One of our NELFT colleagues had the opportunity to play in the FA Cup recently. Harrison Chatting, who works in the Datix team in Basildon, played for Heybridge Swifts in the FA Cup First Round against Exeter City. Unfortunately for Harrison and the team, the Swifts lost 3-1 away to the Grecians. It was the proverbial game of two halves, as the Swifts held their more illustrious opponents in the first half before running out of steam in the second half and conceding three goals – including a goalkeeping howler.
To find out more about Harrison’s cup-run experiences and how he balances the rigours of semi-professional football with his day-job at NELFT, we put a few questions to the midfielder.
It was an incredible achievement to make it to the FA Cup First Round Proper. The Swifts were four levels and 98 places below League Two Exeter – yet you gave them a run for their money – how did it feel playing in front of so many fans and a big TV and radio audience?
It was a great experience for me, it was the first time reaching the FA Cup First Round Proper for me and apart from the result - the weekend couldn’t have gone any better. The Heybridge chairman and board paid for the whole team to travel and stay over for a couple nights in a hotel in Exeter so we could fully prepare. We had our food and drink paid for in the hotel and had our name and number printed on the back of our shirts. We could keep that shirt - which was a nice touch from the club. We played extremely well on the day, the atmosphere was brilliant, and the attendance was 3,004 - including 280 traveling Heybridge fans. It was great to have the TV coverage over the week and on the day of the game, and this is why non-league players and clubs love the FA Cup. It was a weekend I will never forget.
Exeter had Dean Moxey playing for them – who played in the Premier League with Palace. How did you find the step up in fitness and skill levels of the opposition?
We have a very good manager and we were fully prepared going into the game. We all had our individual jobs on the pitch. It was always going to be tough playing against a professional team, as this is their job and they train every day. I thought they would have had better quality in possession, but their fitness levels and sharpness was much better than ours, and that showed with the end result. We gave a good account of ourselves and it took them two set pieces and a goalkeeper error to win.
It must be a struggle balancing playing and training for the Swifts and your role at NELFT – what does your weekly schedule look like for training and playing with Heybridge?
Yes, it can be a struggle at times, I work Monday–Friday (37.5 hours) a week within my role as Datix Assistant. Every Tuesday evening, I have training or a match for Heybridge, every Thursday evening I train and every Saturday I have a match. Tuesday and Wednesday can be the toughest days for me, for example, we had a game a few weeks ago on a Tuesday night against Bury Town, which is in Bury St Edmonds, and I finished work at 5pm and travelled straight to Bury. We had to be at Bury for 6.30pm and the match kicked off at 7.45pm. I didn’t get home until past midnight. I went straight to sleep and back into work Wednesday morning for 8am/9am - so sometimes it can be hard. Thursday evenings we just train and prepare for our game on the Saturday, and I am normally home around 10.30pm after a couple hours training and knowing its Friday the following the day it isn’t too bad.
Football will take up pretty much my whole day on Saturday, as we have to be at the ground for 1.30pm, and the match kicks-off at 3pm. When I play at Heybridge, it’s nice as after the game I am home around 6.30pm - so I can enjoy the evening. If I am playing away on Saturdays, sometimes I am not home until around 9pm so I don’t get much time to enjoy Saturday night. This is my tenth year playing semi-professional now, so I am pretty much used to this routine. My season starts in July and ends in April, so I have two months off (May and June) after every season. It is a nice break, but after a few weeks I can get bored, so I do look forward to getting back to football.
Semi-pro footballers are known for having an eclectic range of professions, but we’ve never heard of anyone working in the NHS in a Datix team. What does your role involve?
Yes, I have been in my role for two and a half years now (with a one-year secondment with the Legal Services Team in between), and prior to my role - I also worked on bank and a couple of other permanent jobs within NELFT. I am office based and work in Phoenix house in Basildon. Datix is a system and I help support this system with my managers and colleagues. I deal with all incident reporting on Datix and I quality check each incident which is reported - along with managing the Datix generic inbox and taking telephone calls from staff who have Datix queries.
Where do you see your football career going? Are you happy playing locally or would you like to have another go at the big time?
I always wanted to be a professional footballer and when I was about 19/20 years old I tried to break through into professional football, but nothing ever come of it. I am now 26-years old and happy playing semi-professional football. I want to concentrate on my career and future now with work, but then again at the same time I don’t think I would ever turn down a chance to go into professional football. I am in a position now that if professional football ever approached me then yes I would give it a go, but if it doesn’t then it wouldn’t dishearten me as I enjoy my job and non-league football.
Thanks to Harrison for his time and good look with your future footballing exploits.