You can probably guess how excited I am about the First Round of the FA Cup, which is coming up this weekend. In spite of there being no teams competing in it in which I have a particular interest and the somewhat disappointing draw (most of the non-league sides seem to have been drawn against each other), there is still plenty of interest to be had as the semi-professionals and amateurs have a go at trying to give the professional clubs a bloody nose. The First Round of the FA Cup also gives one the opportunity to utter that most satisfying of phrases, “Oh, I wondered what had happened to him…” at the sight of a former “celebrity” (and I use the word in one of its looser definitions) now slumming it at the lower end of the game. For my part, it’s looking near certain that I’ll be at the match between Eastbourne Borough and Weymouth. It’s not too far from Brighton and, considering my immense dislike of Weymouth, it shouldn’t be too difficult for me to get behind the home team. Also, there is a reasonable chance of an upset, with the top team in the Conference South coming up against mid-table Conference mediocrity. Providing I get there and back without doing myself any serious damage, you can expect a full report on here tomorrow. Anyway, here’s my pick of the bunch from the weekend’s fixtures.
Eastbourne Borough vs Weymouth: Well, it’s semi-professionals against professionals, although at this level there’s not a lot to choose between the two teams. Eastbourne Borough came through the pack from a multitude of tiny clubs in the retirement home town down here on the south coast. As recently as 2000 they were called Langney Sports and played in the Sussex County League (the same level as previous stalwarts of this blog such as Shoreham FC and Whitehawk) but, since their name change, have made steady progress up the ladder and currently sit at the top of the Conference South, one point clear of their local rivals Lewes. Weymouth are the sort of club whose official website finds it appropriate to put the following song up as one of their club songs:
I was born under the Gasworks end,
I was born under the Gasworks end,
Boots were made for kickin’
Guns were made to shoot,
If you come to the Gasworks Ends,
We’ll all lay in the boot!
They bought the Conference South title two years ago with money that they they didn’t have, but nearly collapsed under the burden of carrying a League One wage budget in the Conference. They had to offload some of their more expensive players at that time, but still contain such familiar names as former Yeovil striker Nick Crittenden and the former Arsenal and Watford defender Paolo Vernazza. They currently sit in seventeenth place in the Conference, but are eleven points above the relegation places.
Ware vs Kidderminster Harriers: Ware are the smallest club still involved in the FA Cup. Located out on the East Hertfordshire border with Essex, they play in the Ryman League Division One North, where they currently sit in ninth place in a competitive division (this division contains relatively familiar names such as Canvey Island, AFC Sudbury, Enfield Town and Dartford), although they’d go second if they were to win all of their games in hand. There is something pleasingly home-spun about their website (in the “Players Profiles” section, midfielder Danny Gudgeon lists his place of birth as “Da ghetto”, his marital status as “married & a bit onda side” and the car he drives as “mum’s when she’s not in”), and they can comfortably expect to top their previous highest league crowd of this season of 231. Kidderminster were giant-killers themselves in the early 1990s, beating Birmingham City and Preston North End on the way to the Fifth Round in 1994. They were a Football League club for five years after winning promotion in 2000, and their team contain the now 37 year old Jeff Kenna and the former Mansfield and Leyton Orient striker Iyseden Christie.
Altrincham vs Millwall: Well, it’s the tie that (whether rightly or wrongly) every non-league club dreads, and non-league giant killers of old Altrincham entertain a Millwall side that is in a state of some disarray. Altrincham have been lucky over the last couple of years. In the first season of promotion in the Conference from play-offs, they went up having finished in fifth place in the Conference South and have survived two successive relegations in spite of having finished in the relegation places due to events elsewhere. Their manager, Graham Heathcote, was one of the key players in their great team of the late 1970s (they only narrowly avoided being voted into the Football League in 1979), so he has plenty of experience of dealing with this sort of fixture, as well. They couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing Millwall. The Lions appointed Kenny Jackett as their new manager on Tuesday, and are in the League One relegation places following a disastrous start to the season. Their name is packed with familiar names, such as former Chelsea reserve goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, ancient defender Richard Shaw, Neil Harris and Ahmet Brkovic, once of Luton Town. They should be too strong for Alty, but it’s not a match that they will be looking forward to.
Gainsborough Trinity vs Hartlepool United: As I have mentioned on here before, there aren’t many teams that have been members of the Football League but never been directly relegated whilst in it, but Gainsborough are one of them. Their membership of the League lasted twenty years until 1912 when they were controversially voted out in place of their big city local rivals from Lincoln. There aren’t any familiar names in their team, and they currently lay in fourteenth place in the Conference North. None of this will be much of a comfort to Hartlepool United, who were promoted from League Two last season and are currently eleventh in League One. Their team features Robbie Elliott (one of the very few players to have played for both Newcastle United and Sunderland) and the former Leeds United striker Ian Moore. Moore, somewhat exceptionally, scored just twice in forty-nine matches for Leeds United, which must surely be some sort of a goals to games record for a striker.
On top of this quartet, Notts County will be have cause for concern at the visit of Histon, Staines Town of the Ryman League Premier Division are in good good form and might just cause Stockport County a problem or two at Edgeley Park, AFC Bournemouth have a tortuous 320 mile journey to Cumbria to play former Football League club Barrow and perennial Conference strugglers Forest Green Rovers have improved on their normal showing this season, and currently sit in sixth place in the Conference – this sort of form means that Rotherham United won’t much be looking forward to their trip to the Cotswolds tomorrow. If you’re in the UK, there will be highlights on “Match Of The Day” tomorrow night, the goals will be available on BBC Interactive and, of course, they’re showing the match between Torquay United and Yeovil Town live on Sunday lunchtime.