Let’s get to know Chorley FC, FA Cup “minnows” from the sixth tier of English football. The last non-league club in the 2020-21 FA Cup hosted Wolverhampton Wanderers in their first-ever trip past the FA Cup Second Round.
While I have not been to a game at Chorley FC, I had a great time learning about them as they prepared to host Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup Fourth Round in 2021. So let me share with you what I’ve learned.
What and Where is Chorley, England?
Chorley is a town in Lancashire with a population of about 35,000. It’s north of the line between Manchester and Liverpool, and like many other northern towns, it made its money in the Industrial Revolution — in their case, with cotton and coal — and now is probably a sleepy little post-industrial place.
I must also mention the Chorley Cake. It’s a currant-filled pie with unsweetened shortbread, sometimes topped with butter and a side of cheese. This I need to try!
About Chorley FC
Like many others, Chorley FC was founded (in 1875) as a rugby football club, but switched to association football in 1883. They have never made the Football League, reaching only as high as the fifth tier of the pyramid — first in 1988, when they stayed there two seasons, then again in 2019, lasting only one season before dropping back to the sixth tier and what is called the National League North.
The Chorley FC stadium, their home ground since 1920, is Victory Park. It seats just 4,300 people.
In the FA Cup, Chorley FC previously only made it as far as the Second Round, in 1986-87 and 1990-91. Wolves fans are already grimacing at the mention of 1986, but we’ll get to that, as well.
Chorley FC in the 2020-21 FA Cup
As a sixth-tier side, Chorley started out in the Second Qualifying Round, where they beat Gateshead, 2-1, in early October. Ten days later they took out York City, 1-0, then they caught a break when an odd number of teams left in the competition (because of Covid) meant they won a lottery to go into the First Round Proper.
It’s at that point that Football League clubs come into the FA Cup, and Chorley became giant-killers. They beat Wigan of League One (and the 2013 FA Cup winners) and then Peterborough, also of League One, in the Second Round.
It’s in the Third Round that Premier League and Championship clubs enter the FA Cup, and Chorley caught another break of sorts.
Chorley 2-0 Derby County, FA Cup Third Round
Chorley’s opponents in the Third Round were Derby County, who won the Cup in 1946, were in the Premier League as recently as 2008, and have been in the Championship since.
But Derby had a massive Covid outbreak that sent a majority of their players and their manager, Wayne Rooney, into isolation. This meant the Rams sent a team of Under-23 and Under-18 players to face Chorley.
Leading up to the game, though, there was concern it would even take place. The pitch was frozen, so the grounds crew laid out covers and heaters the night before. But there were technical problems, and the heaters had to be moved around, so the groundskeeper slept on the pitch!
Thank you EVERYONE who helped get today’s game on 👏👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/RBvbt0EmOO
— Chorley FC (@chorleyfc) January 9, 2021
That tweet was spotted by the head groundskeeper at Wembley Stadium and he promptly sent an invite to the Chorley man to attend the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
Chorley then took full advantage of their luck to knock Derby out of the Cup, 2-0. Look at the snow in the highlights!
Here’s another video that shows a bit more of Victory Park and what it’s like around the club:
— Chorley FC (@chorleyfc) January 13, 2021
The win earned Chorley FC, and all the other Third Round winners, £61,500 (about $84,000 US); they also got another £75,000 ($102,000) for it being on television. That kind of money can keep a small club like Chorley alive, especially during a pandemic.
A local brewery also pitched in by creating a couple of beers for the occasion.
Their post-game celebrations, which may well have involved a few of those beers, quickly went viral, and attracted the attention of a certain famous singer who only tweets about once a year:
— Adele (@Adele) January 10, 2021
And so it was on to the FA Cup Fourth Round Draw, in which Chorley came out first, thus at home, against… Wolverhampton Wanderers of the Premier League!
Chorley FC vs Wolves in the FA Cup Fourth Round
Chorley FC, of course, were beside themselves, even with the frustration of not being able to have fans in attendance. But, following the highly publicized example of Marine FC when they hosted Tottenham, they sold virtual tickets for £10, in an attempt to “break” their all-time attendance record of 9,679.
Chorley FC received £144,000 ($196,000 US) for the Fourth Round being on TV.
Consider those numbers against these: The website transfermarkt.co.uk estimates the transfer value of Chorley FC’s players at a total of £405,000. One of them works as a PE teacher in nearby Barrow. They sold the back of their shirts to a tabloid called the Daily Star just for this game, trying to raise all the money they can.
For Wolves, whose stadium seats 32,000 and sells out every week in non-Covid times, that player value figure is £380 million.
If you’re wondering, since World War II only nine non-league clubs have made the Fifth Round, most recently in 2017 when Lincoln City (now up in League One) and Sutton United did it.
Chorley vs Wolverhampton, 1986
Wolves fans, look away!
The funny thing is, for a small number of British fans of a certain age, Chorley v Wolves has some real historical significance. For we have, in fact, done this before.
Flash back to the 1986-87 season, when Wolves were in a very dark place, having suffered three straight relegations to drop to the Fourth Division, their lowest point ever on the pyramid. Chorley, meanwhile, were in the sixth tier but in a good stretch. And they were drawn, then as now, in the FA Cup at Chorley.
The first game was 1-1 at Victory Park, and the replay at Wolves was also 1-1. I actually found this video from the replay on YouTube:
This led to a second replay, moved to Bolton Wanderers, where Chorley shocked the world by whipping Wolves, 3-0.
The description on that video, written by a Wolves fan I presume, says it all: ““No matter how shit it gets, it can’t get worse than this. Shit team losing to another shit team in a shithole of a ground.”
The BBC has an excellent piece on this game, entitled The night Chorley’s £25-a-week players embarrassed Wolves. Each player earned themselves a £120 bonus for it!
Could we neutrals dare to dream that Chorley FC, the last non-league club standing in the 2020-21 FA Cup, would repeat this glorious bit of history?
Here are the highlights:
Other Notable FA Cup Fourth Round Ties
Chorley FC weren’t the only “minnows” left in the 2020-21 FA Cup.
Cheltenham Town vs Manchester City
Cheltenham, a town at the foot of the Cotswolds, saw their League Two side host mighty Manchester City at 7,000-seat Whaddon Road. Groundhopper Guides has a post introducing you to Cheltenham Town.
Manchester United vs Liverpool
They had a “drab” 0-0 in the league, but this incarnation of England’s biggest football rivalry was much more entertaining.
Bournemouth vs Crawley Town
Wycombe Wanderers vs Tottenham Hotspur
Wycombe, a club just west of London who were enjoying their first-ever season in the second tier, drew Tottenham, who were on something of a tour of smaller grounds. In the Third Round, they beat eight-tier Marine FC in the largest gap in the competition’s 150-year history.