So that’s 344 clubs down and out, leaving just another 392 to compete for this season’s FA Cup with 232 of them facing each other in this First Qualifying Round, a round that sees the introduction of teams from Step Three of the non-league pyramid representing the Premier Divisions of the Southern League, the Isthmian League and the Northern Premier League.
Several clubs are experiencing life beyond the Preliminary Rounds for the first time in their FA Cup histories. Unsurprisingly, all of them are facing clubs they have never met in the Cup before, and in the case of Petersfield Town are pitted against a club who’ve made it as far as the Fourth Round in the past, Weymouth, although only one Division now separates the two clubs this season. One Division also only separates Phoenix Sports from Lewes, despite the fact that Phoenix had not won an FA Cup match before this season and the fact that Lewes has been exempted until this round of the competition.
Several Step Six teams are in this group of Q1 debutants and depending upon your point of view the draw has either been kind or cruel to most of them, pairing them up as it has with other clubs from the same level in the pyramid or from just one step above. For instance, Hook Norton from Hellenic League Division One West, who hadn’t even won an FA Cup match before this season, their reward for making it this far is a home tie against Step Five side Eastbourne United Association from the Southern Combination League.
Another Hellenic League Division One West club, Cheltenham Saracens, face Blackfield and Langley from the Premier Division of the Wessex League, just one step above them. South West Peninsula Premier League side Witheridge and Combined Counties League Division One club Bedfont & Feltham both do face a two-step gap, though, the former against Wimborne Town, the latter versus AFC Rushden and Diamonds, both of the Southern League Central Division. Facing just a one-step gap is Southern Combination League side Pagham who take on Carshalton Athletic from Isthmian League Division One South.
There will be a second Step Six club guaranteed to be in the 2nd Qualifying Round as Bodmin Town of the South West Peninsula League take on Almondsbury UWE from The Western League Division One. Both teams have made it this far in the competition before, Bodmin Town actually venturing as far as the 3rd Qualifying Round four seasons ago.
However, other Step Six sides, who have also actually ventured this far in the competition before, do face more daunting prospects to keep this season’s Cup dreams alive. East Midlands League outfit Holwell Sports are up against Bedworth United from the Premier Division of the Southern League, a fate that also awaits Peterborough Sports from United Counties League Division One and Plymouth Parkway from South West Peninsula League, who entertain Hitchin Town and Merthyr Town respectively. Long Buckby of United Counties League Division One versus Wingate & Finchley of Isthmian League Premier Division is arguably the biggest gap between teams facing each other in this round (courtesy of @TheRealFACup). These three-step match-ups are the equivalent of a League Two side taking on a Premiership club.
Step Six club Hinckley AFC, in their debut FA Cup season, also have the daunting task of facing a Southern League Premier Division side in the shape of Redditch United, whilst the other FA Cup debutant still going in this season’s competition, Rochester United, host Herne Bay, just one Division above them from the Isthmian League Division One South.
Hullbridge Sports’ reward for making it to the 1st Qualifying Round for the first time is to face fellow Essex Senior League side Basildon United, thereby guaranteeing one representative from that League in the next round. Which of them will be dreaming of at least emulating the 4th Qualifying Round two former clubs of the League achieved in the past, Canvey Island in 1993/94 and Southend Manor in 2011/12, both clubs, bizarrely, being knocked out by Kettering Town.
There’s a whole host of other clubs looking to progress beyond the 1st Qualifying Round for the first time ever, many of whom have yet to hit double figures in FA Cup campaigns. However, Biggleswade United is in its 11th FA Cup campaign, Padiham is in its 12th, Alsager Town in its 13th, AFC Blackpool in its 15th, and Chessington and Hook United who has had the most campaigns of this group of teams with sixteen.
Other clubs are making an appearance in the 1st Qualifying Round for the first time in a while. Congleton Town has experienced five successive Preliminary Round knock outs before this season’s 4-3 win over Handsworth Parramore saw the club finally progress one round further. It’s even longer for Goole AFC who had had eight successive Preliminary Round knock outs before finally winning this season. It is eleven years since Maltby Main from the Northern Counties East League Premier Division made it this far. But that is nothing compared to the length of time Northern League Division One side Washington has had to wait before appearing in this round once again. A 3-2 win over Wingate, Durham, in 1979 was the last 1st Qualifying Round game the Mechanics played, 17 campaigns ago and a hiatus of 36 years (Peterborough Sports has waited a massive 60 years longer than Washington, but that’s due to not having entered the competition since the year the old Wembley stadium was built).
Many clubs are looking to progress to the 2nd Qualifying Round for the first time in quite a while, whilst other clubs haven’t lost as early as this round for some years. The former group of clubs includes Shoreham (21 years and 17 campaigns), Pagham (25 years, 23 campaigns), Eastbourne United Association (28 years, 20 campaigns), Bridport (40 years, 29 campaigns) and Basford United (62 years since last won in 1st Qualifying Round, although just four FA Cup campaigns), whilst the latter group includes Hyde United (1993/94 last knocked out in 1st Qualifying Round), Thurrock (25 years since last eliminated at this stage) and Hendon (in its 30th season since losing 1-0 to Ruislip Manor in 1985).
Of the 116 First Qualifying Round ties only 27 of them feature clubs who have met each other in the FA Cup before. Frome Town and Chippenham Town have been drawn together for the fifth time with the Wiltshire side holding a 3-1 win ratio over their Somerset opponents. Kent based clubs Whitstable Town and Deal Town also face each other for the fifth time and have two wins apiece, but Whitstable will want to avenge the 7-2 drubbing they received at the hands of their opponents at this stage 51 years ago.
Buxton and Ramsbottom United met at this stage last season with The Bucks running out 3-2 winners, as did Droylsden and Ossett Albion, with The Unicorns keen to avenge the 4-0 defeat inflicted by The Bloods. Shoreham and Eastbourne Town have had to wait a little longer before their second FA Cup encounter, having last met in the 1950/51 season in the Preliminary Round, a 2-1 win to The Bourne.
Finally, in the Extra Preliminary Round it was Penistone Church versus Pontefract Collieries, in the Preliminary Round it was Barnstaple Town against Bridgwater Town, and in the 1st Qualifying Round the only tie where both clubs have the same initials is Northern League Division One side Consett versus Colne from the North West Counties League Premier Division.