Ex-Hibee David Stephens plots an FA Cup thriller at Boreham Wood

David Stephens
David Stephens
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For the best part of a century the Hertfordshire commuter town of Boreham Wood has been known as “Britain’s Hollywood”, home to the world famous Elstree Studios.

Many a film – well, 162 to be exact – has been recorded there down through the years, including a number of the Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and for those of a certain vintage, The Guns of Navarone, Ice Cold in Alex and The Dambusters.

Keiran Murtagh celebrates during Boreham Wood's FA Cup win over Blackpool

Keiran Murtagh celebrates during Boreham Wood's FA Cup win over Blackpool

To this day popular BBC programmes such as Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing are produced at the Beeb’s own centre in the town.

But taking top billing this week is the fairytale of the local football club, starring former Hibs kid David Stephens, as they bid for another shot at glory in the FA Cup.

Already Stephens – nicknamed Denzel – and his team-mates, who play in the fifth tier of English football, have taken care of League One Blackpool and this Sunday they travel to Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena aiming to knock another former holder of the famous trophy out of this season’s competition.

Cup fever has, naturally, gripped the community on the outskirts of London, with fingers firmly crossed that the Meadow Park outfit can cause another upset and earn themselves a plum draw in the next round when the big guns from the Premier League make their entry.

EN Sport 20/09/10. Hibs Team Photo. Graeme Stack steals the Sunshine on Leith Lynx mascot head and places it on manager John Hughes.''Pictured are:'BACK ROW (left to right)''Colin McLelland, Francis Dickoh, Paul Hanlon, Jonathan Grounds, Valdas Trakys, Colin Nish, Sol Bamba, Steven Thicot, Michael Hart, Callum Rae. ''MIDDLE ROW (left to right)''Gareth Evans, Roddy Pitt, Lee Currie, Daryl Duffy, David Stephens, Mark Brown, Graham Stack, Graeme Smith, Edwin De Graaf, Sean Welsh, Grant Small, Scott Thomson.''Front Row (left to right)''Merouane Zemmama, Kevin McBride, John Rankin, David Wotherspoon, Chris Hogg, John Hughes, Brian Rice, Ian Murray, Derek Riordan, Liam Miller, Danny Galbraith, Lewis Stevenson.

EN Sport 20/09/10. Hibs Team Photo. Graeme Stack steals the Sunshine on Leith Lynx mascot head and places it on manager John Hughes.''Pictured are:'BACK ROW (left to right)''Colin McLelland, Francis Dickoh, Paul Hanlon, Jonathan Grounds, Valdas Trakys, Colin Nish, Sol Bamba, Steven Thicot, Michael Hart, Callum Rae. ''MIDDLE ROW (left to right)''Gareth Evans, Roddy Pitt, Lee Currie, Daryl Duffy, David Stephens, Mark Brown, Graham Stack, Graeme Smith, Edwin De Graaf, Sean Welsh, Grant Small, Scott Thomson.''Front Row (left to right)''Merouane Zemmama, Kevin McBride, John Rankin, David Wotherspoon, Chris Hogg, John Hughes, Brian Rice, Ian Murray, Derek Riordan, Liam Miller, Danny Galbraith, Lewis Stevenson.

Admitting most people in Scotland have probably never heard of Boreham Wood, Stephens said: “It’s massively exciting times, 20 years since the club got this far.

“Before the Blackpool game there was a real buzz about the place. We had the FA Cup taken round a few local schools, the television cameras turned up with Football Focus and approaching the game you just felt it was an opportunity for the boys to shine.”

They certainly did so, fighting back from losing an early second-half goal, for Dan Holman to claim the winner with only a couple of minutes left.

Stephens said: “For the first 20 minutes we thought we were in for a very long afternoon but we found our feet and, I think, anyone watching the game would have been hard pushed to tell which team was from League One.

“It was all credit to the lads, the management and the staff. Our manager Luke Garrard made two great substitutions, and both Blair Turgott and Dan scored. Blackpool were a massive scalp for us but we are under no illusions as to the task on Sunday.”

Like Blackpool, Coventry have fallen on hard times but, as Stephens pointed out: “They’ve had their troubles but both are steeped in FA Cup history so no-one is getting ahead of himself. But as a club, the staff, the players, the fans, we all see it as a big opportunity to hopefully go and have a great day out. It’s a magical competition. This is probably the furthest I have got personally and I want to make the most of it.”

Perhaps just as impressive as their Cup run – they’d beaten St Albans away prior to Blackpool – is the fact Stephens and his team-mates stretched their current unbeaten run to 12 matches with a victory over Woking last weekend to push themselves into the play-off positions as they bid to enter the Football League.

Stephens said: “I think that’s credit to our manager. He’s really young but tactically nothing goes over his head. When we go into games we know all about the opposition, what we can do to hurt them.

“He always has us very well prepared. He’s built a squad of winners and we are a pretty fit team, a lot of our goals come late on in matches.”

A number of Garrard’s squad have had experience of playing at a higher level, players such as striker, Bruno Adrade who has scored ten goals this season.

Stephens said: “Bruno used to be with Queens Park Rangers and a few other league clubs. He’s an exciting player to watch and like a lot of our players I think he can go and play at a higher level again. We have a good mix of experience and youth.”

At 26, Stephens counts himself in that number with more than 200 first-team games under his belt, his spell at Easter Road followed by three years with Barnet, where ex-Hibs goalkeeper Graham Stack was a team-mate.

Adamant he is approaching the peak years of his career, the former Welsh Under-21 cap said: “I was only 18 when I went to Hibs from Norwich, I don’t think a lot of people realised how young I was. As a youngster you make mistakes, especially as a centre half.

“As you get older and more experienced you learn to eradicate those mistakes and to concentrate on defending and I think that’s all coming to fruition at the moment.”

Signed by John Hughes on a three-year deal, Stephens found himself sitting on the bench as Hibs faced Slovenian outfit Maribor in the Europa League, only for Yogi to be sacked within months, while his successor Colin Calderwood lasted barely a year before he was replaced by Pat Fenlon, the constant change at the top inevitably leading to plenty of coming and goings among the playing staff.

Ultimately, the Irishman and player agreed it was best for the sake of his career that he left on loan, his temporary switch to Barnet then made permanent. Stephens said: “I think Stacky put in a word for me but I loved my time there. I must have played more than 130 games and was player of the year twice. But I have to thank John Hughes for giving me that opportunity. It does take a lot of effort, dedication and sometimes a bit of luck. But that’s a level I want to get back to and at 26 as a centre-back I don’t think I am in my prime yet. I still think I have a lot to give.”