up there and we're using their indoor facility at The Cliff,' added Gale.

'If there's ever a good time to play Liverpool then it could be now. But he's done a fantastic job there and I don't suppose he's losing too much sleep about playing us.

'Over the years non-league teams have beaten top-flight teams, but when you look at the profile of the Premier League now, with all the foreign players and foreign managers, then I don't think this has been achieved by anyone before.

'Not such a big side, one of the biggest in the world, against such a small side. I bet they are quaking in their boots!'

Havant will earn around 350,000 from their share of the gate receipts and are taking their full allocation of 6,000 fans.

Captain Jamie Collins, a 23-year-old schools football coach more used to crowds of 600, is facing the prospect of leading his team-mates out alongside Steven Gerrard in front of 40,000 supporters in full voice.

'It's like a World Cup final for us,' said Collins.

'When you're in this league, the best you hope for is to make the first round, and then maybe draw Leeds or Nottingham Forest. You earn some money for the club and the players get their day out.

'So to get to the fourth round and play Liverpool is a dream come true. To walk out in front of 40,000 singing `you'll never walk alone' - any player in the world who hears that has the hairs on the back of their neck standing on end.'

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