First round proves magic of the FA Cup is not dead




The old adage about the “magic” of the FA Cup seems to be alive and well after a dramatic first round. There were plenty of upsets for the fans of the minnows who remain in the competition, such as Warrington Town to enjoy.

Warrington, who ply their trade in the Evostik Northern Premier League Division One North, the eight-tier of English football, beat fully-professional League Two side Exeter City.  Worcester City achieved an equally impressive victory, with the Conference North side overcoming the 1987 winners, Coventry City.

Semi-professional and amateur sides overcoming their professional colleagues is what the FA Cup is all about. Warrington Town’s goalkeeper, Karl Willis, is a web-developer during the week, and had to put in a holiday request form to get an afternoon off work to queue up and get tickets for the big game for his family.

His boss had no idea he played football, and his colleagues were taken aback when he turned up at work with his boots, and Willis explained that he was about to play football on TV. For a side whose players have to regularly miss their rare training sessions because of their work commitments to beat a famous full-time professional team like Exeter, over 100 league places above them, is extremely impressive.

The North-Easts very own Blyth Spartans also pulled off a shock result, the Evostik Northern Premier team thrashed Conference side Aldershot 4-1 to go through to the next round. The Northumberland team have history in the competition – they famously got through to the all-important 3rd round (when the big-name Championship and Premier League teams enter the competition) in the 2008/09 season.

Although a lot of non-league teams didn’t make it through, they can be very proud of their performances. East Thurrock United of the Ryman Premier were unlucky to lose out to Hartlepool 2-0, after goalkeeper David Hughes made several great saves. But the electrician was unfortunate to let the ball slip through his hands, after a brilliant performance, to gift Hartlepool the lead.

The draw hasn’t been particularly kind to the minnows who qualified for the second round, who all have to travel away to mainly unglamorous locations. Warrington will travel to the North East to play Gateshead, and Blyth have a North-East derby away at Hartlepool, but both teams would have understandably wanted lucrative home-ties against big teams.

Fans of non-league sides will be praying that their teams can get through to the third round and will get the chance to see their heroes playing against famous Premier League names. And the nature of the FA Cup is such that anything can happen, its beauty is in its unpredictability. And as many have commented in this last week, the competition has been a brilliant advert for lower and non-league football, which is a world away from the plasticity and sky-high prices of the Premier League.

The FA Cup is one of the rare occasions when this ‘real’ football gets the attention it deserves, and long may it continue, as it truly is the bastion that helps to keep lower league football the fantastic institution that it is.


Photograph: Dan Slee

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