Who better to talk to about a high-intensity cup tie than a man who has played alongside Wayne Rooney and against Cristiano Ronaldo? Who has been all the way to Wembley with the Fleet – and almost repeated the trick the following season? Who followed that up with a second Wembley appearance with Stevenage, then promotion from the Conference, a play-off semi-final goal, an Old Trafford play-off victory to secure another promotion into League One and then a goal (albeit deflected) against Newcastle in the FA Cup to knock the Premier League side out of the competition.
Yet for all that, he has never experienced a north Kent derby… ladies and gentlemen, we give you Stacy Long…
Can you tell us a bit about how re-signing for the Fleet came around during the summer?
First through speaking to Peter Varney and then after meeting Steve Brown it was pretty much decision made.
Rumour has it Peter Varney managed you when you were a youngster in a Sunday team. Is this true and, if so, will Steve Brown be looking over his shoulder in case Mr Varney fancies another crack at management?!
Very true, Pete was my first manager. One of his many talents. He produced a very good football team. I know he loves the playing side of the business but his passion is making the club tick so I think Mr Brown has no worries!
Obviously, in the league, the Fleet have drawn a fair few but, Bishop’s Stortford aside, seem to be turning the corner. How do you see the rest of the season panning out?
It’s impossible to predict how many points, etc, we will get but all we can do is try to perform week in, week out, and see how far that takes us.
Having come from League One and then League Two in the last year or so, has the quality and strength of Conference South and non-league in general surprised you since your time with the Fleet?
The standard is definitely a lot higher than what people think and there are certainly players playing at this level who could play higher.
Who has impressed you most of your new teammates so far this season?
Corks [Michael Corcoran]… his tips are unbelievable!
The management and ownership of the club aside, is the Fleet a much different place to your last spell here or much as you remember it?
The club has a very professional feel from top to bottom but one great thing that has always been there is the support from the fans.
You played with Michael Bostwick and Darius Charles at Stevenage and Luke Moore at Wimbledon… do you keep in contact with any Fleet players from your first spell at the club?
I do, the ones mentioned above for a start. A few others like Peter Hawkins and Rob Quinn. Of course Alex Varney as well.
Am I right in thinking your appearance against Eastbourne in the last round of the FA Cup was your first time playing in any other qualifying stage except the fourth?
To be honest, I don’t know. Even if it’s a qualifying round it always has the FA Cup feel and feels just as important as the First Round or further.
At whatever level of the Cup you play, it must always conjure up dreams of giant-killing. Was your goal for Stevenage against Newcastle your best ever FA Cup memory?
Of course, the FA Cup just has that feel. I think it probably was my best memory (so far) although I actually got that goal taken off me. A deflection apparently…
Ben May was part of the Stevenage squad in your famous FA Cup run. Did you play in the same team together much at Broadhall Way?
Yeah we played together in the same team for a good many number of games although we probably spent more time sat on the M25 together.
You’ve played against and alongside some of the biggest names in world football via your England youth career. Was it obvious at that stage which players would definitely make it to the big-time?
No, not necessarily. Even at 17-18 there were players who you didn’t think would be as big a star as they are but a couple of years or even months made the difference.
Who are the best players you’ve ever played with and against?
Some of the best played with would be Wayne Rooney, Claus Jensen and Scott Parker. The best I’ve been up against … David Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo.
At only 28, you’ve had a pretty successful career. England youth international at all levels, FA Trophy success, Wembley appearances, back-to-back promotions from Conference to League One, play-off finals at Old Trafford and a couple of FA Cup giant-killings. After your release from Charlton and then Notts County, dropping into non-league with the Fleet, did you ever think your career would again take the upward curve it did?
To be honest, no I didn’t. I always had a belief but I also was realistic and knew how hard it was. I feel very lucky.
Given all of the above, do you feel like something of an old hand at the Fleet this time around, with experience to offer?
Yeah, it’s strange to think that I’m one of the oldest – but when being around people like Hukey, they make me feel young.
You’ve set up a coaching school. Is this the direction you’re looking to move into when you finally hang up your boots?
Yeah, it’s something I’ve done for many years. I’ve been at Arsenal Academy for six or seven years now and also have my own coaching company within schools, soccer camps and more.
Looking forward to the Dartford game at the weekend, does the excitement of the FA Cup still get to you even though you’ve achieved so much already in the competition and played at Wembley in other competitions?
No matter what you have or haven’t done, you always look forward to the next game with the same excitement and nerves as the last.
Have you experienced any particularly feisty derby matches in your time with other clubs or will the north Kent derby be your first real taste of such rivalry?
The MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon clash was a great game to be involved in, but again there’s going to be a great atmosphere on Saturday and it’s a game that everybody is looking forward to.
What do you know of or expect from the Dartford squad, if anything?
I know a few of the lads at Dartford which makes it even better. They will be a decent side and will obviously want to progress to the next round.
And, finally, a prediction for Saturday’s game?
I have no prediction. Hopefully we play close to our maximum and then the result will look after itself.