Thirty-two Non-league clubs have made it through to the First Round of this year’s FA Cup, and I wish every one of them all the best in going even further in the competition, regardless of what they have had to do to get there. A couple of Non-league clubs, namely Didcot Town and Northwich Victoria, have had to win through five rounds already just to get this far, and they are truly deserving of the recognition and the plaudits they get from the National media, whilst the 13 National League clubs in the First Round have only had to overcome one team to get there, but they will still be lauded by the media as the ‘plucky underdogs’.
Without denegrating the achievements of those clubs that are in the First Round, I actually want to salute all of the 612 other clubs who have taken part in the competition since August, clubs who will never even be of the radar of those TV, radio and newspaper reporters and pundits now actively presenting the FA Cup as if it started in November (or January). All of those clubs taking part, and failing in the Preliminary and Qualifying Rounds, help make the FA Cup what it is, namely the best Cup competition in the World. Ashton and Backwell United, Blaby and Whetstone Athletic, Debenham Leisure Centre, Ellistown and Ibstock United, Gorleston, Hemsworth Miners Welfare, Norton and Stockton Ancients, Penistone Church, Sporting Bengal United, Wellingborough Whitworths; these are just some of the rich tapestry of clubs and names that will eventually just become an extremely small footnote in the history of this year’s FA Cup in the minds of all but a handful of passionate supporters.
But I would like to take this opportunity of raising the profile of three of the clubs who didn’t quite make it to the First Round, but who have helped make the FA Cup the best in the world, and this season in particular have shown what the competition means to all those taking part who have little, if any, hope of ultimate glory (or of even getting into the media and public consciousness).
The first of my three stand-out clubs is Coleshill Town, playing their football in the Midland Football League Premier Division. Coleshill Town may well be vaguely remembered over time for losing 9-0 to National League North side AFC Fylde in the Third Qualifying Round, but that match was just their fifth FA Cup tie (and sixth FA Cup match) of this season’s campaign having started in the Extra Preliminary Round in the middle of August. In that EP Round of matches Coleshill Town faced Ellesmere Rangers of the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division and ended up running out 11-0 winners. In fact despite being on the wrong end of a 9-0 defeat to exit the competition, Coleshill Town still ended up with a very healthy positive goal difference in their FA Cup matches, having scored 21 goals and conceding just 14 in their six games. It is for this noteworthy achievement of total number of goals and a plus seven goal difference despite the manner of their exit that, in my opinion, places Coleshill Town apart from the crowd.
The second of my three stand-out clubs is Westfields, members of the same Division as Coleshill Town. Westfelds played just three ties in the FA Cup before being eliminated in the First Qualifying Round by Barwell, one of the clubs making history by being in the First Round for the first time ever. It is Westfields’ Preliminary Round replay performance that will always stick in my mind, a ‘never-say-die’ attitude that saw the club recover from a 4-0 half-time deficit away at Kidsgrove Athletic from the higher Northern Premier League Division One South, to not only take the tie into extra time, but to also comeback from falling behind yet again during that extra time, to finally win the match 6-5 with the last kick of the ball. Westfields were never likely to win many more matches in this season’s FA Cup, but that fightback, that eagerness to remain in the competition as long as possible, epitomises for me what it means for clubs who participate in these early round FA Cup matches. And what ultimately makes it such a wonderful competition.
The third of my three stand-out clubs is Sporting Khalsa, purely coincidentally also plying their trade in the same Division as Coleshill Town and Westfields. Sporting Khalsa entered this year’s competition in the Extra Preliminary Round having only ever participated twice before, and on both of those occasions falling by the wayside just one round later. This year a comprehensive 5-0 win at Malvern Town followed by an equally comprehensive 4-0 win at home to Cadbury Athletic took the club into the uncharted territory of the First Qualifying Round for the first time ever. Three more wins, all very tight encounters against AFC Wulfrunians, Basford United and Spalding United, the latter two from the higher Northern Premier League First Divisions, saw the club as the last remaining team from the Extra Preliminary Round still standing in the Fourth Qualifying Round, one step away from potentially meeting a League club.
The club gained a lot of publicity ahead of, during and after their eventual defeat to FC United of Manchester, particularly in local media and national on-line media, and being the last EP Round club standing is commendable enough on its own. However, the club did more than just win their way through five FA Cup ties, they also did it winning a lot of friends on the way, and ahead of their big day (and in preparation of an expected record crowd,) saw members of the club and the local community come together to produce a phenomenal effort to enable them to be able to stage the game. A perfect example of everything that is great about local football and the FA Cup.
So, stand up everybody involved with Coleshill Town, Westfelds and Sporting Khalsa; players, board members, volunteers and fans alike, not only doing the Midland Football League proud, but representing everything that is fantastic about this wonderful and unique FA Cup competition.