Football’s oldest cup competition is back. The FA Cup, first held in 1871, returns once again, with the first round fixtures taking place this weekend.
The ‘magic of the cup’ has become a cliché over recent years, saved for the rare occasions when an electrician from Stockport nets a last minute winner against a Premier League side. The glamour and riches of England’s top flight has lead some to consider the FA Cup a supplementary competition, but for many the magic is well and truly alive – and no more so than in the First Round Proper.
In fact, for a significant number of clubs partaking in the opening round of the competition, the FA Cup has been underway for months. Rounds and rounds of qualifying have finally lead to this, a chance to take on a club from the Football League. Every year, the cup throws up exciting fixtures and stories, with Bradford’s run last year capturing the attention of both the press and neutrals alike. In fact not only neutrals, but anyone other than Chelsea fans will have let out a wry smile when they saw Mark Yeates net a last minute goal to see the Bantams romp to a 4-2 comeback win. Elsewhere, Blyth Spartans raced into a two-goal lead against Birmingham, ranked 120 places above their hosts, thanks to a brace from Robbie Dale. With the home fans dreaming, three goals in six second-half minutes saved Gary Rowett’s blushes and sent the Blues through, but another non-league side had made a name for themselves.
Perhaps this year’s most tantalising match for the casual spectator is that of Salford City v Notts County. With the first round match coinciding with a BBC documentary all about the club, Salford’s publicity is higher than ever. This is perhaps no surprise, when you consider that they are owned by some of the most famous Manchester United academy products of all time…The Class of ’92. Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers all have roles within the club, but all of that will be background TV montages and commentator filler when the game gets underway. Notts County represent one of the tougher draws that the Ammies could get, but no doubt the fast developing club will give them a tough game.
Another club likely to suffer patronising commentary about their players’ day jobs are FC United of Manchester. Also a Lancashire outfit , this side were formed in 2005 by Manchester United fans who opposed the takeover of Malcolm Glazer. Since their inception, FC United have made a habit of campaigning for change in some of the controversial issues surrounding football, including kick-off times, In fact, the side rejected the opportunity to move their qualifying match against Sporting Khlasa, after the BBC asked them to trial a new ‘Mobile Match of the Day Live Experience’.
This time they were not so lucky though. Having drawn Chesterfield in the First Round Proper, FC United have been forced to accept a Monday evening kick-off. The club have released a statement outlining their disappointment in the decision, but the FA are holding firm.
Outside of Manchester and its surrounding areas, Didcot, the lowest ranked team in the First Round Proper will welcome League Two’s Exeter City to The Loop Meadow Stadium. Didcot, who play in the Evo-Stik League Southern Division (the eighth tier of English football). Started their FA Cup campaign in the Preliminary Round, with a 4-3 win away at Wantage Town FC in late August. Over two months later, and five rounds of qualifying negotiated, the TV cameras will descend on Didcot hoping for an FA Cup upset.
Other ties of note include the highest ranked team in the draw, Gillingham, who travel to Stevenage, with the Hertfordshire team struggling towards the bottom of League Two. Last year’s surprise package Bradford travel to Aldershot Town, with Phil Parkinson hoping to emulate his successes of last season.
The North West of the country remains the focus of the key ties however, with 2012-13 FA Cup winners Wigan making the short journey across Lancashire to local rivals Bury. With both teams around the top six of League One, the match represents perhaps one of the biggest clashes of the opening round. Lastly, Portsmouth remain a huge scalp at this level, and the south coast side will welcome National League Macclesfield to Fratton Park.
So whilst television companies are unable to show a Manchester United FA Cup game on TV for a change (only because they’re not entered until the Third Round) they’ve taken two clubs from just up the road. However, for fans up and down the country, of clubs both large and small, the First Round Proper of the FA Cup represents arguably the most enjoyable weekend of football each year has to offer. Who will shine? Who will make headlines for the first time in their lives? The FA Cup is back!
All FA Cup First Round Matches:
Burton Albion v Peterborough United
Port Vale v Maidenhead United
Barnet v Blackpool
Bristol Rovers v Chesham United
Cambridge United v Basingstoke Town
Mansfield Town v Oldham Athletic
Altrincham v Barnsley
Crewe Alexandra v Eastleigh
Northwich Victoria v Boreham Wood
Coventry City v Northampton Town
Brackley Town v Newport County AFC
Grimsby Town v St Albans City
Hartlepool United v Cheltenham Town
Salford City v Notts County
Dover Athletic v Stourbridge
Stevenage v Gillingham
Millwall v AFC Fylde
Aldershot Town v Bradford City
Walsall v Fleetwood Town
Bury v Wigan Athletic
Portsmouth v Macclesfield Town
Sheffield United v Worcester City
Barwell v Welling
FC Halifax v Wycombe Wanderers
Crawley Town v Luton Town
Doncaster Rovers v Stalybridge
Didcot Town v Exeter City
Dagenham & Redbridge v Morecambe
Leyton Orient v Staines Town
Gainsborough Trinity v Shrewsbury Town
Maidstone United v Yeovil Town
Braintree Town v Oxford United
Whitehawk v Lincoln City
Accrington Stanley v York City
Scunthorpe United v Southend United
AFC Wimbledon v Forest Green Rovers
Plymouth Argyle v Carlisle United
FC United of Manchester v Chesterfield
Rochdale AFC v Swindon Town
Wealdstone v Colchester United