While all the talk on the major news outlets is currently of the return of ‘proper football’ in a mere 3 days, just round the corner is also the first ray of light for the boyhood dreams of winning the FA Cup.
‘The Extra Preliminary Round’. The start of a new season of FA Cup magic, hidden away from Sky Sports News, and the BBC, at the lower ends of the pyramid the competition slowly gets into gear again.
This year’s FA cup will see 736 sides compete. By the time the general football world throw a glance at the competition on arguably the most popular weekend of the tournament, 3rd Round weekend, where the big guns grace the competition with their presence, a mere 64 of these teams remain. For a staggering 184 teams the competition ends before the last weekend in August with defeat in the extra preliminary round.
The fixtures for the round can be found on a website looking to encapsulate the meaning for the FA Cup for non-league sides, ‘The Real FA Cup’: http://therealfacup.co.uk/fixtures/ Along with an extremely handy map of all matches: http://therealfacup.co.uk/map/
This round sees a wide range of clubs, varying from phoenix clubs set up in the aftermath of the collapse of the original side, such as AFC Rushden and Diamonds, amateur clubs with a long history and prestige such as Bishop Auckland, and indeed some new boys making their first appearance in the competition including Haverhill Borough.
Non-league football has always been a draw for me. Upon my return to London I would regularly attend games at Dulwich Hamlet, and preseason games at teams like Margate were amongst the highlights of the summer with Millwall.
While Football Manager was devouring my life, it would always be with the likes of Dover and Woking rather than Man Utd and Liverpool. Indeed a visit to Telford to watch Telford v Leigh RMI with other likeminded masochists saw me watching the greatest England game of my generation in a pub with Telford fans as England beat Germany 5-1 away, rather than in a local like most other people.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to starting the FA Cup journey amongst the real heart of grassroots football, the most complicated bit is choosing a match to attend.