A Magical Time Of Year

Aug 11, 2014 7:39 PM EST

The magic of the FA Cup is a phrase that TV broadcasters are keen to use when the Premier League teams enter at the third round, but the magic really starts this weekend.

370 teams face off in the FA Cup extra preliminary round this weekend, with another 175 teams joining the victors, for the preliminary round, in fortnight’s time.

Of the 736 successful entrants to the 2014/15 FA Cup, these aren't the most glamorous teams, nor the ones that will be shown live on Fox Sports early next year. They share the dream of those glamour teams, just a little differently.

Whilst many Premier League players wish to match Ashley Cole's seven FA Cup winners medals, most of the players to play in this year’s competition will just hope to make it through the six qualifying rounds, before the TV cameras start rolling in January. The amateurs that play a Tuesday night FA Cup replay are at their regular job the next morning. They train twice a week, drive themselves to away games and have none of the luxuries afforded to the professionals.

For many of those clubs, the prize money can keep them afloat and ensure their future for several years. When you get a weekly attendance less than 100, these competitions are vital. There are no solidarity payments from the Premier League, no prize money from league play, no TV rights and no transfer fees. Every kid in England dreams of scoring the winner in the FA Cup final. That dream remains with amateur and semi-professional players, albeit with a touch more realism.

When Chasetown, of the Southern League, hosted Championship Cardiff City, in 2008, their dreams became a reality. The chance to test themselves against some of the top players in the game, and stay in with a chance of that elusive Wembley appearance. Aaron Ramsey sent Cardiff through, after The Scholars took a shock lead early on, and of course grabbed the winner in this year’s final for Arsenal. For the Chasetown players, no-one can take away an internationally televised match, against that year’s runners-up and a host of international players. For the club, they gained a new stand that was erected for the bumper attendance of 2,000, and the prize money and gate receipts from the 10 FA Cup ties since their entry at the Preliminary Round. They received broadcast rights for their games with Cardiff and Port Vale. Sure enough, this boost in income would set up the Midlands club for promotion. For other clubs, where buying a new set of kit is a pretty sizable expense, betting companies have purchased kits with their logo for teams playing televised games against the big names. Even that exposure helps with securing vital sponsorship the following season.

To set the FA Cup in to contrast, I’ll take three clubs. Manchester United, Luton Town and Dunstable Town.

Manchester United fans want to win the cup, to break the record of 11 wins that they jointly hold with Arsenal, but not at the expense of a Premier League title. Luton Town got as far as the final in 1959, losing to Nottingham Forest, and dream of getting back there. Dunstable Town made the first round proper in 1956/57, and have held the dream of returning to that relatively early stage for nearly 60 years.

It’s a cup that has produced some of the most famous moments in English football. The White Horse Final of 1923, where 126,000 people crammed into Wembley Stadium for its first final. The 1953 Matthews final. The 1956 final saw Manchester City goalkeeper, and former German POW, Bert Trautmann play the final 15 minutes of his team’s 3-1 win with a broken neck. Oxford City and Alvechurch playing six matches to decide their 1971/72 fourth qualifying round tie. Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang beating the imperious Liverpool in the 1988 final. Division Two Chesterfield having a goal controversially disallowed in the 1997 semi final, before Middlesbrough would go on to win the replay. Luton Town was involved in two of the more recent memories, as they fell 5-3 to Liverpool in one of the true classic ties, with Xabi Alonso scoring from his own half as Liverpool would go on to win the competition in 2006. They also became the first non-league team to win an FA Cup tie at a Premier League stadium, beating Norwich City in 2012/13. That year’s final between Wigan Athletic and Manchester City would go down with the great ‘cupsets’ like the 1988 final.

So whether you view the FA Cup as a distraction from the Premier League, or you dream of your team making it past the qualifying rounds, it is the oldest competition in football. It means a great deal more, and lasts much longer, than the television companies let on. Don't wait until January to invest in the magic of the cup. Even if you adopt a team and tweet your support, they all appreciate it. The FA usually stream a tie of the round in these initial stages, so get watching some real football!