the real fa cup

Missing The Cup

Earlier this month, AFC Bournemouth kicked off their second spell in the second tier of English football. I’ve followed the club through thin and thinner since I first set foot on the Dean Court terraces as a wide-eyed seven-year-old, when they came from a goal down to beat Isthmian Premier side Worthing 3-1 in the FA Cup first round.

But like my fellow The Real FA Cup comrades, I’ve grown tired of the professional game with its database-controlled all-seater stadiums, half & half scarves, rehearsed diving, melodramatic players, carbon-copy chants, mountains of loans and pools of debt. My beloved Cherries may well play in The Championship, but they borrowed £6million from Wintel Petrochemicals Ltd, whoever they might be, to get there.

In my time as a supporter, the club has languished in administration unable to pay back much smaller amounts it owed. The current owners have splashed the cash on players but not bothered to buy back the stadium (sold and leased back a few years after being redeveloped in the early 2000s), despite the fact that the chairman’s own building firm has been gradually improving it. Yeah, tell me about it. It’ll all go wrong at some point. “Enjoy the ride,” some fans chirp. Maybe I’ve become cynical in my mid-twenties, but I’d rather walk on the pavement than ride in an F1 car with no brakes and hope to never approach a bend in the road.

I’ve spent the last few seasons watching as much charming, back to basics non-league football as I can. They say there’s a buzz around bigger teams on FA Cup third round day, but games in the early qualifying rounds of The Cup arguably have more at stake – prize money from The FA for getting through each round could be the difference between life and death for smaller clubs. Players used to seeing the same old faces in regional league games now have a chance to test their wits against different sides – hell, if they’re really lucky it could even herald an overnight stay and night out on the piss after beating someone from a few leagues above.

That’s why I’m a bit gutted that I’ll be heading to Dean Court to see Bournemouth face Wigan Athletic on Saturday. A bunch of us will be on a stag do that weekend and the game is part of the entertainment. It’ll be a great weekend, but the clash has really annoyed me.

There are some potentially great Extra Preliminary Round ties coming up this weekend, including tonight’s clash between Christchurch and Sherborne Town at Hurn Bridge. Wessex League Christchurch is a very pure football club because players are not paid – it’s an amateur club. Those taking the field in blue shirts are there for the joy of it and kicked off their league campaign with a 3-1 win over Whitchurch United, despite seeing manager Graham Kemp and several key players leave for (relatively) big-spending Winchester City in the summer. Kemp’s new team inflicted a 2-0 defeat on Christchurch on Tuesday, so the hosts will be keen to bounce back with a positive result.

The Western League Premier Division side will bring a band of merry men from the Dorset/Somerset border, with a coach departing Skippers public house at 5.15 pm. I like their style. Christchurch keeper Max Frampton is always up for a bit of banter with any wags stood behind the goal, so his luck could be in if some supporters sink a lager shandy or two before making the trip.

Looking at this site’s Ceefax-style fixture list for Saturday, some names really grab me. Thurnby Nirvana, Quorn, Tadley Calleva and Mole Valley SCR players will wake up knowing that a game against a Football League team in the First Round proper is just six (!) wins away. Two more and they could be facing Premier League giants Crystal Palace (or Manchester United).

If you’re free this weekend, take a look at the fixture map and get yourself down to a game. Check out the characters – crudely-drawn club crests, wonky stands, crumbling terracing and overweight goalkeepers. You’ll probably pay about a fiver and stand close enough to sniff the players’ Deep Heat and hear the referee telling them to stop harassing him. Someone might actually play well and score a goal or two. I can’t wait for the Preliminary Round in a few weeks’ time already.

By Andy Lloyd-Williams
Andy is a lapsed AFC Bournemouth fan, who’s recently returned to his non-league roots. A seasoned writer who is forging a career in PR, Andy wrote Robin van Persie’s biography, published by John Blake and available from Amazon.
Twitter: @A_LloydWilliams

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