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FA Cup attracts extra publicity

English football’s oldest and favourite cup competition reaches its first round proper this weekend and thanks to a timely bit of fixture arranging can probably enjoy more exposure and publicity than it normally gets at this stage.

The FA Cup is back and during an international weekend too where the only other game around takes place at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as England play Spain.

Other than that, the FA Cup gets centre stage and there’s a mouth watering set of fixtures to intrigue and excite football fans starved of their usual menu of Premier League and Championship thrills, plus a few banana skins around for the bigger clubs taking part.

The romantics among us will be paying close attention to the likes of East Thurrock United from the Ryman League Premier Division, who take on League Two side Macclesfield Town at 2pm on Saturday.

A strange time to kick off it may seem but ITV have given this game priority for full highlights and are concerned about the light at the floodlight free zone in Essex, looking forward to the biggest game in its history. The FA Cup is full of tales like these.

Spotlight

The new Halifax Town, now plying their trade in the Blue Square Bet North following a financial meltdown, get their chance to re-enter the spotlight live on ITV on Sunday as they play host to the highest ranked team in the first round, League One leaders Charlton Athletic.

The Impact Arena won’t be a familiar name to many football fans, but on Saturday it takes centre stage as Derbyshire’s Alfreton Town entertain Carlisle United.

Little Nantwich Town of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League have reached this stage for the first time in their 127 year history and are dreaming of a giant killing in Milton Keynes as they take on MK Dons on their home patch.

Make no mistake, there will be one somewhere, maybe at Bristol as Rovers play Corby Town, or in Berkshire where Maidenhead United welcome Aldershot to York Road - the oldest continually used ground by the same club. It is the first time in the Magpies' history that they play a league club. Or how about in Plymouth, where the troubled League Two basement outfit take on Stourbridge.

Whatever happens there are certain to be at least eight non-league teams in the second round draw. The lowest ranked team left are Redbridge from the Isthmian Division One North who play Oxford City from the Evo-Stik South, the winner of this tie will be then just one step away from the potential FA Cup dreamland of the third round draw.

North east derby

There’s also a non league north eastern derby as Gateshead go to Blyth Spartans and who could possibly fail to love the sound of AFC Totton vs Bradford Park Avenue?

Of the heavyweight clashes to look forward to, Paulo de Canio’s FA Cup debut as a manager could be one to relish as his Swindon Town side welcome Huddersfield to the County Ground. Surprisingly there are no all League One ties, the closest we get to that is at Deepdale as Preston take on League Two leaders Southend United.

But perhaps the blood and thunder tie is reserved for the very end as ESPN cameras will cover the tussle by the seaside between Morecambe and Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday afternoon. By that time there will have been goals galore, controversy in abundance, giants will have been slayed and new heroes will have carved their names into FA Cup folklore.

Any fan of a Premier League or Championship team twiddling their thumbs at the weekend could do a lot worse than take in one of these ties. With no disrespect intended to the sides who have been battling their way through the qualifying rounds to get to this stage, the road to Wembley starts here.

By Phil Nicholas


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