Recently, the first round of the FA Cup occurred, seemingly signalling the beginning of the quest for another trophy in the 2016/17 season. Whilst Premier League and Championship clubs received byes in the opening round, the fixtures still seemed to provide intriguing ties, competed between League 1 and 2 clubs, along with a smorgasbord of semi-professional clubs located across the country. As such, the first round contained previous winners of the trophy, such as Portsmouth, along with teams from the 8th tier of the footballing pyramid, Stamford and, with a place in the second round, coupled with prize money of £18,000, acting as an incentive, it seemed all clubs were looking to advance into the next round.
The 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth hosted fellow League 2 club Wycombe Wanderers and, even with history seeming to suggest it would be the south-coast side emerging on the right side of the result, it was ultimately Wycombe who booked their place in the next round. Adebayo Akinfenwa, a Bosman signing from promoted AFC Wimbledon in the summer, scored his fourth goal for The Chairboys in the 84th minute, ensuring his side entered the draw for the second round. Other League One clubs, including Sheffield United, Millwall and Charlton, advanced into the next round, the latter at the expense of league leaders Scunthorpe United. Merstham, one of 32 semi-professional clubs competing in the opening round, hosted Oxford United, and, although former Dulwich Hamlet goalkeeper Phil Wilson seemed to play at his peak ability, making multiple saves from close-range, it was ultimately the away side who emerged 5-0 winners, although the score line may have flattered the League One side.
Yet, it seems a team competing in the 9th tier of English football earned the plaudits in their fixture. Westfields FC, currently sitting in 4th position in the Midlands Premier League, hosted Curzon Athletic, a team who, although are semi-professional, compete in the National League North, 3 tiers above their opponents. As such, it seemed Westfields entered the match as the underdogs, yet the Hereford side seemed to utilise the experiences from their previous FA Cup encounters, performing at a consistent standard to earn a replay. Whilst they indeed took the lead through a 9th minute penalty, Curzon Ashton eventually equalised in the final ten minutes, yet seemingly resolute defending prior and after the goal acting as a catalyst in the draw. As a result, the replay may provide an opportunity for Westfields to win the match, enhancing their reputation further and perhaps instigating a fixture with an EPL club in the resulting rounds.
The FA Cup seems to provide an opportunity for all clubs, from varying locations and divisions, to compete in England’s most established tournament, and with semi-professional clubs competing in the opening round, it seems to suggest these clubs possess an array of talent capable of competing at a higher level. Perhaps more important, there seems to be a chance for all clubs to embellish their names into history by competing for, and perhaps eventually obtaining, the historic trophy. Ultimately, it seems the competition is a platform for clubs to elevate themselves, and their players, into the spotlight, enhancing their reputation and perhaps enabling them to advance to a higher standard of football.
With the round two draw already made, the clubs reaching this stage may already have preparations in place for their fixtures, in order to increase their chances of advancing further in the tournament. Ultimately, winning matches in the FA Cup seems to be crucial, as every victory provides revenue for the clubs, which seems to be beneficial as it contributes to their continued existence and ability to compete in football; with £27,000 on offer for reaching the third round, this monetary incentive, received in addition to ticket revenue, may be the motivation necessary. As such, the FA Cup seems to be beneficial for football in general, providing an intriguing spectacle for fans, as the majority of fixtures contain multiple clubs seemingly equipped to achieve the goal of winning the trophy.
How may the FA Cup continue to contribute to a competitive season for both professional and semi-professional English clubs?