Plaudits And Admiration For Non League Five
In the end it wasn’t to be. Five glorious, wonderful footballing sides from below the top echelons of English league football all bowed out in the 3rd Round of what has been an excellent FA Cup season for non-league clubs.
Stand proud Blyth Spartans one and all, especially Robbie Dale. Your two fantastic first half goals, along with showing everybody the proper way to celebrate such gems, gave all of us fans of ‘real’ football a warm, hearty glow on a cold January afternoon. And, for 30 minutes or so, a belief that all was well in the footballing world.
Despite the end result, for 45 minutes this level seven Northern Premier League side outplayed and outshone their illustrious level two Championship opponents, opponents who quite rightly recognised the quality of what they had faced. The last side standing from the cup draws made in July, Blyth Spartans competed in seven FA Cup ties: that’s more than the eventual winners will play.
Equally proud should be the players, staff, management and fans of Southport FC, playing in the 3rd Round for the first time this century and taking one of the favourites for promotion from the Championship right down to the wire. Whilst the right team won on the day, it was a cruel way to end what had been a resilient performance from the Conference side with Martin beating Martin from the penalty spot in time added on. Having supported Southport from when I moved there in 1978 I am particularly gutted not to be seeing them in the 4th Round for the first time in my lifetime. Maybe next year, eh?
And for seven glorious minutes, all lovers of the romance of the FA Cup were believing that Mark Carrington was to be the back page hero after giving conference side Wrexham the late lead at Premiership Stoke City. In the end it was not to be, but the passion and the noise emanating from the Welsh team’s supporters, and the passion and the drive from all the players on the pitch, re-enforced how much the BBC had got it wrong with their selection of matches to show ‘live’. The difference in atmosphere between the Britannia Stadium and the Emirates was palpable.
Gateshead and Dover Athletic both faced Premiership opposition in the shape of West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace respectively, and whilst neither side ever really threatened to cause an upset on the day, all people associated with both clubs can quite rightly hold their heads high. Gateshead set a new standard of round reached after 37 seasons in their current formation, whilst Dover equalled their best FA Cup run throughout 32 years of competing in it.
Words: Phil Annets
Phil is an FA Cup historian, the designer of Whirred PLAY and is on Twitter @PhilAnnets.