While Cristiano Ronaldo is busy sunning himself and the rest of the Premier League squads are breaking into a gentle sweat in the seemingly never-ending weeks of preseason friendlies, hundreds of clubs lower down the pyramid are already gearing up for their shot at FA Cup glory.
The first round in the Autumn may be a long way off, and Premier League entry in January even further away, but for many of England’s non-league clubs, their chance at a shot of giant-killing starts on August 16th in the extra preliminary qualifying round. The first preliminary qualifying round then takes place a few weeks later on August 30th.
And this season, the early rounds that go such a long way to helping create that ‘magic of the cup’ will get the recognition they deserve. ITV, who’ve taken over the rights to the competition, will be filming some of these early games and making them available online at ITV.com.
It’s one of a number of new features ITV.com will be introducing to their site over the coming weeks to support the huge amount of football that’ll be broadcast on ITV1 and ITV4 this season. ITV.com launched a redesign of their site earlier this week and will be gradually adding the features in the run up to the new season.
Last season the FA made highlights of these rounds available on their website but ITV’s commitment to grass-roots football goes even further.
The broadcaster will select a number of matches for filming each FA Cup weekend and highlight packages will be available on ITVlocal.com, ITV.com and TheFA.com. Any club that doesn’t have an ITV Local camera at their game will be able to upload their videos to the Grassroots Sport area of the website.
ITV Local’s Director of Content, Lindsay Charlton, said: “For the first time in the history of the FA Cup, dozens of preliminary and qualifying round matches will be captured on camera, thanks to ITV Local.
“What makes the FA Cup exciting is those small clubs that manage to smash their way through from the early rounds to face Premier League giants. With a little luck ITV Local will be able to follow some of this year’s giant killers all the way.”
This year’s FA Cup has seen a record 762 clubs enter the competition, with the most-ever teams entering at the Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round. That includes last season’s FA Vase finalists Lowestoft and AFC Fylde (now going under the name Kirkham and Wesham). The 16th also sees such ties as the rather quaint Borrowash Victoria v Market Drayton Town, as well as a few ‘big’ name clubs.
Spennymoor Town, the former Unibond side who collapsed and reformed a few years ago, start their cup campaign away to Jarrow Roofing Boldon CA. Meanwhile Wembley — who were formed in 1946 by people in the area who felt it wasn’t quite right that the home of national football didn’t have its own team — are at home to Royston Town.
Any one of these teams, plus the rest of the clubs that make up the 203 teams in the Extra Preliminary Round, could have the ITV cameras at their ground on the 16th.
Fast-forward to the Preliminary Round on August 30th, and several other familiar names make their entrance into the competition, including last season’s FA Cup heroes Chasetown. The Scholars were one of the lowest-ranked teams ever to reach round three last year, knocking out League 1 side Port Vale along the way before going down 3-1 to eventual finalists Cardiff City. This season they’ll be embarking on what they hope will be another famous cup run at home to Carlton Town.
Another side that nearly booked their place in the third round last season were Harrogate Railway, who nearly caused an upset against Mansfield Town (who themselves will have to qualify after relegation to the Conference last May). This year the Railymen’s cup dream starts away to either Dunston Federation or Tadcaster Albion.
Possibly the biggest name to enter the FA Cup in August is FC Halifax Town, the ‘phoenix’ club from former league club Halifax Town. The Shayman’s long-running financial problems came to a head earlier this year when they folded and were ejected from the Blue Square Premier with debts of £2.1m. The fans and the consortium rallied and despite still struggling financially, Halifax supporters will be happy to see their club make it into the draw and have a shot at giant-killing glory.
And it’s that chance of a dream tie against one of the top Premiership sides in early January that adds to the magic of the competition, even at this stage of the season. Certain clubs have seen their names woven into FA Cup folklore.
Hereford may now be a League One team, but they caused one of the greatest ever upsets in 1972 when, as a Southern League club, they defeated top-flight Newcastle United in a replay at Edgar Street.
Then there’s Yeovil Town, who were also a non-league team when they defeated Sunderland in the 4th Round way back in 1949. More recently, the Glovers have come close against Liverpool and very nearly defeated Charlton Athletic in the fourth round in 2004. Now a League One club, Yeovil were subjected to a giant killing of their own when Blue Square Premier westcountry rivals Torquay United thrashed the Glovers 4-1 at Plainmoor last season.
In recent years, non-league teams have provided the FA Cup with some of it’s most memorable moments — think both Exeter City and Burton Albion holding the mighty Manchester United to 0-0 draws in successive seasons – and helped make last year’s tournament one of the most exciting and unpredictable in recent memory.
Havant and Waterlooville were the team that every natural in the country was cheering on last season when they knocked out high-flying Swansea City before twice taking the lead at Anfield against Liverpool in the 4th round.
The Hawks may have eventually gone down 5-2 but they wrote their way into FA Cup history that day. On Saturday 16th August, 203 other clubs will be taking their first steps on a journey that could end in cup glory.
All FA Cup videos from early round matches will hosted at http://www.itvlocal.com/facup.
Gary Andrews is an ITV publicist and a non-league football fan. Even though Exeter City don’t have to qualify this year, he’ll still be at an Extra Preliminary Qualifying game.