FA Cup first-round preview: 'Hound dog' Elvis, historic grounds and a prize to dream of

By Tom GarryBBC Sport
FA Cup: From worldies to the weird - why we love the first round

Muddy pitches, tin-foil cut-out cups and widespread potential for first-round shocks - yes, the FA Cup is poised for another possible "life-changing" weekend for many, as English Football League clubs enter this season's competition.

From seventh-tier Metropolitan Police to League One leaders Portsmouth, 80 sides know they are just two wins away from a potential big-money third-round draw.

At least six clubs from outside the English Football League will reach round two, but a further 20 non-league outfits will be hoping to join them by beating league opposition.

Among the remaining 14 all-EFL ties, two-time winners Sunderland travel to Port Vale as the Black Cats make their first appearance in round one since 1987.

But who is "lapping up" a possible giant-killing, who will be mindful of avoiding an upset and who is hoping a dog can help inspire them into round two?

'You ain't nothing but a hound dog'

The lowest-ranked side left in the competition are seventh-tier Hitchin Town, who have reached this stage for the first time in 23 years and will host National League Solihull Moors on Sunday.

Manager Mark Burke was playing for the Canaries the last time they featured in the first round in 1995, in one of over 700 appearances he made for the club.

"It's historic and the town have come out for us," he told BBC Three Counties Radio. "The community have got right behind us and we're expecting a sell-out, with 3,500 people here cheering us on."

Hitchin's former Luton, Leeds and Watford midfielder Matthew Spring, who has featured in the fifth round at Arsenal for Leyton Orient, added: "I can see the excitement in the lads and that's good enough for me - even seeing some of them nervous.

"If they [Solihull] come here and don't fancy it and we have a good day, you just never know - that's what we're hoping for, that we can spring a surprise."

The hosts will also hope their lucky mascot, a dog called Elvis who is a regular at Hitchin games, can boost them on Sunday.

And the tie will be played at the Top Field ground exactly 147 years since the same venue staged a Hitchin-based side's game on the first day of the inaugural FA Cup on 11 November, 1871.

More history for Maidenhead

The old Hitchin FC were one of eight teams to play that day. Another of those, remarkably, is also in action this weekend, on another ground that hosted one of the opening ties 147 years ago.

National League Maidenhead United - managed by a former cup winner in ex-West Ham United midfielder Alan Devonshire - will host Portsmouth in Saturday's 12:30 GMT kick-off.

Their York Road ground was where they beat Marlow in the first round in 1871, when just 15 clubs entered the now-world-famous competition.

Saturday will see them host a former FA Cup winner for a third time, with Pompey following Old Etonians and Oxford University in travelling to Maidenhead, who themselves lost at 1987 winners Coventry last season.

Yet the Magpies, who are making their 10th first-round appearance, are bidding to reach round two for the first time in the modern era.

'You can feel the energy' - Hampton & Richmond's 'biggest game'

Monday's eagerly anticipated tie will see Hampton & Richmond Borough host League Two Oldham, in what is being described as the National League South outfit's biggest ever fixture.

Former Charlton and Bristol Rovers striker Chris Dickson, whose first goal for the Addicks came in the cup against West Bromwich Albion in 2008, is among the hosts' more experienced men.

"You just get a buzz. For the last few weeks we've been told not to talk about it and literally everyone wants to talk about it!" the 33-year-old told BBC Radio London.

"But now that it's come round, you can just feel the energy. It's everywhere at the moment. Everyone wants to be a part of it. The lads are going to lap it up."

The Beavers produced one of the shocks of the fourth qualifying round as they won at National League Eastleigh, but their league form has dipped since, with two defeats and a draw in their subsequent three games.

Manager Gary McCann added: "I've been very much in the doldrums after the last few league games, with three really disappointing performances. Admittedly, the distraction of the cup played its part recently.

"We wanted more. But all that's done is open the mindset up into what side we're going to pick for Monday. They've left the door open, I'm afraid.

