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This weekend sees the annual tradition of the third round of the FA Cup in England. Football romantics all over the country will be busy wistfully remembering giant killing goals from decades gone by and the media will be billing the weekend as ‘one for the purists’ and the weekend in the calendar that ‘everyone’ looks forward to.
But as much as the third round of the FA Cup is to be enjoyed – and hopefully we will see a lower league side knock out one of the big boys – as a non-league fan the ‘big’ FA Cup date has already passed.
The FA Cup actually begins in August for the smallest sides in the draw as the extra preliminary round disposes with a handful of clubs before the ‘big boys’ have even stepped onto their perfectly manicured playing surfaces for the first time in the season.
And for non-league fans – even those of National League clubs – it is not January’s third round date that stands out in the calendar. For them there is the dream of getting to the promised land of the 1st round proper. With the possibility of having already played six games before the first round, the prize of national exposure, competition prize money and the prospect of being drawn against a ‘big’ club from League One or Two is where the real excitement lies.
Every year there seems to be a familiar stream of non-league sides that are thrust into the spotlight by getting through to the first round proper and getting their 15 minutes of fame. With the professionalism of the National League never higher, many of the badly run and non-achieving League Two sides dread being drawn against one of the high fliers of the non-league game knowing that losing to them would stretch even further the description of that feat as a giant killing upset.
But for any club at National League North or South level and below, making that first round draw – on the television! – can be the highlight of the season, or maybe even of a lifetime.
Although as a fan you know there is little chance of getting through to the second round of the FA Cup, for the 90 minutes of the match – and more importantly, the build up to the game – anything is possible. Your ground might be looking a bit shabby, the stands in need of a coat of paint and your centre forward could do with losing a bit of weight, but for one brief moment everything is good in your football world.
So do enjoy the matches this weekend and try to gloss over the countless well-meaning, but ultimately patronising, descriptions of the non-league clubs that take part. But know as well that many clubs have already fallen by the wayside in this competition and are already remembering the heady days of the first round in November and their day in the sun.
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