Former Worksop Town and Buxton defender Chris Salt is living the FA Cup dream just a few weeks after being plucked from Clipstone Welfare to join giantkillers Stamford AFC.
Salt, who signed for the step four side at the end of September, is looking forward to the biggest game of his career, playing at a Football League ground and in front of the TV cameras.
The Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division South side travel to League Two Hartlepool United in the first round of the FA Cup on Sunday, November 6 — the first time the club has reached this stage of the world’s most famous cup competition.
And the FA Cup tie will be part of the BBC’s Sunday Final Score live highlights programme.
“I didn’t expect anything like this when I first signed just a month ago,” said the 22-year-old.
“It is unreal. Going to Hartlepool and being on TV in the first round of the FA Cup is a dream. My mates are all buzzing for me and it has been class.
“I still can’t believe I am in the first round of the FA Cup. I can remember watching Salford on the TV last year and their success in the competition. Now that could be us.
“This means so much to the fans, the club and the players. It is the biggest game of my career.
“I have played for Sheffield Utd Reserves against Sheffield Wednesday and that was big, but this is proper first-team football.
“I have not played in a massive game like this before. There will be a lot of our fans there at Hartlepool and a great atmosphere.
“We need to be at our best. We don’t want to go there and get turned over.
“We want to go all out and give everything. We might never have a chance like this again.”
Salt was quick to pay tribute to Clipstone manager Billy Fox, who unselfishly allowed Salt’s move to Stamford to go through in time for his first game for The Daniels — their 2-1 FA Cup third qualifying round win at AFC Mansfield.
“I have got to give Billy a lot of credit. Stamford came in for me on a Sunday and they wanted me for the Mansfield game the next Saturday,” said Salt.
“Billy waived the seven-day rule that usually applies when a club wants to sign someone. I respect him for that. Clipstone had a tough game for that day and he could easily have said no, I want you here.
“So fair play to him. He knew it was a big chance for me and it was the FA Cup.”
Salt, who started his career in Sheffield United’s academy, grabbed that chance with both hands — being named man of the match at AFC Mansfield and again in their FA Cup fourth qualifying round replay win at Wrexham.
After holding the Welsh side — famous themselves for a 1992 FA Cup giantkilling over Arsenal — to a 1-1 draw at home, Stamford travelled to The Racecourse and pulled off a shock 3-2 extra-time win.
“Against Wrexham we dug in. Anyone watching would have thought they were in the same league as us as we made them look nothing special over the two games,” said Salt.
“No one expected us to get a win when we played the replay at Wrexham.
“Our manager (Graham Drury) told us to put everything on the line that night — and he was right.
“When we scored to make it 2-0 (in the second half) we started to believe and it started to sink in that we could win.
“They nicked one back with eight or so minutes to go and we knew it would be non-stop pressure from then on. When they made it 2-2 my heart sank.
“I have never felt worse in my life. It looked like we had no chance as we were so much under the cosh.
“The rest of the team looked devastated as well. Then in extra time we scored from a screamer of a free kick and it was amazing.”
It will be Salt’s first time in the first round of the FA Cup at Hartlepool – and he missed Clipstone’s fine FA Cup run to the first qualifying round last season.
The defender learned his trade in the academy at Sheffield United — he is a staunch Blades fan — and has since played for Worksop Town in the EvoStick League, Buxton in the Northern Premier League and Gainsborough Trinity in Conference North before joining Clipstone Welfare last season in the Northern Counties East League.
He said: “Sometimes in football you have to drop down to go forward and that is what I did.
“I have always believed in myself and now I am really enjoying my football. I try to play out of my skin each week and I am feeling more confident.
“I am only 22 and I have still got quite a bit to learn, but things are good.”
The FA Cup tie and TV exposure will put the Stamford players in the spotlight, but Salt said he was committed to The Daniels.
“Clipstone and now Stamford have been good to me and I am commited to Stamford now,” he said.
“I am not bothered about man of the match awards or catching anyone’s eye. I just want the team to win, to play the best I can and to get clean sheets. I am not fussed about getting man of the match awards, I just want to put in good performances.”
If Stamford pull off a cup shock at The Victoria Ground, Salt would love to be drawn against his favourites, Sheffield United, in the second round.
“If we get through I would love to play against thm and show them what I can do,” he said.
“I was a year too young to get a pro contract when I left and I know the club rated me when I left, so I have nothing but good to say about the club.”
Salt’s role model as a central defender has been Chelsea’s former England star, John Terry.
“When Graham (Drury) first came in for me, he said he knew I liked to play on the left side of the defence - and that is mainly down to John Terry.
“For me he is the perfect centre half, class on the ball with both feet, a leader and someone who knows how to gets his team through games — and he is still doing it now.”
But if the unthinkable happened and Stamford made it through to the third round of the FA Cup, Salt does not want to face his hero. “It would have to be Manchester United, away,” he joked. “That is what I would want.”