Smallest clubs get chance to shine
17 September ~ The FA Cup is one of football's great equalisers, which is why those who wield power in the game see it as an inconvenience at best – to be tolerated because it might bring prestige in a dry year. At worst, they would rather see it gone. There are three great moments of democracy in the competition: the third and first rounds proper, plus the first qualifying round, which took place last weekend. On this day, the most obscure teams get as big a byline as they will ever get in the Monday results supplements.
Conversely, some former league teams are right down there, slumming it. The juxtapositions are wonderful. Sheffield FC, the world's oldest club, lost 4-1 to Frickley. Are Team Northumbria of the Northern League the newest? They lost 4-0 at home to Scarborough – one of three teams to be formed from the ashes of former league clubs (post automatic promotion from the Conference) and participate, the others being Rushden & Diamonds (drew 2-2 away at Cockfosters) and Maidstone, 1-0 victors away at Three Bridges.
Those with a knowledge of distant history might also have spotted Glossop North End (lost 2-1 to Runcorn Linnets), Bootle (1-1 with Worksop) and Merthyr Tydfil, no longer flying the flag for Wales after a 2-1 defeat at Bridgwater. FC United of Manchester, who were within 60 seconds of knocking out that season's League One champions, Brighton, in 2011, are out after losing 1-0 at home to Chorley (who themselves once stuffed Wolves 3-0). The great amateur team, Corinthian Casuals, suffered a 1-0 defeat away at Merstham.
There are personal moments of memory, random associations. Penrith beat Padiham 3-1. My family live in a small village just outside Padiham: technically, this is their local team. Penrith is mentioned in of one of my favourite movie moments of all time (Richard E Grant as Withnail screaming "No I'm not in London. Penrith. Penrith!" down the phone to his agent). I remember them once losing 9-0 to Burnley in the first round. Trivial? Yes of course, but that's precisely the joy of it. Eastbourne 3-2 Tunbridge Wells catapults me back to my youth, spent living between these two paragons of middle-class conformity. Yet were either club to get to the first round and draw a league team, I would be rooting for them.
Guernsey's 3-2 win over Hastings United is an intriguing result. Imagine the media interest if the Channel Islanders were to get to the first round and draw a League team? Inspired by this I also notice "Dunkirk FC", who drew 0-0 with Blaby & Whetstone. I am intrigued. But this is no French incursion and five minutes online reveals the truth: Dunkirk is also the name of a Nottingham suburb and that's where the team plays, as members of the Midland Alliance, the ninth tier of English football.
The biggest winners were Burgess Hill, 8-1 at home to Alton; and credit also to Hemel Hempstead, 7-0 away winners at St Margaretsbury. Corsham's 4-4 draw with Bristol Manor Farm may have been the day's most exciting tie. Perhaps Sleaford v Huntingdon has a case, the game being abandoned after a mass brawl. On the Huntingdon Post website both teams seem to be blaming each other. Sleaford say that the Huntingdon bench was the instigators but Huntingdon have countered, claiming the melee was sparked by Sleaford blocking an attempt to take a long throw – Huntingdon's No 2 being a "Rory Delap type" according to the Post.
On a day when Burnley v Blackburn was also being played, that this minor game resulted in the biggest on-field violence problem of any English game in recent years is to note the passion which the FA Cup produces. Or possibly some anger management problems among a few people.
Am I a hopeless football romantic for loving all this stuff? Yes, of course. So are hundreds of thousands of other people for whom all these little teams mean something, even if it is just a small thing. But from these roots did the whole democratic structure of English football once grow. For its sake, let us hope it still does. Drew Whitworth