the real fa cup

1080 Minutes From Wembley

“Come On Boys We’re Only 1080 Minutes From Wembley”

Football commentators love the odd cliché or 20 and you can guarantee that when FA Cup quarter-final weekend rolls around, those partial to sheepskin coats and bizarre statistics will be quick to reel off the ’90 minutes from Wembley’ line.

This is, of course, a quip which was once a staple part of semi-final showdowns, with outings at the home of English football saved for games that really matter, but let’s not re-open that particular can of worms here and instead turn our attention to those about to take the first tentative steps on a well-trodden path. On the weekend of 14-16 August, just 76 days on from Arsenal emerging victorious in the 2014/15 edition of the competition, FA Cup football returned with the extra preliminary round.

This, my friends, is the ‘Real FA Cup’, where dreams are born and dashed long before the leading betting markets begin to assess whether this will be an underdog’s year for ticker-tape parades and open-top bus rides.

Glitz and glamour may be in short supply, but these are contests which mean plenty to those involved, with ‘honour’ and ‘pride’ still very much buzz words when you strip away the mollycoddled multi-millionaires of the top-flight for whom domestic cup competitions can, at times, be regarded as something of a hindrance in the grand scheme of things.

There are no such thoughts here, with the extra preliminary round bringing together those of the ninth and tenth tiers – those some six promotions away from the Promised Land of the Football League. Fixtures for first two stages of Emirates FA Cup, Trophy, Vase and Youth Cup were unveiled at 11am on July 2 2015 by The FA. There are some familiar names to be found, though, for those looking to take more than a passing interest in proceedings, or for anyone planning what could be quite an eventful afternoon/evening out over the course of the next few weeks.

As always, there is a heady mix of the flamboyantly-named and those living in the shadows of more illustrious neighbours – with a total of 368 teams locking horns in 184 fixtures for the right to secure £1,500 in prize money.

The funds on offer starts to rise quite sharply the further you can progress through the qualifying stages, up to the point when £12,500 can be secured for reaching the first round proper – admittedly still some way short of the £1.8 million set to be pocketed by the eventual winners, but a useful windfall all the same. Among those hoping to line their pockets are West Auckland Town, Cockfosters, Odd Down, Heaton Stannington and Street, while some more famous names are represented by Leicester Nirvana, Peterborough Northern Star, Ipswich Wanderers, Sunderland RCA and West Auckland Town.

There is also the intriguing case of Wembley being in the draw. We have Wembley starting out on the road to Wembley by beating Hillingdon Borough, all very confusing but an intriguing tale nonetheless and another, albeit small, contributing factor to what makes the FA Cup magical for so many people.

It is highly unlikely that the smallest of the small fry will get their day in the sun, but their efforts deserve to be recognised and anyone weighing up the merits of placing/wasting some of their hard-earned cash on a weekend accumulator with the likes of 32Red and BetVictor could do a lot worse than test their footballing knowledge with a flutter on some real competition.

You think you know your football, how about picking a winner from Rugby Town versus Coventry Sphinx or Loughborough University versus Long Eaton United – these are the kind of encounters that separate the Motsons from the Munsters.

Those taking part will certainly welcome your support, with some 1080 minutes standing between those at the first hurdle and those preparing to negotiate the last. It could be even more than that,

Were, in some Roy of the Rovers alternate reality, one of the plucky hopefuls to make it to the semi-finals having negotiated a replay in every round, they will have clocked up some 2160 minutes to get there. To put that into perspective, the big boys entering at the third round stage would have just 360 minutes, spread across four stages, standing between them and a memorable day out in the capital.

There is no getting away from the fact that the road ahead will be long and arduous for the giant-killers in waiting of 2015/16, but they, nor us, would have it any other way as English football’s grandest knockout competition prepares to swing open its door for the 135th time.

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