Ramsgate’s journey in the FA Cup concluded as they were outplayed by an AFC Wimbledon team led by Ali al-Hamadi.
The striker from Iraq scored two goals, leading to a lucrative matchup against Ipswich in the third round for Johnnie Jackson’s team. Despite their significant loss, this was a memorable evening for Ramsgate manager Ben Smith and the 1,400 fans who passionately cheered on their team. The Ramsgate team typically plays four levels below their opponents, making this a proud and notable achievement.
Smith thought about the journey that brought them to this point, rather than just tonight. He expressed gratitude for the amazing support, considering that they are a small team from Ramsgate. Just three years ago, they only had crowds of 80 but now they have over 1,000 people attending, including many youth teams who were there to support them tonight.
The FA Cup journey for Ramsgate started on September 2nd. The team, currently in the top spot of the Isthmian South East Division, had to fight through four qualifying rounds before defeating National League team Woking in the first round. A total of twenty buses filled with fans traveled to southwest London to witness the underdog team take on a club known for causing upsets.
The programme cover featured a picture of Terry Gibson during the 1988 Cup final victory against Liverpool, paying tribute to AFC Wimbledon’s predecessors. Coach Jackson emphasized the need to not underestimate their opponents. However, Ramsgate’s spirits were quickly dampened as Jake Reeves scored a powerful goal from outside the area just after Connor Evans missed a header from Wimbledon captain’s free kick. Goalkeeper Thomas Hadler did his best to keep Ramsgate afloat, but they eventually succumbed to the pressure when Hamadi scored his 10th goal of the season midway through the first half.
On the sideline, Smith, a deputy headteacher and the club’s first permanent manager, urged his team to go on the offensive. However, they had difficulty finding a chance for their leading scorer Joe Taylor, who also works as a safety equipment salesman during the day. Ramsgate was finally given a chance to catch up just before half-time, but Alex Bass did an impressive job of deflecting the initial header from Tijan Jadama. Lee Martin then missed the follow-up shot. Wimbledon took advantage of the situation and scored their third goal when Josh Neufville skillfully directed the ball into the net seconds after Hadler had stopped Hamadi’s shot.
The possibility of Wimbledon making it back to League One, having been demoted two years ago, may hinge on their ability to retain Hamadi. There are talks of him transferring to a higher league in January. Evans sealed their victory with a goal early in the second half, leaving no room for a comeback, and Hamadi added another goal after a defensive mistake.
Despite their efforts, Ramsgate was unable to score a goal that would satisfy their fans. However, this did not dampen the excitement in the away section, although one fan went too far by running the entire length of the field to confront home supporters before being restrained by authorities.