Take one look at the teams who enter the early rounds of the FA Cup and you cannot fail to be overwhelmed by a sense of a purer age of football. Teams like Ramsbottom United, Blaby Whetstone, Bristol Manor Farm and Jarrow Roofing will be hoping by 5pm today that they are in the hat for the next round, with a cheque for £4,500 in their back pockets. Their road to Wembley will undoubtably be over long before fans of the professional clubs have even realised this year’s competition has started. Less than 2% of the teams who start in the Extra Preliminary round in early August will kick off in the Final Qualifying Rounds in October. But that doesn’t stop us Non-League fans dreaming that this year will be our year where we reach the stage when the League teams come into the competition.
One hundred years ago the FA Cup was just as special as it is today, although in those days it was simply “The Cup” with no added sponsorship tag or TV company intervention. The cup started in early September 1913 and went through seven rounds of qualifying before twelve Non-League teams took their place in the first round proper in January 1914. Those names back in the day hardly rolled off the tongue, but today they are actually playing at the highest level. Premier League sides West Ham United, Southampton and Crystal Palace. SkyBet Championship sides Reading, Millwall and Brighton & Hove Albion. One day, when the DeLorean’s final go into production we can travel forward to 2113 when Lewes put out a weakened team in the FA Cup because of the forthcoming Champions League tie with Spain champions Carabanchel.
But back to today. The Lewes unbeaten bandwagon was rolling into Buckinghamshire for the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round to take on Chalfont St Peter FC, giant killers of the Met Police in the previous round. The village, once home to Margaret Rutherford and Private James “We’re doomed” Frazer (from Dad’s Army), doesn’t appear on many tourist or footballing maps. The Greyhound Inn, was once a local hanging court, and that spooked Terry, so we headed for the White Hart, armed with free beer vouchers that had been downloaded on the inter-web. Who said football fans were fickle? Alas, a few of the fans were still stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 as we headed into Mill Meadow.
Last season the Saints caused a few waves in the FA Cup by beating Carshalton Athletic before losing in a replay to Bishop Stortford. However, the current trend was not the friend for the home side coming into the game. One draw and five league defeats in the last six for the Saints coupled with a league place just above the relegation zone put the odds firmly in favour of the Rooks with their unbeaten start to the season. However, the last week had been costly for Lewes with two of the Crabb brothers leaving the pitch against Wealdstone on Monday on stretchers and both likely to be out for a while. Continue reading