Maybe it’s an age thing, but with all the modern chatter about co-efficiency, global markets and parachute payments, there’s nothing that makes my football heart soar more than the early stages of the FA Cup. It never fails to woo me, as it delivers a host of tales from lower leagues that comedian and Leyton Orient fan Bob Mills, or DJ and Colchester United fan Steve Lamacq, would label ‘real football’.
Only the Premier League and Championship remain estranged from a tournament whose preliminary round started in mid-August, with teams such as Cadbury Heath, Oldland Abbotonians and Oxhey Jets all dreaming of a Cup run, and possibly a third-round date with one of the domestic game’s royalty.
As it stands, we’re at the first-round-proper stage, and my favourite story comes courtesy of St Albans City, who face a home tie against Mansfield Town. In 1922, a man by the name of Wilfred Minter scored seven goals for St Albans against Dulwich Hamlet, which is remarkable enough in itself; but that’s not even the half of it.
Despite scoring a hat-trick, then another hat- trick, and then another pearler just for good measure, old Wilfred ended up on the losing side. Goalkeeping injuries on that fateful day had forced the Saints to place a defender between the sticks and in the end they lost the match 8–7.
The 2013 minnows are Gloucestershire’s Shortwood United, who came from behind in the last round to beat Conference side Aldershot, with Adam Mann scoring the winning goal – thus ensuring that a butcher somewhere in Nailsworth is considering naming a sausage after him. And so he should be.
They’ll host Port Vale, while another eighth tier side, Daventry Town, travel to Chesterfield.
It’s not just unlikely stories that make these early stages of the FA Cup so special, but poign- ant reminders of better days.
The first round kicks off on Friday 8 November. BT Sport will be showing a game between two sides that both won the FA Cup in my childhood, in 1987 and 1988. I’m only 36, but the remnants of what was once Wimbledon, and the current plight of Coventry City, are a far cry from Dave Bassett’s Crazy Gang or the flying Sky Blues of Cyrille Regis, Keith Houchen and Brian Kilcline. Nostalgic, yes, but a little sad at the same time.
There are 40 ties in all, with countless stories hidden among them. ITV has decided to send its OB trucks to the ProKit UK Stadium – or, as the locals call it, Woodside Park. There, Bishop’s Stortford of the Conference South will take on League Two side Northampton Town, and in so doing, will receive vital match-day revenue that only television cameras can deliver at this level.
I could go on. There’s Dover Athletic, for example, who can count Peter Taylor and Neville Southall as ex-managers, but I think I’ve made my point. I’ll look forward to the next El Clásico, and the Merseyside derby is circled in my diary, but I’d dearly love Brackley Town to sneak a shock away win at Gillingham. In my book, that’s sexy football.
Bishop’s Stortford v Northampton Town Sun 1:30pm (k/o 2pm) ITV (not STV); Shortland Utd v Port Vale Mon 7.30pm (k/o 7.45pm) BT Sp1