Without question my favourite two weekends of the footballing calendar are the FA Cup first round and the FA Cup second round.
These are the rounds where the teams in the top 2 tiers of the English leagues are not involved (Premier League and Championship clubs enter in Round 3) and the teams in League 1 and League 2, as well as teams in the Blue Square Premier (formerly the Vauxhall Conference) and some plucky teams from divisions such as the Northern Premier, the Southern (British Gas) league and even lower take centre stage.
I love the fact that teams from places that I didn’t even know existed, teams consisting of players who are regular people, not overpaid superstars, playing for the sheer enjoyment of the game and the fact that they may see themselves on TV. I love the way that when almost every player from a non-league team is mentioned, their occupation follows such as plumber, teacher, builder etc. I love the small grounds, full of passionate supporters that really make the difference to the home team.
There is always a team or two from the lower divisions that claim the scalp of a league club and get to play a big club in the third round e.g. Havant and Waterlooville played Liverpool at Anfield last season.
This season has been no let-down. Histon FC beat Leeds United. Barrow beat Brentford. Eastwood Town beat Wycombe Wanderers. All these teams have reached the third round.
Barrows reward is a trip to the Riverside Stadium to play Middlesborough. Histon play Swansea at home and Eastwood play fellow non-leaguers Kettering Town in a game that guarantees non-league presence in the fourth round.
When a FA Cup game ends in a tie, the game is replayed at the ground of the club of the team that were the visitors for the original tie. This game then goes to extra-time and penalties in the event of a second draw.
Some replays were played this week and they were action packed.
Firstly in an all League 1 clash, Peterborough snatched an injury time equaliser at Tranmere Rovers, then won the game with a mis-hit goal late in extra-time. Kettering claimed a league scalp by knocking out Notts County. Gillingham progressed at the expense of Stockport County
By far the most dramatic tie this week came at Saltergate where league 2 Chesterfield hosted Droylsden. This tie was not a replay due to the abandonment of the original tie due to fog with Droylsden leading; to the fury of Droylsden manager Dave Pace who was adamant that the game would not have been stopped had Chesterfield been ahead.
This game was poised nicely at 1-1 with a few minutes to go when Droylsden deliberately put the ball out to allow an injured Chesterfield player to receive treatment. The conventions of sportsmanship (though not the rules) state Chesterfield should return the ball to Droylsden but Chesterfield striker Jack Lester lobbed the ball towards goal where it beat the keeper and went in.
I’m not sure Lester intended to score but he had no reason to even touch the ball, let alone hit it towards goal.
The Chesterfield players and fans looked round in embarrassment, while the Droylsden players were furious and an ugly melee kicked off on the field. This was nothing compared to what was happening on the touchline, where Droylsden manager Dave Pace got right in the face of Chesterfield manager Lee Richardson, and then looked ready to take on the entire Chesterfield bench and stewards.
Common sense won through and Lee Richardson and the Chesterfield players should be commended for allowing Droylsden captain Steve Halford to run unopposed and score unchallenged.
The game finished 2-2 and Dave Pace was still simmering after the final whistle. The replay in Droylsden should be interesting!
God I love the FA Cup!!