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    The Magic of the FA Cup

    Winning the league brings with it the satisfaction of knowing you were better than your rivals across the season, along with a possible cash windfall depending on what tier of football you are in. A good regional Cup run gives you the local bragging rights. Yet, does anything match the magic of the FA Cup? The opportunity for lower league sides to beat teams in the league above during the Preliminary Rounds. The chance to play against big names who once performed in the top tiers of football. The possibility of reaching the First Round Proper and drawing a football league team, or even the Third Round and meeting a Premier League giant. We are just a few months into the 2015-16 season and there are already so many FA Cup stories from this campaign to tell the grandchildren.

    The 135th instalment of the oldest club football competition in the world started back on August 15th with the Extra Preliminary Round. 184 fixtures took place between teams ranked 552nd to 736th in the football pyramid carrying thousands of dreams engrained in the minds of players, fans, coaches and owners alike. A famous face was already set to grace the headlines during this early round. Former Ashes hero and number 1 bowler in the world Steve Harmison was embarking on his new career as a football manager, at the helm of Northern League Division 1 outfit Ashington AFC. Northern Counties East League Premier Division's Albion Sports AFC were the lucky visitors meeting the England cricket hero and held Harmison's side to a draw, before losing in the replay. The former fast bowler had many great sporting moments, but this victory for his tier 10 team over a tier 9 side could rank right up there. There were also emphatic victories for the likes of Consett, Dunston UTS, AFC Liverpool, AFC Emley, Ashford Town, Deal Town, Shoreham and Horley Town.

    The Preliminary Round introduced teams from tier 8 of the English football world. This was where Didcot Town and Northwich Victoria kicked off their respective campaigns that took them through five matches to reach the First Round Proper. More and more teams were beginning to have their FA Cup moment as they defeated teams from the leagues above. Whitley Bay, Bradford Town, Horsham YMCA, Ipswich Wanderers, Stanway Rovers, Coleshill Town, Hartley Wintney, Harlow Town, Northwich Victoria, Stourbridge and Salford City all beat teams from two tiers above in the qualifying rounds.

    The First Round Proper is the dream stage for any part-time players with the opportunity to draw a professional Football League outfit. Salford City kicked off the round on the Friday night against League Two Notts County, the oldest professional football club in the world. Despite Salford only being in tier 7 of English football, the team had captured the hearts of many with a well-timed documentary following the first season for Manchester United's famous 'Class of 92' as owners of the club, airing just days before the biggest fixture of their history. Playing against the likes of Roy Carroll and Alan Smith, who both played in the Champions League, Salford cruised past the Nottingham side with some excellent football.

    The magic did not stop there for the FA Cup First Round. On the Saturday, League Two Bury hammered Wigan Athletic who won the competition just three years ago. Northampton Town knocked out Coventry City in the league above them, with similar outcomes for Forest Green Rovers and Barnet, whilst National League team Altrincham knocked out League One Barnsley. 

    Sunday's fixtures continued the trend. Tier 6 side Whitehawk defeated Tier 5 side Lincoln City and non-league Chesham United beat Bristol Rovers, with 43 year old Barry Hayles setting up the winning goal against his former club. Semi-professional Brackley Town and Maidenhead United performed admirably to set up replays against Newport County and Port Vale respectively. 

    Those teams who were in the hat for the Second Round draw would have been glued to their television screens on Monday night. Victory in this round could set up a fixture against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United. Chesham United will visit either Aldershot or Bradford City, Salford City will host League Two Hartlepool, Whitehawk will play Dagenham and Redbridge or Morecambe and Northwich Victoria, yes they are still in it, could play Northampton Town if they win their replay. 

    So many stories already, so many still to come. Just how far will your team go in the 2015-16 FA Cup? The only thing that is certain is that the competition still has its magic!

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    Item Reviewed: The Magic of the FA Cup Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Chris Lincoln
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