Highworth Town hold the record for the most number of wins with seven. However, not too far behind are Letcombe on six and local side Faringdon Town on five. Faringdon have also been runners-up up on four occasions.
The last of Letcombe's six wins came in the 2005-06 competition. Since then they have been runners-up on no fewer than five occasions including the three consecutive years after their last triumph and last season's event where they went down to Wantage Town Development in the Final just a few weeks ago (this was, in fact, the delayed 2019-20 Final. There was no competition last season). East Hendred's pedigree in the competition is far less spectacular. They reached the Final once, in the 2003-04 season, going down to Saxton Rovers.
Although the game was officially a home tie for East Hendred it was taking place at Letcombe's Bassett Road ground.
Situated on the Western edge of the village of Letcombe Regis, just to the South-West of Wantage, Letcombe's ground is part of the village sports complex, adjacent to the village hall. As well as the football ground, there is a cricket pitch, tennis courts and a fair-sized clubhouse with a large patio area. It's an excellent facility, especially when you consider the village only had a population of 578 in the 2011 census.
The football pitch is on the edge of the sports complex on the far side of the cricket square from the clubhouse. There is a small covered seating stand, the Mark Bennett Stand, with dugouts situated alongside the stand. There is no more spectator cover although on the cricket pitch side there are several large trees which do provide some protection from rain (as I discovered in the second half).
There was still some rain in the air and the threat of thunderstorms to come when the match kicked off. However, in direct contrast to the weather, the game got off to a blistering start. Only two minutes were on the clock when Letcombe's captain, Josh Fowler, was set free on the left side of the Hendred penalty area. his cross-cum-shot towards the far post did not trouble the keeper but it did fall directly into the path of Billy Tulloch at the far post, who made no mistake from close range. 0-1
Not to be outdone by Letcombe's quick start, East Hendred hit back and three minutes later were back on level terms when a cross from the right was half cleared to their number 9. Running away from goal to collect the ball, he swivelled quickly and, seeing the keeper off his line, crafted a lovely dipping shot over the keeper from 20 yards. 1-1
Somewhat unsurprisingly after two quickfire goals, the game became a little more cautious, with both sides learning from their early mistakes, tightening up at the back but also making the game a far more scrappy affair.
East Hendred had their keeper to thank just as we got to the halfway mark in the first half, getting down sharply to keep Fowler out. However, he could not repeat the act in the 35th minute when Fowler was played in on goal before finishing firmly. the keeper did get a hand on the shot but could not prevent it from crossing the line. 1-2. There were some complaints from the East Hendred team and bench because one of their players did appear to be fouled in the build up to the goal. Referee Paul Dick, who was always more than happy to engage with the players, was having no one it though and the goal stood.
The goal gave Letcombe a little boost and they pressed for a third before the break. The East Hendred keeper was again quick off his line to block an effort but then spilled the ball on the left hand edge of his area. Letcombe were quick to pounce but a combination of last ditch defending and a good recovery from the keeper kept the score as it was.
HT East Hendred 1 Letcombe 2. A very lively opening to the game which then became increasingly scrappy for most of the half. Letcombe just about on top, as indicated by the score-line, but overall it's a fairly even contest so far.
It was only in the second half that I managed to catch some of the interactions between the players and the referee. It was clear in the first half that this was an official who liked to talk to the players, keeping them informed of his decisions and the reasons behind them but I had to smile when I was able to catch one such conversation. After a free-kick was given to Letcombe there was clearly something said by the offending East Hendred player to which Mr Dick replied "Well, I didn't foul him, did I?". When the player responded, the referee was heard to say "Write to your MP then". This was all done in the correct tone, adding some humour into the situation and, in my opinion, a sign of very good refereeing.
Despite the game switching from one end to another for the majority of the second half, East Hendred never really looked to threaten the Letcombe goal. The approach play was pretty good but the final ball always seemed to let them down. Maybe a sign of early season rustiness?
We were into the last ten minutes when the next major incident occurred. Letcombe were awarded a penalty. This set up a one on one between the East Hendred goalkeeper and Letcombe captain Josh Fowler. There had been some words exchanged between the two players at a couple of points in the second half and both had a point to prove. On this occasion it was the goalkeeper who came out on top, diving low to his left to make an excellent save, denying Fowler his hat-trick. The striker, however, did have the last word a few minutes later when the referee blew to signal the end of the game and a Letcombe victory.
FT East Hendred 1 Letcombe 3. A fairly comfortable second half for the team in purple. They now go on to the Quarter-Finals where they will face Wantage Town Development in a repeat of last season's Final.
Ground Number: 272
Att: 30 (manual count)