SCAFFOLDER Connor Wilkins has helped take Sheppey United to new heights.
And the 24-year-old, 12-hour-a-day grafter believes the sky is no limit when the tiny Kent island team take on League Two Walsall tomorrow live on national terrestrial TV.
The centre-half and his team-mates have already secured themselves a place in Isle of Sheppey folklore after getting the eighth-tier club into the FA Cup first-round for the first time in their 133-year history.
But they are aiming to take the scalp of a Saddlers team that are 93 places above them in English football’s pecking order which on paper looks a complete mis-match.
And born-and-bred islander Wilkins told SunSport: “This means so much for the island. Everyone is buzzing and talking about this game.
“We’re going into the world of the unknown — but if we beat Walsall it’s going to be one hell of a party! Whatever happens, we’re all going to be hanging on Saturday morning.”
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The match is sold-out with The Ites’ Holm Park ground crammed to its 1,400 capacity. The club are currently averaging 524 for their Isthmian League South East Division matches.
And Wilkins revealed he often lends the club his services for free with various odd jobs around the ground — including erecting a TV scaffold tower and hanging huge nets behind the goals so balls do not fly into neighbouring gardens.
I never understand why Pep says his players are exhausted. He should try managing a team at our level. The schedule for our players, with jobs as well, is far more tiring."
He laughed: “I had to use an eight-metre ladder to put the nets up because our shooting has been so bad some of the neighbours were getting the hump with balls constantly landing in their gardens!
“There are houses behind one goal while the other backs on to a big cow-field where we’ve had to keep climbing into to retrieve the ball. We’ve lost so many as well. But I’ve got that all sorted now.
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“If anyone clears the net, they get a £10 fine taken off their wages!”
When Pep Guardiola whined that some of his players were getting tired because of Manchester City’s fixture schedule, Wilkins could not believe what he was hearing.
He said: “I never understand why Pep says his players are exhausted. He should try managing a team at our level. The schedule for our players, with jobs as well, is far more tiring.
“When we play Tuesday night, I must be up at 4:30am the next day then drive my lorry into London to beat the traffic so I can get to work at 8am.
“And that isn’t easy when we’re playing away at a place like Littlehampton where I don’t get back home until 1:30am.
“There are countless times when I only get three or four hours of sleep. Sometimes I get none because adrenaline from the game keeps me awake and then I have to do a 12-hour shift.
“Then we’re training on Thursday night and before you know it we’re playing again on Saturday.
“Often I have to take a pit stop at a garage to grab a meal deal or my mum makes me a container of food, which I eat while on the road.
“Usually I am living on sandwiches, bags of crisps and cans of Red Bull. It keeps me awake — and means I can still run on the pitch in the evening!”
Wilkins got into trouble with his boss at work after the club’s penalty shootout win against Billericay in the last round.
He said: “Footballers don’t get paid much at our level so I was down to work the next morning. I didn’t think we were going to beat them because they’re a league higher.
“Yet we were still on the pitch taking penalties at 11pm and won the match. We had a few beers and I ended up going to a team-mate’s house, still drinking at 3am. I had to be up at 5am so ended up having to let my boss down and he wasn’t very happy.
“But you must enjoy these occasions because they don’t come round often and, as a scaffolder, it doesn’t take much for me to enjoy a few drinks!”
It is also going to be a big day for Wilkins' team-mate and fellow defender Dan Birch, who is celebrating his baby son Logan’s first birthday.
Birch, 23, who also has another son, Bertie, 3, says his family are getting together to mark the occasion before heading to the match.
He said: “It’s what every footballer at our level dreams about — playing in the FA Cup against a League side live on the TV.
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“It’s going to be the perfect day with my son having his first birthday although he'll have to stay at home with my fiancee Krystie for the game in the evening.
“Unfortunately Logan is too young to remember this day but I’ll be telling him when he's old enough that his dad played in the FA Cup first round on his birthday while he was at home fast asleep!”
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