The biggest and best club competition in the world was on the march once again this week, providing superb goals, big talking points, and a fair few inflated reputations left sorry and punctured.
Yes, it was the first qualifying round of the FA Cup. After the two preliminary qualifying rounds were completed, it was time for some proper qualifying. What else could I have been talking about?
The first qualifying round sees some of the bigger names in the non-league game enter the fray. Those from the leagues two tiers below the National League – the Conference as the purists still say – get involved. 72 clubs from the Northern, Southern, and ever entertainingly monikered Isthmian League come to play, with 160 sides who had battled through the preliminary qualifying stages.
Of those 160, 10 came from Level 10 of the pyramid, the lowest ranking you can have to be permitted to enter the FA Cup. For some, the dream is still alive after some high quality cup shockage.
Hinckley, of the Midland Football League Division One, dumped out Redditch United of three tiers higher 2-1. Hinckley A.F.C., as it was christened, was formed from the ashes of Hinckley United, and currently have no permanent home ground. It is now in the safer hands of a community trust, owned and ran by its own supporters. On the basis of their cup form, it looks as though this phoenix club will soon be on the rise.
Holwell Sports were another to channel the cup spirit, although not quit as successfully. Unlike Hinckley they have a long history, Holwell as it currently is having played constantly since 1902. The East Midlands Counties League side, playing in dashing yellow strips and green shorts that you suspect they may have nicked out of a loosely guarded Norwich dressing room, pushed the mighty Bedworth United, also of level seven, all the way. A 2-2 draw at Holwell, was followed by a goalless 90 minutes in the replay, before Bedworth finally disposed of their noble opponents 2-0 after extra time.
There will be four teams from the 10th tier in the second qualifying stage, with Hook Norton also upsetting higher ranked foes – Eastbourne United of the Sussex County League – 0-1, while in a battle of the bottom tier, the beasts of Bodmin Town overcame Almondsbury UWE 2-0. We wish them all the very best.
Now, for my final 100 words, I must once again become a tad biased, and update on the progress of Whitley Bay, who are also still in the cup after an extraordinary encounter with Matlock Town. A respectable 0-0 draw in Matlock saw the Bay hold home advantage at Hillheads in the replay. They were making it count too, 2-0 up at half-time through Shanks and Norris.
Matlock came out fighting in the second half, pulling one back through Purkiss on 55 minutes. Adam Shanks was then sent off for Bay, closely followed by a straight red for Robbie Williamson, leaving the hosts down to nine men against a side two divisions higher. When Matlock equalised with five minutes left, then took the lead in extra time, the jig was up, surely.
In the 122nd minute of the game, it was 3-3. A dramatic late header from Chris Reid. Whitley Bay won 4-2 on penalties. I love the FA Cup.
by Matt Smith