the real fa cup

The Invisible Hat-Trick

It was like déjà vu all over again.

This year’s Extra Preliminary Round began with 45 minutes of commuter hell as I squeezed myself onto a packed, Friday night train heading for Ascot’s second most famous sporting venue. As I approached the 6 furlong pole with the sun shining down the Straight Mile my mind returned to almost exactly a year ago. The weather was the same and the competition identical but something had changed.

Where were the queues at the turnstiles? The excited crowds waiting for a free burger? The TV gantry? What about the former Wimbledon and England international Dave Beasant signing autographs? All gone. Something must be wrong.

When Budweiser launched their sponsorship of the FA Cup last summer, great innovations were announced. The promise of lots of lovely fizzy-beer-money to be sprinkled liberally across all levels of our national game was taken with a pinch of salt by many, including us but we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by what we saw that night in 2011. There seemed to be a chance that they might actually do it right. What a difference a year makes.

After an incredible 20,000 people watched the game on Facebook that night, Mark Zuckerberg’s cameras were not seen at an FA Cup game again. Bud’s experiment had apparently failed so, for the 12 months that followed, they had a bit of a rethink. In the end, they came to the conclusion that a different approach was needed in order to monetise their investment in the old jug and so the world was treated to The Wembley Way.


So life returns to normal for Ascot United, the only benefit of Bud’s patronage being that one night of boosted revenue. They may have attracted a few more followers but I’m not sure I could say for certain that was the case judging by the attendance this year. There were cars in the car park, sure – but it seemed that many were there just to watch the Olympics in the excellent clubhouse that Ascot built with Football Foundation money in 2010.

This year’s opponents were Sandhurst Town – the nearest football club to the house I grew up in and who, I am ashamed to say, I have never seen play. Despite my allegiances being with Farnborough when it comes to clubs in that part of the world, I considered myself a supporter of the away side as I moved around the pitch, considering the optimum viewing position whilst Damon fetched himself a burger which he actually had to pay for. As I set my bag down on the grass, Ascot decided they could wait no longer and scored. Ben Knight “did something” and the ball was nestled. I saw none of it. It was to be the start of a trend.

By half time it could, and probably should, have been 2-2 or 3-2. Ascot, and Knight in particular, could have had more and Glenn Fairclough missed a sitter for Sandhurst, his “shot” drifting wide of the left hand edge of the six yard box right around the same time as he chose to place his head into his hands.


Fairclough did get on the score sheet before half time though and the game was looking very even. This could go either way. We felt we’d earned a beer.

Whether the conversation was too stimulating or the beer too cold (what is so good about beer that is Extra Cold?), we took a while to sup our ales in the back garden of the clubhouse and “football sounds” informed us of goings on which we should really have been party to, were we to have any pretensions of being proper football journalists. A muted cheer, followed by some silence and a louder cheer was the sure sign of a penalty, which the PA system duly confirmed had been converted by Knight and, before the dregs were drained, another cheer followed – Knight again. The man had scored a hat-trick in less than an hour and we’d seen precisely none of his goals. Plus ça change.


Sandhurst crumbled. Their keeper was forced to pick 3 more out of his net before the final whistle and was probably lucky – judging by the “ooh” face we were treated to – not to find himself returning the ball to the centre spot on a few more occasions.

So Ascot won 6-1. Or was it 3-1? They won. That’s as much as I can say.

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