There’s no doubt that the FA Cup is slipping down the priorities list for clubs at the top of the ladder. Last January, Premier League managers made on average eight changes to their line-ups for the Third Round. This season the FA Cup 5th Round has even been downgraded to a Wednesday evening.
While it’s easy to get all nostalgic and grumble about the FA Cup being 'not what it was’, if you went to one of the 180 or so Extra Preliminary Qualifying ties last week, you’d have seen the FA Cup very much alive and well! Fiery encounters, last-minute winners and dramatic penalty shootouts; the 'Magic of the Cup' definitely still flourishes in the lower leagues.
For fans and clubs towards the base of the pyramid, the cup matters just as much as ever. Chatting to players, it's clear that playing in an FA Cup game feels a little bit special. Always at the back of their minds is the possibility of progressing through the rounds, to test themselves against bigger and better opposition. No matter what path their careers take, being able to tell the grandkids they played in the FA Cup will always mean something.
With prize money increased again this year, cup success has a massive impact on the finances of clubs too. A victory over the last week was worth a minimum of £3,210! Season changing money for teams playing at Steps 5 and 6. Four victories in the qualifying round nets you at least £16,390. That's not to mention gate money which is split 50/50 between the home and away side.
Clearly for non-league fans, the cup still captures the imagination. Bumper crowds of 204 at Aylesbury Vale Dynamos and 167 at Leighton Town shows the ‘Magic of the Cup’ is still very much alive amongst supporters. Both those local crowds were rewarded with victories. In fact, there were local wins for Colney Heath, Newport Pagnell Town, Biggleswade, Flackwell Heath, Dunstable Town, Stotfold, London Colney, Biggleswade United, Arlesey Town and Burnham. All are now preparing for the next stage on Saturday 24th August.
There are plenty of exciting looking ties in this round. Stotfold host former FA Trophy winners Canvey Island. AFC Dunstable will welcome ex-Conference side Hayes & Yeading and there's a local Hertfordshire derby between AFC Romania and Ware.
For clubs at Step 5 and 6, the aim isn’t realistically to be in the draw by the Third Round Proper in January. Two more wins opens up the possibility of a fixture against a National League South side and the chance of a big payday and giant-killing. Before we even get to the First Round Proper though, there are certain to be plenty of David v Goliath stories. Hopefully a few will involve some of our local sides.