Chorley manager Jamie Vermiglio will face the biggest match of his career on Saturday but the school headteacher has not been able to give the FA Cup tie against Derby his full attention amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With a third national lockdown in place and the education sector facing huge challenges, Vermiglio has had his mind on things other than the televised third-round fixture.
“I’ve had to put it to the bottom of my list of priorities because school has been my priority,” said Vermiglio, headteacher at Locking Stumps Community Primary School in Warrington.
“I’ve had a few late nights and Monday night was a particularly late one with the senior leadership team and preparing for what has been another eventful day at school.
“It’s out there that the schools are closed, but that’s not the case. School is very much open and we have a duty of care to our key worker children, our most vulnerable ones and those with health and care plans.”
The virus has had a huge impact on the game too following an outbreak at Derby. The Rams must bring a side made up of under-23 and under-18 players with their first-team squad – and interim manager Wayne Rooney – ruled out.
With the Victory Park gates also closed, it is not the traditional third-round tie Chorley were hoping for, but Vermiglio said their Cup run had been no less important to the National League North club at a time when finances are stretched to the limit.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s saved the club,” said Vermiglio, whose side have won away at Wigan and Peterborough to get this far.
“With this run, I think we’ve made around £200,000-£250,000 with TV revenue and sponsors. It’s helped sustain the club and we’re in a very fortunate position compared to a lot of non-league clubs.”
Vermiglio, who had three spells as a player with Chorley before joining the coaching staff in 2014 and becoming manager in 2018, has never reached this stage of the Cup before.
But he can lean on the experience of his assistant Andy Preece, whose goal famously gave Stockport a giant-killing over then top-flight QPR at Edgeley Park in 1994.
“They’re such brilliant memories,” Preece said. “I love the FA Cup. I always have done and you can see it hasn’t lost that meaning for the non-league players. It’s huge for them. What we’ve done so far has been amazing.
“The only thing everyone is talking about is the lack of crowd. At the Stockport game, the crowd came on the pitch and I remember me and Kevin Francis being lifted off our feet and carried off the pitch.
“It was an amazing feeling. Our lads haven’t had that, it’s been taken away from them in the two previous games.”
They will now also be denied a meeting with Rooney, though a game against a makeshift Derby side could considerably improve their chances of extending this run even further.
Vermiglio is certainly hoping to give the inexperienced Rams a rough welcome at Victory Park.
“The weather is helping us and the changing rooms were already cold,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to go and sit on a toilet in there!
“The pitch, compared to what they are used to playing on is a million miles away. It’s going to be difficult for them.
“I’d like to say the fans could make it even more difficult, but we’re not going to have that, but we will try to create advantages in different ways.
“Every season there’s a team that goes on a little bit of a run and it’s us at the moment.”
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