The weekend of the First Round of the FA Cup is a familiar enough date in the football calendar to have spawned any number of tropes to have sprung over the years. Every year, the same narrative is written, one of plucky minnows and giants such as, say, Burton Albion or Fleetwood Town. Now, we here at 200% are as guilty of indulging in this as anybody else, but we feel that this qualifies us to introduce this fun game* with some fantastic prizes to be won**, so tighten the lid on your thermos flasks, put that magazine about diesel rolling stock of the 1970s down for a moment, and come join us for our game of FA Cup First Round I-Spy.
*Game probably not that much fun.
**There are no prizes, unless you count the grudging admiration of your peers, and you may not even receive that.
Oversized Tin Foil FA Cup: Footballers are usually understood to be unlikely to trouble Mensa too much, but the PFA can at least console itself with the knowledge that, so far as we are aware, there are no recorded instances of a player mistaking an oversized tin foil FA Cup for the real thing and supposing that his team has been given a bye to a final which is inexplicably being held in Stevenage rather than at Wembley. The tin foil cup has undergone something of a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, which means that it will probably fall foul of the catch-all derision of having acquired ‘hipster’ status soon. Because that’s what hipsters do of an evening – they sit at home, stencilling out a rough approximation of the FA Cup, cutting it out and covering it in Bacofoil. 5 points, but double your score if it has ‘Up For The Cup’ scrawled over it in a manner which suggests that its maker was drunk when he set about his task, and treble it if said tin foil cup looks nothing whatsoever like the actual FA Cup.
Commentators Repeatedly Pointing Out The Number Of League Positions Between Two Clubs During A Broadcast: This, of course, is very much a part of the modern coverage of early round FA Cup matches. Why bother trying to explain the complexities of the non-league pyramid to your audience when you can merely reel off an impressively big number and prove to your producer that, actually you were researching last night and that you definitely weren’t in a casino until five in the morning drinking until you frothed at the mouth. This phenomenon only manifests itself when non-league teams are involved at this stage, of course. ‘There are twenty places between Colchester United and Hartlepool United’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, somehow. One point, but double your score if they get the number of places wrong.
Senior Executives From The FA Wandering Around A Ground Looking Mildly Confused That No-one Recognises Them: Brentford-supporting Greg Dyke will most likely be at his team’s massive derby with Staines Town this weekend so he doesn’t really count, but otherwise this is a weekend for the custodians of the game to demonstrate that they are in touch with something approaching its “grass roots” by pitching up at a match, blazer and tie and all, before wandering off midway through the second half with the question of how many free gin and tonics they might be able to blag before they’re rumbled hanging heavy in the forefront of theirs minds. Ten points, but double your score if they’re wearing a scarf that they clearly bought ten minutes before kick-off. Add one thousand points if they streak across the pitch.
Local Shops Bedecked In Club Colours: The seductive power of global capitalism has had a devastating effect on the local high street, with pound shops and cheque cashing usuary facilities seemingly being the only businesses that actually want to move there at the moment. For the purposes of our game, this adds a rarity value to optimistic – in several senses – shopkeepers decking out their businesses in the colours of their local clubs in the days building up to a big cup match. Perhaps the centre of Bishops Stortford is proving me wrong as I write this, and that the whole town is bedecked in blue and white ahead of Sunday’s match against Northampton Town, but it seems unlikely, somehow. Ten points, but multiply by ten if the local bakers have launched a range of pies named after the entire team.
Over-Excited Local Radio Commentators: Perhaps you’re a rookie looking to make a name for yourself by getting your vocal chords to go viral on YouTube. Perhaps you’re a veteran passed over for bigger gigs in favour of someone else. This weekend, there will doubtless be a clutch of stalwarts of local radio for whom this is an opportunity too good to miss, and the possibility of repeating John Motson’s career-breaking yelps as Ronnie Radford slapped one in from thirty-five yards out for Hereford United against Newcastle United in 1972 offers a glimpse of a better future for the under-recognised and under-valued local reporter whose dream career has already ended up with them trudging around the grounds of the Southern League Midland Division for not much more money than the minimum wage would offer. Remember: the louder you shout, the more likely you are to be heard. Five points for this, but multiply by five if the commentator goes Partridge at the moment of optimum excitement and shouts, “SHIT! DID YOU SEE THAT!” without having really given their brain the time to fully engage with their vocal cords.
