Southport’s newest recruit, Josh Hmami, believes being a part of Marine’s historic FA Cup run has given him the confidence to make a move up the leagues.
His new club takes on his old one in a pre-season friendly at the Pure Stadium this evening.
The midfielder states helping the Mariners reach the reach the third round of England’s oldest competition inspired him to make the jump up two divisions from the Northern Premier League Division One West to the Vanarama National League North.
He said: “Having a taster of playing teams higher up has developed me a lot, it was a good test for myself. I now know what to expect from those teams, so hopefully I can kick on and take it all in my stride.”
On their way to the 3rd round tie against Tottenham, Marine overcame Barnoldswick Town, Frickley, Runcorn Linnets, Nantwich Town, Chester, Colchester United and Havant & Waterlooville.
The 21-year-old says it was ‘surreal’ to be involved in the whole competition and that belief grew throughout.
“It was written in the stars. Playing on live TV in front of millions was an experience that will live with me for the rest of my life.
“We were always underdogs, and no one was dreaming of the third round until we beat Colchester, and even then, if we had got a bigger team, it might not have gone our way.”
Hmami says the cup provided a form of escapism for the Marine squad during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially after the cancellation of other competitions.
“We only played about seven games in the league last season and the rest were in the cup. Our season went on for three months longer than it would’ve otherwise. To have played that many games was a big achievement for everyone involved
“Our motivation was to be able to keep playing. By being able to train and have a game to look forward, we could get away from everything happening in the world.”
On the day of the game against Spurs, Hmami states it started to feel real when the coach was welcomed to the ground by thousands of fans, with the entire occasion being like a dream.
“When we walked out onto the pitch, there were cameras everywhere and people who you see on TV. Then you get a bit star struck when you have players like (Moussa) Sissoko and (Gareth) Bale walking past you in the hallways.
“Looking back on it now, it was unbelievable. You couldn’t believe it was happening until it was over. We hit the crossbar at 0-0, which caused shock, because if that goes in you have a potential upset on your hands.
“Their quality shone through in the end, you can’t switch off against players like that. You don’t realise how good they are, until you play them yourself. You can’t get near them, and if you do get close, they just turn you. You learn so much from playing people like them.”
At the end of the game, Hmami received Sergio Reguilón’s shirt, but was unable to get the left back’s signature.
“Because of Covid we could only get the second shirts, which was a real shame. By the time we were given them, they were already on the coach, but nevertheless, I still got his top.”
Unbelievable experience! You really don’t realise how good these players are until you play them yourself🤣moment that will stay with me for life, proud of all these lads🖤💛 Any chance @sergio_regui signing this shirt for me as well👀🤣 @EmiratesFACup @MarineAFC pic.twitter.com/i63vYGsOrT
— Josh (@Josh_Hmami) January 10, 2021
This summer, Hmami departed Marine and headed up the coast to join the Sandgrounders, as he focuses on moving back up the divisions, after starting his career with Accrington Stanley.
“I am made up and excited to sign for Southport, I have known Liam (Watson) a long time. It’s my ambition to get back in the Football League, and this is the best place to do it. This is a big chance to prove myself and follow those who have progressed before.
“Being told you’re not getting another contract, after being given a chance in the league, can either make or break you. Some people may go down the wrong path and give up, but having a taster was a good beginning to know what I must do now to get myself back up.”
As well as searching for success in the league, Hmami is hoping to be part of another underdog story in the FA Cup.
“It would be unbelievable to do it again, but it’s all about luck of the draw and how it goes. It doesn’t matter who you get, it will always be a tough game, and if things go our way, I don’t see why we can’t have a cup run.”
The tournament’s preliminary round gets underway on Friday 6 August, with Hmami believing the early stages helps to make the competition special.
“Every round is important, because you don’t see many teams do what Marine did, but all the sides around that level will have that belief of ‘why can’t it be us.’
Hmami is also looking forward to the return of crowds this season and getting to know people on the side-lines of his new club.
“Last season wasn’t the best because football without fans isn’t football. The fans at Southport always seem to come out in their numbers and give a good atmosphere at games. From what I’ve seen it’s a great club and hopefully I can get a few goals for everyone.”