Has it really been just ninety-one days since the 2008 FA Cup Final? Apparently it has, but the FA Cup gets back under way this weekend with the Extra Preliminary Round. On Saturday afternoon, 406 entrants will take their marks, dreaming of the twin tower, meeting the Queen… well, probably not. For clubs entering the FA Cup this year, a run to, say, the Second Qualifying Round (in which the Conference North and South clubs enter) will probably be plenty enough excitement for one year. There are a record number of teams entering it this year – 706 – and the format remains the same. Two preliminary rounds and four qualifying rounds before the Football League clubs take their places in November.
None of this is to say, of course, that they should be underestimated. St Albans City drew local village team London Colney in 1995 and could only draw their first game against them 0-0 before winning the replay 4-1, and there are minefields aplenty for the bigger clubs that will join the party later on. Part of the problem for coaches at this level is a lack of knowledge about the opposition. The manager of an average Conference South team probably knows next to nothing about a County League team from ten miles up the road, and they have to physically go and see them play if they want to know about them, such is the scarcity of media coverage at that level.
Looking down the draw is sure to set a certain type of person’s heart racing, and I’m one of those people. Bedlington Terriers, the first names out of the hat in this year’s competition, may be named after one of the most extraordinary looking breeds of dog that there is, but they also have (sorry in advance for this pun) a cup pedigree of their own – it’s ten years this year since they beat Colchester United 4-1 in this very competition. They’re at home to Bryan Robson’s hometown team, Chester-le-Street Town. Bishop Auckland were, for many years, the most famous amateur team in the country, winning the FA Amateur Cup ten times and the Northern League nineteen times. They’ve fallen on hard times, and entertain Darlington Railway Athletic on Saturday. Billingham Synthonia, also of the Northern League, are away to Glasshoughton Welfare. Synthonia were the first club of one Brian Clough, who played for them before serving his national service, and then going on to become a professional with Middlesbrough.
The north-east isn’t the only part of the country to host clubs with quietly impressive pasts. Darwen, who are at home against Penrith, were FA Cup Semi-Finallists in 1881, and were members of the Football League between 1891 and 1899, during which time they achieved a record of eighteen successive league defeats, which has never been bettered. Colne (at home against Daisy Hill) are the successors to Colne Dynamoes (who we have covered on here before), and Runcorn Linnets are the successors to the Runcorn side that won the Conference in 1982. Glossop North End (away to Pegasus Juniors) were Football League members between 1898 and 1919, and hold the record for representing the smallest town ever to play in the top division of English football, when they spent one season in the First Division for the 1899/1900 season. They also made the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, in 1909.
Even in the south & south-east of England, there are clubs involved with hisories that many more successful clubs would give their right arms for. Clapton, who entertain Stewart & Lloyds on Saturday, are acknowledged by the Football Association as being the first English club to play on the continent, when they beat a Belgian XI at Antwerp in 1892. They also won the FA Amateur Cup five times, were founder members of the Southern League before transferring to become founder members of the Isthmian League, where they stayed for exactly 100 years before being relegated to the Essex Senior League in 2006. Wembley’s own team are at home against Royston Town, whilst Guildford City, who beat Brentford in the FA Cup First Round in 1968 and were a regular top six team in the Southern League during the 1960s, are away to Frimley Green.
Of course, this will all be swept under the carpet with the big kick-off in the Premier League on the same day. You can, however, watch a live FA Cup match this weekend. Thanks to the newly-revamped ITV Football web site, you can. should you choose, tune into the match between Wantage and Isle of Wight side Brading Town on Saturday evening. Kick-off is at 6.20. It should go without saying that we wish all the best to everyone taking part in this year’s FA Cup. Except for Arsenal, obviously.