BRANTHAM Athletic groundsman Alan Clarke revealed he started working on the pitch at 4.30am on Saturday to ensure the FA Vase tie against Whitley Bay went ahead.

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Clarke had been battling against the odds all week in a bid to make the pitch playable for the fourth round proper match, which Brantham won 1-0 after extra time.

He got together a working party of nearly 30 people on the Wednesday evening who spent more than three hours clearing snow off the Brantham Leisure Centre pitch.

The 55-year-old, who has been a groundsman for more than 30 years and tended the pitch at Brantham for the last six, said: “We were having a pitch inspection at 2pm on the Thursday, and if we had left the snow on it would have failed because the pitch was judged on what the referee saw.

“So I sent a few texts out and called in some favours and we cleared the snow off. We got it done, but it was hard work.”

Clarke, who is also the club’s vice-chairman, revealed he had an anxious night before the match, praying that the weather would not take a turn for the worse.

“I was worried about the forecast on Friday night, and I was up at 2.30 on Saturday morning looking out of my bedroom window waiting for the snow to come!

“We had committed ourselves to getting the game on, and with people travelling 300 miles, if it had been called off, I felt it would have been my fault.”

Clarke was back at the ground at 4.30am on Saturday to aerate the pitch, which was still icy, and also re-mark it ahead of the match.

He was joined by his son, Craig, an hour later and a couple of other supporters turned up to help later on.

“It was a fantastic effort from everybody who helped – I can’t thank them enough,” he said.

Clarke, rather ironically, first became involved with Brantham 30 years ago when the club reached the last 16 of the FA Vase for the only other time in their history.

He said: “One of my first games was against VS Rugby in the FA Vase, when we were knocked out after losing 2-1. I had to go to Ipswich to get some orange footballs for us to use, and I have been involved with the club ever since.”

Clarke turned tour guide on Saturday morning, when around 50 Whitley Bay fans, who had left the north east at 6.30am, arrived at the ground by mid-morning.

After telling them that Manningtree is the smallest town in England because of its market square, Clarke gave directions to a convoy of cars so the early arrivals could pay a visit.

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