"Speaking to certain people in and around the football club, they've been quick to tell me this is the biggest game in the club's 97-year history. I don't think it's a game you need to motivate for."

The prize they're all playing for

Liam Scully (left) and Roger Bates
Lincoln's chief executive Liam Scully (left) and vice-chairman Roger Bates at their new training facility

If a lower-league club can pull off a shock - or multiple shocks - the financial rewards can be vast and long-lasting. Just ask League Two leaders Lincoln City, whose dramatic 2016-17 run has helped fund their new £1.3m elite performance centre.

Speaking as the 12.3 acre training-ground site opened, vice-chairman Roger Bates told BBC Sport: "The television money and the prize money have gone a long way towards underpinning what we've done here.

"It's fair to say that, without that cup run, this would have been a challenge. The progress we've been able to make gives us a real sense of pride."

Chief executive Liam Scully added: "The support we've had from the city and the spirit of football is ultimately why we all work in this game, for stories such as this that we're living right now.

"This has all been achieved by six crazy months in a sense, by what was a relatively small non-league club at the time. To see us where we are now, averaging 8,500 gates, is phenomenal."

Lincoln overcame Guiseley, Altrincham, Oldham, Ipswich, Brighton and Premier League Burnley before losing to Arsenal in the last eight, playing nine games in that run including replays.

The Imps knocked out the Clarets with a late 1-0 win at Turf Moor in February 2017 to become the first non-league side to reach the quarter-finals for 103 years.

One of the stars of that run, forward Matt Rhead, added: "The FA Cup can change your life. We didn't have a training ground at the time - we were training at parks, fields, wherever we could find. Now it's somewhere that we can all call home."

Lincoln host Northampton Town on Saturday, with £36,000 up for grabs for first-round winners this term after total prize money was doubled for this season to £30.2m.

What about those wanting to avoid a shock?

Michael Duff
Former Northern Ireland international Michael Duff took charge of Cheltenham in September

Those scanning the first-round fixtures for possible shocks will likely look for three things; a lower-league side playing at home, a higher-ranked side enduring a poor run and minnows who are extra motivated.

At Saturday's tie between Ebbsfleet United and Cheltenham Town, all three arguably apply. The National League hosts have a new boss in Garry Hill, after Daryl McMahon's exit by mutual consent on Wednesday.

Hill's new side face a Robins outfit which is yet to win under manager Michael Duff in his nine League Two matches so far.

"It won't be easy. In the pyramid, they're not that many players below us," Duff told BBC Radio Gloucestershire. "The players are fully aware of where we are and what we need to do.

"It's a tough game but we're not focused on them. The spotlight is on us, from us. They're got lots of good players, but we're looking at ourselves at the moment."

Grand gestures

Whatever the results this weekend, one club's set of fans have already been made happy.

Boreham Wood chairman Danny Hunter is paying for the match tickets for every fan making the 416-mile round trip to Southport for their match.

The fixture is one of six all-non-league ties (all times GMT):

  • Chesterfield v Billericay (Sat, 15:00)
  • Southport v Boreham Wood (Sat, 15:00)
  • Sutton United v Slough Town (Sat, 15:00)
  • Torquay v Woking (Sat, 15:00)
  • Hitchin v Solihull Moors (Sun, 12:45)
  • Weston-super-Mare v Wrexham (Sun, 12:45)

How to follow the action with BBC Sport

BBC Sport has all of the first-round action covered on television, radio and online.

Saturday's Football Focus on BBC One at 12:05 will come live from Metropolitan Police FC, with presenter Dan Walker joined by Dion Dublin and Matthew Upson.

You can watch highlights from Saturday's games on the BBC Sport website and app from 17:15, while Sunday's FA Cup edition of Final Score from 12:30 will show the goals as they go in.

Highlights of the weekend's ties will be shown on BBC Two from 17:30 GMT on Sunday, and the draw for the second round of the FA Cup will be broadcast live on BBC Two and online on Monday from 19:00.


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