Seven years before Malcolm Macdonald equalled England’s single-game scoring record he was called into the manager’s office at Tonbridge.
It was 1968, the Kent minnows had a midweek county cup-tie and were without a centre-forward. Team boss Harry Haslam looked his teenage fullback up and down and told him he had the gig.
“The game was against Gravesend and I scored a hat-trick,” Supermac recalled. “ Fulham signed me off the back of it and from there my career took off. I’ve a lot to thank Tonbridge for.”
At lunchtime today Macdonald, 70, will root for his old club as they play Bradford City in the FA Cup, 48 years after their last first round appearance.
That tie against Charlton drew a near 8,000 crowd, this one is behind closed doors – a bitter pill for a community-owned club surviving on £30,000-a-month lottery funding guaranteed only until December.
In a remarkable show of solidarity Bradford fans have raised more than £5,000 for the National South outfit to soften the blow of losing their biggest payday in years.
Competition chiefs have also stepped in to lessen the financial impact, breaking with tradition to pay prize money (£5,657) to beaten first round teams.
Nobody need tell Angels boss Steve McKimm that times are tough. By day he is a south London cabbie and admits: “It’s as dead as a doornail out there”.
But he will park that worry as his team run out in front of BBC and BT Sport cameras against opponents who just seven years ago beat Arsenal and Aston Villa en route to the League Cup final.
“I know what an FA Cup upset looks like,” said McKimm. “As a kid me and a few pals saw Sutton United beat Coventry, who had won the cup a season and a bit before.
“We weren’t actually in the ground as we couldn’t get tickets. We were stood on the platform next door at West Sutton station!”
A win today for Tonbridge, whose shirts carry the slogan ‘NHS Thank you’, would be less of a surprise given Angels are only two divisions below Stuart McCall’s Bradford. But only marginally.
As recently as 2015 the Bantams sprung one of the great FA Cup shocks when coming from two-down to beat Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge.
“Bradford were in the Prem 20 years ago and are a great club who will probably be fitter and stronger than us,” said McKimm. “But we’ll go toe to toe with them.”
Supermac doesn’t doubt that for one minute. Joining Tonbridge after his dad died and his mum moved the family moved out of London, he encountered a level of football that was “rough and tough – it really was”.
He has never forgotten how the club helped him launch a career which took him on to Luton, Newcastle, Arsenal and England, for whom he famously scored all five in a game against Cyprus.
“There’s something special about non-league football,” said Macdonald, who would repay his debt of gratitude as Fulham manager years later by returning with a team for a fund-raising friendly.
“You’re around people who love the game itself, not just one football club. I learned so much at Tonbridge – not least to be on time!
“I was late one Thursday due to having to close up the family shop. The secretary was already handing out the pay packets and when I got mine it felt unusually heavy.
“I thought ‘wow this is alright’ and opened it to find a wristwatch and the money £10 light. I looked up and Harry, the manager, was stood in front of me.
“‘You won’t be late from here on son, will you?’ he said. And I wasn’t! Good times those. I wish Tonbridge every success.”