South Park aiming for first round
11 October ~ Monday's FA Cup fourth qualifying round draw has given a number of sides from far down the football pyramid the opportunity to progress to the first round. There they could meet League One's heavyweights, such as ex-Premier League teams Sheffield United or Coventry City. The 32 ties will see a minimum of six clubs from a league lower than the Conference regional divisions make it through to the "proper" stages. South Park, based in Reigate in Surrey, only played in the FA Cup for the first time two years ago.
They are going well in the Combined Counties Premier, the same division as Wembley FC who were soul-sellers to Budweiser's ex-pro experiment (see WSC 308) earlier in the campaign. While Wembley fell at the preliminary round, South Park are a home win away from a place among League clubs, having already won five matches to get this far. Their 3-1 win over Brentwood Town last weekend was watched by 255 people, the highest ever attended game at their King George's Field. Their next opponents will be Metropolitan Police of the Isthmian League, who themselves have only reached the first round twice since the Second World War.
They are not the only side from step five – eight promotions away from the Premier League – to have reached this stage. Blackfield & Langley, near Southampton and playing in the Wessex League, reached the first qualifying round for the first time last season but have also beaten five opponents en route to an away tie with Hastings United. Having started their FA Cup quest a week before the Football League season began they could now face Portsmouth, winners of the competition in 2008 and only 15 miles down the road. Whoever wins will be making club history; Hastings have only reached the first round once since 1981 and haven't faced a League team in the competition since defeat to Northampton in 1960.
Last season was a good one for non-League clubs as four sides made it through to the third round. Conference champions Fleetwood were rewarded with a home tie against neighbouring Blackpool, Tamworth travelled to Everton and Wrexham were beaten on penalties by Brighton. Salisbury of the Conference South also made it through, losing 3-1 at Bramall Lane. AFC Totton reached the second round having dispatched Bradford Park Avenue 8-1 and benefitted from television revenue as well as prize money when they were drawn at home to Bristol Rovers.
The £72,000 they earned in television rights, and the £33,500 Stourbridge received after taking Plymouth to a televised replay, are enormous sums of money for clubs at such a level. The FA Cup is viewed as an unwelcome distraction for many Premier League clubs but the oft-marketed magic of the competition is far from dead for hundreds of lower-league sides, for whom one good Cup campaign can go a long way towards securing a sustainable future. Matt Ramsay