Friday, 28 November 2008

Passionate People, Passionate Places

I am off to Newcastle. Off to the North East of England whose regional image campaign a few years ago declared that this corner of our nation is bursting at the seams with "Passionate People, Passionate Places". I have never been to Newcastle and I feel rather ashamed to admit that I have only ever been to the North East once, and that was last season on my FA Cup trail when I visited Teesside for the Middlesbrough v Cardiff City Quarter-Final tie. My brother has just moved there, so we have a family orientated trip up the East Coast line which will start at the crack of dawn tomorrow.

I regret to say that I am unlikely to get the opportunity to dip my toe into the ocean of non League football that the region has to offer. Family breaks away are great, especially when visiting a new place. But this kind of trip always comes burdened with awkward, uncomfortable thoughts that dart in and out of the mind. The sort of thoughts that jostle for attention and create a heady and uneasy mix. These sort of thoughts: 'too good an opportunity to miss' and 'maybe I could pop out for a couple of hours' jumbled up with 'my life would not be worth living' and 'that'll be me sleeping on the sofa tonight then'. A couple of days, away with wife and child, will be dedicated family time. Time that does not allow for an afternoon stood on a terrace bank, sheltered against the elements, admiring dug-outs or floodlight pylons. The old escape routine of "I'm just popping out for a pint of milk dear" is quite frankly a disaster waiting to happen. Has anyone ever used that and got away with it?

I'm struggling to convince myself that this will not unduly concern me on this weekend away. When I started this FA Vase journey a few months back, I felt that the chance of me visiting the North East for a game was high. Don't ask me why; nothing based on fact or logic, another one of those lower abdomen feelings that probably owes more to a dodgy Chicken Jalfrezi rather than one's own stomach actually being able to predict what's going to happen. Gut feelings are great, but are only quoted when that one-in-a-million chance is realised and a huge bucket of hindsight is at hand. But yes, I had a gut feeling that I would end up in the North East for an FA Vase game this season.

I used the past tense there though. I am gradually realising that this is an unlikely likelihood. I guess my original train of thought was fuelled by the unquestionable fact that football teams from the North East have, historically, fared well in the FA Vase and, more strikingly, in its predecessor competition, the FA Amateur Cup.

Teams from the North East who have excelled in the FA Vase include Bedlington Terriers, Guisborough Town, Newcastle Blue Star, Tow Law Town and Whitley Bay. But it is in the FA Amateur Cup where the reputation of a strong and vibrant non League football scene in the region was surely founded. Teams from the North East have won the competition a remarkable 21 times in 71 seasons, and this being a national competition mind. That's an almost 30% success rate. Bishop Auckland led the way with 10 wins. Roll off the tongue some of the other North East winners and they are recognisable names in the football world, even to those fans who barely look lower than the foot of the Premiership; Crook Town, North Shields, Stockton and West Auckland to name a few.

But doubts about whether the North East will call me for a Vase game this season are creeping in through the side door. Looking at the list of teams that remain in the competition, the representation from the region is not as large as I would have predicted. Still in there are Spennymoor Town, Marske United, Shildon, Whitley Bay, and Dunston Federation. Not many really; other recognisable names such as Billingham Synthonia, Chester-le-Street Town, Consett and Sunderland Nissan have already fallen by the wayside.

So I'm not as hopeful as I was at the start of the season. After the Third Round Proper, the competition opens up into the national rounds which means I could end up in any part of the country. Deep down, I really do want a trip to the North East but in reality I see that possibility stumbling clumsily over the distant horizon. This weekend's journey there may be the last for some time. If you listen carefully, you can hear a golden opportunity ringing that side door bell. Trouble is, I won't be able to answer it. As we travel on the train tomorrow I will be telling my wife about the passionate places that await us, and the passionate people occupying those places, but at the same time trying desperately hard not to include the words "Morpeth Town versus Ashington" in the same sentence. It won't be easy.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cogenhoe United

The FA Vase is now down to the last 32 ties, and my sixth game in this season's competition will see me make a welcome return trip down to Arundel. The draw for the Third Round Proper paired Arundel with Cogenhoe United:

[tie 21] 06 Dec 2008 15:00 Arundel v Cogenhoe United

Cogenhoe village is five miles east of Northampton and sits on high land overlooking the River Nene valley. Cogenhoe United play in the Premier Division of the United Counties League (step 5 in the pyramid); the alarming thing for me is that this club is younger than I am! Established in 1967 they play at Compton Park in the village and the ground boasts a 5,000 capacity. The village Cricket Club also plays at Compton Park, who sub-lets the playing area from the football club, who in turn leases the land from the Compton Estates of Castle Ashby.

In their short history they joined United Counties League 1 in 1985-86 and were promoted to the Premier after finishing runners-up the following season. They have been ever present in this League ever since, and claimed the title in 2004-05. Unfortunately, they were not promoted to step 4 of the pyramid as their ground failed to meet regulations.

Cogenhoe United have a reasonable FA Vase record; on three separate occasions they have reached the Fourth Round Proper; in 1993-93 they lost to Oadby Town, in 1996-97 Mossley ended their interest and most recently in 2006-07 their run was halted by Causeway United. To get to this stage of the current FA Vase campaign, they have seen off Langford, Codicote (with an impressive 6-0 scoreline) and Boston Town.

The best run in the FA Cup came in 2005-06 when they reached the Third Qualifying Round, where they lost 4-3 at Chasetown after a 1-1 draw at Compton Park. That was the season that Chasetown went on to meet Oldham Athletic in the First Round Proper.

The club, who have a local rivalry with Northampton Spencer, is managed by Darren Collins. