The magic of the FA Cup competition is finally back, as the most exciting stage of the world’s oldest football tournament, the First Round proper, kicks off this weekend.
The Third Round and the entrance of the cream of the English game is a great moment for the competition, but there’s nothing quite like the First Round. All the attention will be on the passion and the drive of the non-league sides, who will hope to grab their rare chance in the media spotlight by indulging in a spot of giant-killing. From a monetary point of view, it’s also a chance for some of the non-league sides to bring in some much-needed funds to keep them ticking over.
It is always intriguing to see teams consisting of carpenters, bricklayers and milkmen coming up against the pros. For these sides, many of whom have already played up to five fixtures, reaching this stage is a significant milestone.
Take eight-tier Warrington Town, who struggle for notoriety in such a Rugby League heartland. They are thrust in front of the television cameras for their first appearance in the First Round against League Two’s Exeter City tonight.
It will already be a money-spinner for the Cheshire club, but the town, and undoubtedly neutrals will hope that they can emulate minnows like obscure Chasetown’s fairy-tale run to the Third Round of years gone by.
Doncaster manager Paul Dickov will also have to do his utmost to avoid slipping on a banana skin, as they face a long trip to Somerset to play another First Round debutant in Weston-super-Mare. The struggling Conference South side will hope a giant-killing can be the remedy to turn their season’s fortunes round.
Meanwhile, plucky Isthmian League underdogs East Thurrock United face an equally gruelling 540-mile round journey north to League Two Hartlepool United, and have abandoned the usual away routine of the player’s car-sharing, with a special coach lined up for the occasion. The Essex side’s manager John Coventry will hope the experience of travelling on the West Ham coach will inspire his charges to victory over the County Durham professionals.
On the flip side, there are other non-league sides hoping to pull off shocks over some of their more illustrious neighbours. Worcester City make the short hop to the Ricoh on Sunday to face Coventry City, backed by around 3,000 fans. Coventry know all about FA Cup shocks themselves, after losing as reigning champions to Sutton United in 1988. The Sky Blues’ heyday may have passed, but it’s a huge game for Worcester, who boast a significant upset in their history, when they beat Liverpool back in 1959.
Closer to Leeds, a West Yorkshire derby is in store as AFC Halifax host 2012 League Cup heroes Bradford City. There are other non-league and Football League match-ups, including Gosport Borough, who entertain Colchester United, and Havant and Waterlooville, who will play Preston North End. ‘The Hawks’, as Havant are known, almost shocked Liverpool in the 2007/2008 competition, leading twice before going down 5-2. Hemel Hempstead travel to Greater Manchester to face League Two Bury, while Aldershot will play their Hampshire neighbours Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Elsewhere, Forest Green Rovers host League One Scunthorpe.
One thing’s for sure – there is, as ever, a serious chance of a few shocks.
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