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As usual 80 clubs will compete in the 1st Round of this year’s FA Cup with 24 clubs from both EFL Divisions One and Two joining the 32 Non-League clubs who have made it through from the Qualifying Rounds.
Of those 32 qualifying non-league clubs, half are members of the National League, four each come from the National Leagues North and South, two each come from the Premier Divisions of the Southern League, the Isthmian League and the Northern Premier League, whilst two clubs play their league football at level eight in the pyramid.
Northern Premier League Division One North side Hyde United and Isthmian League Division One North side Heybridge Swifts will both be participating in their sixth FA Cup tie this season. That’s the same number of ties that the likely Premier League winner will have to play. Both these two tier eight clubs are hoping to make it through to the 2nd Round of the FA Cup for the first time ever, but both face much higher Football League opposition.
Several other clubs are also hoping to progress beyond the 1st Round for the first time ever. Clubs such as Billericay Town, Nantwich Town, AFC Fylde and Guiseley have at least appeared in the 1st Round before, National League side Guiseley are doing so for the seventh time which, if they fail to win, would place the Yorkshire club in third spot in the all-time list of appearances in the FA Cup 1st Round without ever going any further.
Other clubs are making history already by appearing in the FA Cup 1st Round for the first time in their history. Southern League Premier Division side Hereford is competing in just the club’s second FA Cup campaign and will be looking to emulate its predecessor club, Hereford United, in terms of FA Cup giant-killing folklore. Northern Premier League Premier Division club Shaw Lane Association hadn’t even won an FA Cup game before this third campaign, but the club’s current run to the 1st Round means it now has twice as many FA Cup victories than losses!
Truro City, from National League South, has had to wait much longer to make it this far in the FA Cup having first appeared in the 1924-25 season. This year is the White Tiger’s 31st campaign in the FA Cup and the club becomes only the second one from Cornwall to appear in this Round. Falmouth Town achieved the feat three times in the 1960s but never progressed beyond the 1st Round, so Truro City has a fantastic opportunity to create Cornish football history. There’s just the small matter of an away tie at EFL One side Charlton Athletic to overcome.
Possibly the most surprising statistic of this year’s FA Cup 1st Round is how few of the 80 clubs involved will face opponents from the same League. Just two 1st Round ties pit clubs together who will face each other twice more in League games, and even more remarkably one of those ties involves the two remaining Isthmian League Premier Division sides, Leatherhead and Billericay Town. The only other same League match-up is the all EFL Division One encounter between Northampton Town and Scunthorpe United.
That all-Isthmian League encounter is one of several 1st Round ties between two non-league clubs, which guarantees at least five of them will be in the 2nd Round. Conversely, at least 13 EFL clubs will exit the competition at the first hurdle, some of whom could be former winners such as Bradford City, Portsmouth, Notts County, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers. The last team in that list are having to start their FA Cup campaign in the 1st Round for the first time in 38 years and Rovers haven’t exited the competition as early as this Round for another eight years before then.
Just 11 of the forty 1st Round FA Cup ties sees clubs coming up against opponents whom they have encountered in the FA Cup before. For Notts County, the club has had to wait 104 years for the chance to avenge the 2-0 defeat by Bristol Rovers way back before the start of World War I, whilst many other ties are re-matches from games played in the 21st Century.
One club who will be ruing their luck of the draw is Tranmere Rovers who have been drawn to face Peterborough United for the seventh time in the FA Cup. The unfortunate thing for Tranmere is that they been defeated by The Posh on all six previous occasions, managing just one goal-less draw in those meetings and scoring just three goals and conceding sixteen in the process.
Another one-sided FA Cup match-up is Luton Town versus Portsmouth. The Hatters have won all three previous FA Cup meetings with Pompey, the last of which was a Quarter Final tie in 1988 when both sides were top-flight clubs!
Forest Green Rovers will be competing in the FA Cup for the first time as a Football League club. Depending upon your view of football club history they are either the 142nd, the 143rd, or the 144th club to represent the Football League in the FA Cup. I suggest they are the 144th club based on the view that neither MK Dons nor AFC Wimbledon can lay claim to the history of Wimbledon FC, and that the current Newport County club is a different entity to the one that folded back in 1989. However, given that Chesterfield FC and Middlesbrough FC, to name but two, have both folded and re-formed during their long histories but have maintained the continuum of being regarded as one club, then the waters in this matter are very muddy indeed. Either way, it’s a great celebration for Forest Green.
Several other clubs are also celebrating significant FA Cup milestones. Hartlepool United, Exeter City and Rochdale are all competing in the FA Cup for the 100th time, whilst for Crewe Alexandra this year will be their 125th campaign. The celebrations are tempered a little bit, particularly for the latter three clubs, by the knowledge that they occupy the top three places for the most number of times a club has been eliminated from the FA Cup in the 1st Round. In the cases of Rochdale and Exeter City, they have suffered 1st Round knock-outs in about 50% of their campaigns. A glimmer of hope then for their respective non-league opponents, Bromley and Heybridge Swifts.