It's Emirates FA Cup weekend
Fri 10th August 2018 | FA Challenge Cup | By Ian Templeman
There are some who follow football at the higher levels of the game that think that the FA Cup begins in January, but those of us involved in the non-league scene know different.
On Saturday, clubs the length and breadth of the country will set off on a journey through the early rounds of the Emirates FA Cup, hoping that progress will be made from the Extra Preliminary Round to a tie against big name opponents in later rounds.
From our perspective, 27 Hallmark Security League clubs will be in action in the competition, and we know for sure that our league will have at least eight clubs in the next round, with the summertime draw producing eight ties that paired two of our clubs together.
Out of the games that involve our clubs, the tie between Prestwich Heys and Abbey Hey at Adie Moran Park has a particularly promising look about it.
There are a number of points of interest to ponder before a ball is kicked, not least the fact that although the teams are only located about 9 miles apart as the crow flies, it will be the first ever meeting between the sides in an FA competition and they have never faced one another in a league game.
For Heys, it's their first FA Cup tie since season 1983-84, when they went out in the Second Qualifying Round at home to Southport, while Abbey Hey will be hoping to add to their recent good experiences in the competition.
Journeys to the Second Qualifying Round to face FC Halifax Town in 2012 and Ashton United in 2015, and last season's memorable First Qualifying Round battle against Altrincham, where Abbey came from 3-0 down before half time to earn a replay at Moss Lane, are still fresh in the memory, and Paul Moore's men will be hoping for more of the same on Saturday.
However, it won't be easy against a Heys side that have won both their opening games without conceding a goal, and this has the look of a close encounter of the entertaining kind.
Ashton Athletic’s recent FA Cup pedigree is impressive, having reached the Third Qualifying Round last year and the Second Qualifying Round the season before, and accounting for some higher ranked opponents along the way.
This season’s campaign begins with a trip to AFC Liverpool, who will be hoping that last season’s form guide will be no indication of fortunes this weekend.
The Reds lost three times to the Yellows in league and cup games, and their FA Cup campaign last season began and ended at Litherland REMYCA in a game that was televised live by the BBC.
REMYCA are at home once again, this time to Charnock Richard, whose FA Cup history comprises one game, when they lost 4-3 at home to Penistone Church in their competition debut a year ago.
Staying on Merseyside, City of Liverpool’s debut in the FA Cup last season was a memorable one, beating Prescot Cables 8-2 in a replay before going out of the competition in heartbreaking fashion with a last gasp 2-1 home defeat to Nantwich Town. They host Silsden, who will need no reminding that the last time the two teams met was in March 2017 when the Purps won 2-0 in a League Challenge Cup tie in West Yorkshire.
Two teams with contrasting FA Cup histories meet at the St Luke's Barton Stadium, where Winsford United will host Irlam.
Winsford's FA Cup history dates back to a first appearance in season 1924-25 when they lost 4-1 to Nelson, and over the years the Blues have enjoyed many notable moments, including three appearances in the First Round, the last one being in 1997-98 when they lost 2-1 at Chester City.
In comparison, in each of the previous five years that they have played in the FA Cup Irlam have fallen at the first hurdle on all but one occasion, in 2012-13, when they got through one round only to lose 5-3 at home to Runcorn Town.
The other all-Premier Division clashes take place at Brookburn Road, where West Didsbury & Chorlton host a Squires Gate side who will be buoyant after a midweek 6-1 win over Burscough, while for their part Burscough will be looking to bounce back from that result when they host 1874 Northwich.
As was well documented last season, 1874’s cup exploits led to a fixture pile up, and one element of that was an FA Cup run that comprised nine games across five rounds, before they went out after a penalty shoot-out against Ossett Town in the Third Qualifying Round.
The final clash involving two of our clubs is an all-Division One affair at the WEC Anchor Ground between AFC Darwen and Barnton, and our 11 other clubs face opposition from other leagues based in a geographic spread from Coventry in the West Midlands up to BIllingham in the North East.
The only one to be playing a team from a higher division is Northwich Victoria, but it’s not exactly a trip into the unknown as they face our Premier Division runners-up from last season Widnes, who are now of course in the Evo-Stik League.
At this early stage of FA competitions, there are usually a number of games against Northern League clubs but this time around only Barnoldswick Town have drawn opponents from the North East, with Billingham Synthonia visiting the Silentnight Stadium for the first time. In fact, their last visit to one of our grounds on FA Cup business was also to East Lancashire when they faced Padiham in 2004-05.
Six of our sides face opponents from the Northern Counties East League, with Congleton Town enjoying home advantage against Eccleshill United, and likewise Maine Road at home to Handsworth Parramore.
A familiar venue for many of our clubs is the Roundwood Sports Complex in the Rawmarsh area of Rotherham, the home of Parkgate with Barnton, Irlam, Congleton Town and Runcorn Town all going there on FA Cup business in recent years. This time around Sandbach United will play their first ever FA Cup tie there.
Other travellers across the Pennines to venues they have never visited before are Bootle, who visit Penistone Church, Padiham go to Liversedge and Runcorn Town visit Yorkshire for the third season in a row at this stage of the competition with a trip to Pontefract to face Hemsworth Miners Welfare.
Followers of our league with long memories may well remember the name of Coventry Sphinx, who lost out in an FA Vase replay at home to Kirkham & Wesham in an epic quarter final tie in 2007-08. Since then, the only visit from a club in our league to Sphinx Park was in 2011-12 when Norton United went there in the Vase, and Whitchurch Alport become our first club to go there on FA Cup business to face a side now in the Midland League Premier Division.
Finally, two clubs face opponents from the Midland League Division One, with Hanley Town going to Atherstone Town, in a reverse of the fixture 12 months ago when Hanley won 4-1 at Potteries Park, and Ellesmere Rangers host Leicester Road FC, a club based in Hinckley, who were formed after the liquidation of Hinckley United in 2013.
Good luck to all our clubs on Saturday.