the real fa cup

The 2nd Round Conundrum

The FA Cup 2nd Round can be a weird one. For some teams it’s only their 2nd FA Cup game of the season, for other hard-working teams this could be their 8th round of the tournament. Either way, it’s not always one of the go-to rounds for excitement, intrigue and action (unless you happen to be one of the lucky few debuting). It lacks the perceived gravitas of the iconic 3rd Round, it lacks the novelty of the 1st Round Proper and it almost seems more underwhelming than the anticipation with which the 4th Qualifying Round is greeted.

But this is all rather unfair, the draw for and outcome of the 2nd Round is not only vital for smaller non league clubs, the result in this round can define a season, an era, or even a whole club history. That precious victory is then, oddly, often forgotten except for the most fervent, overwhelmed by the joy of (almost certain) defeat in the next round. A non league club beating a top flight giant is the footballing equivalent of Ed Miliband’s Prime Ministerial chances. That level of upset has happened on only a handful of occasions, it has happened only thrice in the last 40 years.

Because of that stat, so much more should be made of the success achieved in Round 2. Before the draw, the smaller non league sides are high, still being carried along by what they achieved in Round 1 and torn between looking for a) a lucrative home (or indeed away) tie against one of the fallen but well–supported giants languishing in league 1 or 2 and; b)  getting a winnable home tie against a fellow minnow to give them the best chance of drawing a true giant in the 3rd Round.

Because the drop-out rate of lower non league clubs in the 1st Round is usually high, and the incidence of true giants in the 3rd or 4th tier is generally low, the chances are the average romance-hunter is going to be underwhelmed by the 2nd Round draw. This is exacerbated by the fact the Conference is riddled with ex-league clubs and is, for all intents and purposes, a professional league. And this year’s FA Cup 2nd Round draw has widely been reported as a stinker for all non league sides.

And here’s why. There are 14 (13 if Concord fall) non league sides left in the Cup but only 4 were drawn at home. In THIRTEEN of those 14 games, the lower ranked side was drawn away from home, three were drawn against fellow non league sides and the only one to be drawn at home to a league side was the rather recently league-experienced Aldershot, who host Rochdale. The four (five if Concord survive) lowest ranked sides, Warrington Town, Maidstone Utd, Blyth Spartans and Worcester City were all drawn away from home to sides at least 2 tiers (for 3 of them it’s 3 tiers) above them in the pyramid. Absolutely brutal, and incredibly harsh given what they achieved in getting through the 1st Round.

So here you begin to see how important the 2nd Round draw is for non league sides. This year it has been cruel for the lowly but with that comes opportunity, a win in this might set a new standard of cup form, a standard they may never repeat. To put this in context, the FA Cup final is almost always won by a Premier League side and it takes them 6 wins/rounds to do this and only 15 different teams have done that in the last 50 years

Warrington Town’s 1st Round win over Exeter was their 6th win/round. They have already done as much as the eventual winners, they have gone two rounds further than they have gone before and yet, somehow, they are still going. Maidstone have been through 5 wins/rounds and so are in their own virtual final away at Wrexham. This is also two rounds further than they have got in this incarnation of the club and it’s been 23 years since they got to the 2nd Round. Blyth Spartans have been through 5 wins/rounds and their virtual final is away at Hartlepool United. And despite, in non league terms, Blyth Spartans being relative regulars in Round 2 this is still only the 3rd time in 30+ years that they’ve managed to get this far.

In microcosm, what are the chance of Round 3 hosting a proper minnow. Blyth Spartans fans might fancy their chances. They’re probably the only ones to be quite happy with the draw, a relatively local derby inviting for locals and neutrals alike, regardless of eventual result. Warrington might secretly not be too downcast, they have after all already beaten a bigger side. Worcester fans might be similar, but the chances of lightning striking twice are slim. In short, fate alone has dictated that the 3rd Round is likely to be bereft of the true minnow and a mere three non league clubs are guaranteed to be in the hat. However, there are enough mismatches in the 2nd Round that one or two are liable to throw up something and if it’s one of the above four (possibly five) sides, this could be the biggest thing they see in a generation, or indeed ever.

For more on Blyth’s exploits in the FA Cup >>> HERE

  1. A sound and interesting analysis. Fully agree. I’ve got off the FA Cup bus now and await the latter stages of the Vase post-Christmas.


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