Premier League Snobs Spending The Weekend Complaining About It All: So, let’s be clear about this. Watching non-league football isn’t hipsterdom at its finest. Just as with the supporters of all other clubs, those who support non-league clubs make their choice of who to support for a variety of different reasons, and none of them are ‘wrong’. It sometimes feels as if there is a generation of supporters for whom football isn’t a sport. It’s a mere branch of light entertainment. The simple answer to their complaints is to humbly suggest that they turn the other cheek. Don’t watch it, if you don’t like it. Go out and get some fresh air, if there’s a match on that you feel to be beneath you. It won’t stop them, though. And this weekend, somewhere or other , someone who is too good for all of this will express their feelings on the subject, predictable, voluably and tiresomely. Well, there’s something to look forward to. Five points, but double your score if you’re pretty certain that they’ve never been to a Premier League match in their life. Treble it if they’ve never been to a Premier League match in their life and watch all their matches on hooky internet streams.
Invasion Of The Snorkel Jackets: Already mentioned once here already, it’s possible that Hereford United’s win against Newcastle United in 1972 will forever be the definitive FA Cup giant-killing. Many of the mental images of that game – people balanced precariously in trees overlooking the ground watching it, the aforementioned Radford goal, a pitch made of a combination of chocolate mousse and grass – have passed into the folklore of that day, but perhaps the most abiding of all was the sight of hundreds of children pouring onto the pitch to mob the scorers of the goals that day. Almost all of them wearing regulation early 1970s dirty, faded, green coats. Two significant things have happened to the idea of the pitch invasion since then. Firstly, it’s been outlawed. Secondly, you’re most likely to see pitch invaders running towards opposition supporters, affecting that arms out, ‘I’ll fight you all’ pose so beloved of members of the English Defence League. Ten points, but you lose nine of these points if the transgressors are all wearing Stone Island jackets.
The Mainstream Media Gets At Least One Club’s Name Wrong: It’s probably understandable that a media which usually pays scant attention to English football’s flotsam and jetsam should get the names of smaller clubs wrong, but for those who go and watch these teams every week it could be forgiven for feeling a little like someone’s turned up at a wedding without knowing the bride’s name. It won’t be a Football League club’s name that they get wrong, of course (unless they accidentally called Stevenage “Stevenage Borough”, which is probably air game, considering that this was the club’s name until it joined the League). It’ll be a non-league club that has its name tampered with, most likely to have a suffix either added or taken away. It might be mildly Freudian – would anybody be that surprised if Daventry Town were rechristened “Daventry City” by some hack or other because “Daventry” sounds a bit like “Coventry”? – or it might be a wild guess – “Brackley… Town? United? Wanderers? Pretty sure no-one will notice anyway” – but it will happen somewhere, at some point. Mark my words. Five points for this. Fifty points if they call a “City” by the name of “Town.” Whether rightly or wrongly, people really care about this sort of thing. Trust me.
Television Preview Of Non-League Club Features Cameo Shots Of Players Doing Their Day Jobs: It’s as much a part of the tradition of the FA Cup as “Abide With Me” or the supporters of the losing team leaving Wembley Stadium before the trophy is announced. At some point over the weekend, a broadcaster will run a short feature on a non-league club and in the middle that feature there will be a series of shots of semi-professional players doing their day jobs. This sort of black and white approach rather overlooks the fact that some semi-professional players earn more juggling these two jobs than they would padding out the stiffs in the lower reaches of League Two. But look at them! They’re different! They’re almost like real people! Ten points for this, because it’s now such a cliché that even the least imaginative television producer might consider it a step too far. Double your score if a player featured is a minor member of the royal family. Multiply it by ten if they’re a drug dealer.
Former Star Player Spotted In Reduced Circumstances: Of course, the use of the word “star” has to be applied a little more liberally in this day and age that it used to be. There was a time when players sliding down the levels of the game as the knees started to feel increasingly fragile – example: Jimmy Greaves, one of England’s greatest ever strikers, turning out in the Southern League for Barnet for three seasons between 1977 and 1979 – was considered to be completely normal. The amount of money that even the less celebrated members of the Premier League universe can earn these days means that financial considerations are less important than they used to be, but for supporters of smaller clubs there is still a small sliver of satisfaction from saying “Hey, is that…?”, checking the programme and finding that you were right. Five points for this, but you can double your points if they’re over forty years old and you can have as many as you like if they’re over fifty.
So, have fun and play safe, everyone The final parts of our week’s worth of FA Cup over-excitement will be with you tomorrow evening and Saturday morning.
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