6 November ~ Football League clubs begin their FA Cup campaigns this weekend and a number of sides have been handed intriguing draws against teams who have passed through the qualifying rounds to reach the competition proper. Huddersfield Town are one such club as they face the trip to Conference club Cambridge United, who are struggling to find any consistency as they languish in lower mid-table in the Blue Square Premier. Despite the excitement among U’s fans at the first-round draw, and subsequent bonus of ESPN deciding to televise the game, manager Martin Ling has been quick to highlight that this should not get in the way of the “bread and butter” that is the league.
Before the start of the season the realistic expectation among the Abbey Stadium faithful was to mount a serious challenge for the play-offs, something the club has achieved twice in the previous three seasons before suffering Wembley defeats. While this looks highly unlikely at present after a greatly disappointing start to the season there are still enough fixtures remaining which means that a top five finish isn’t an impossibility.
Regulars recall the fantastic season in 2007-08 when their side, then managed by Jimmy Quinn, bounced back from near relegation in the previous campaign to finish second in the league and reach the third round of the FA Cup. It was only a goal in the final two minutes that ended their hopes of a replay against Wolves, but the primary memory held from that season is the Wembley defeat to Exeter City that prevented United from playing League football for the first time since 2005.
With Exeter promoted straight up to League One and staying there for a second season and Cambridge still a non-League outfit there can be little doubt that the great majority of fans would give up the Molineux memories if it had made a difference to the promotion bid that season. While the £67,500 television revenue to be gained from the Huddersfield tie will bring a big boost to the on- and off-field budgets at the club, the day will have little part to play when it comes to judging the success of the season as a whole, whatever the result.
It can be argued that Exeter and Burton both benefited from the massive revenue of a trip to Old Trafford in this competition in previous years and both now find themselves in the Football League, but there can be no question that most Cambridge fans would give up their big day out if it could be swapped for a few years of rainy Tuesday evenings in Accrington. Matt Ramsay