By Chris Harris
'Sir Martin of Hayes... a breath of fresh air... give him the keys to the town hall... forget the town hall - he can have the castle!'
Martin Hayes had some good times in an Arsenal shirt - he was on the pitch at Anfield in May 1989 for starters - but he has surely never enjoyed the adulation he currently receives from the Dover Athletic fanbase.
The above comments all appear on a Dover fans' website in the 'Martin Hayes appreciation thread'. And no wonder. The supporters have taken Hayes to their hearts since he guided Dover into the Third Round of the FA Cup - unchartered territory for the Blue Square South club.
Hayes and Dover are THE story of this year's competition so far after victories over local rivals Gillingham and Aldershot. Huddersfield are next up for the minnows and we caught up with the Dover boss ahead of Saturday's tie.
Martin, how does it feel to be an FA Cup giant-killer?
It’s a great feeling. I’m really enjoying the cup run we’re having, it’s great to put the club on the map and [to have] people say ‘you’ve made history’ which is nice. The lads that have done it go down as the side that have achieved Third-Round status, it’s just a great run at the moment and we’re enjoying every minute of it.
Take us through the last two games.
Gillingham was the massive derby. There were so many connections between the clubs with managers, staff and players - there were so many twists and sub-plots. It was all set up for a massive game. I knew they were struggling and we went there and played really well and took advantage of them on the day. Young Adam [Birchall] scored a great goal, he’s been on fire for us in the FA Cup, and everything went our way on that day. We took 2,500 Dover fans to Gillingham which was amazing and they went away as happy as can be. They weren’t even ready for a Second-Round victory, they were still celebrating the First Round and then Aldershot came along.
Was the Aldershot tie even more special because it was in front of your own fans?
After Gillingham where we did it away it was nice in a way to have a home match that everyone could come along to. To do it at home was great and it was a really special day. Again, the boys played really well, it wasn’t lucky. To be in the Third-Round draw was a marvellous thing, unfortunately we didn’t get the big, big Premier League side that I would have liked and certainly the chairman would have liked. We got Huddersfield away which is tough but it’s another one of those games that if we do things properly, who knows? We could get the big one in the Fourth Round.
Benik Afobe is someone you’ll have to stop when you play Huddersfield. How do you intend to do that?
I will have to ask Stewart Robson because he knows everything about every single Arsenal player, I am going to have to talk to 'Statto Robbo' and get some feedback on him. I’ve heard good things about him, maybe I’ll talk to [Reserve team boss] Neil [Banfield] and see what he says. If all else fails I’ve got a big centre half who doesn’t like little fast lads and he will find a way to stop him! Hopefully Benik doesn’t turn it on on the day and really cause us lots of problems. We know they have got good players, it’s a fabulous stadium up there and we’re going to enjoy going there and doing our best. If Benik's doing it on the day we will have to deal with it somehow. But Adam Birchall is on fire - he’s scored 22 goals this year, 11 in the cup - so hopefully he will cause Huddersfield a few problems too.
Adam Birchall came through the ranks at Arsenal of course - another example of a youngster who has carved out a career elsewhere.
He went to Wycombe when Tony [Adams] was there, he went to Barnet and it didn’t work out for him there but he’s been at Dover a few years now and you can see this cup run has brought all his pedigree out. He’s scoring goals and he could certainly step up again if certain clubs like the way he played. You can see why he was a young pro. He is on fire at the moment so he is one Huddersfield have got to watch out for.
You’re obviously a very popular man in Dover right now, Martin.
It seems I can do no wrong at the moment. Once the cup run dies and goes away we will have to get back to league form and see what happens. At the moment I can’t complain, everybody has been really good and even when they are watching league games everybody is still cheering. I’m on a honeymoon period at the moment but I know it’s going to end soon. But it’s great for everyone and we’ve got another one on January 8 to look forward to.
Someone on the Dover FC message boards described you as Sir Martin of Hayes!
It’s very flattering, I love it when my kids go on there and post a few things! I try and play football, I was brought up at Arsenal, I was a winger and I like to have wingers at Dover and play football and pass it because at the end of the day I have to be entertained. I have to sit there and watch the game as well so I don’t want to be bored and I don’t want us kicking the ball long. I like to see football players enjoying themselves and that’s how we try and play. We’ve scored a lot of goals this year, we’ve let in some silly goals but we will go and we will try and win games. If people like watching it then great but obviously we want to get promotion so I’m still going to be judged on what we achieve this year. It’s a good start so far.
The FA Cup has had some stick in recent years. Has this run made you re-evaluate the value of the competition?
It’s the greatest domestic cup competition in the world and foreign players dream of playing in the FA Cup final at Wembley. For little non-league clubs it’s a money-spinner, it’s a chance. There’s always one team every year, we’ve had Havant and Waterlooville in our league playing at Anfield and having those games. They have shown on the day they can perform well and everybody at this club enjoys it too. Every year one little side comes along and maybe it’s our turn this year.
Everyone remembers watching the FA Cup as a child. What are your early Cup memories?
I was a Manchester City fan when Ricky Villa scored that goal against them [for Tottenham in the 1981 Final] and I remember going to watch Arsenal v West Ham standing at the old Wembley [in 1980] and watched Arsenal get beat that day. Arsenal’s famous victory [in 1979] with Alan Sunderland scoring the goal, they are great memories that you remember from the FA Cup and I am having good memories from the run we’re having now. I’m hoping a win at Huddersfield might bring us to the Emirates, you never know. That would be great.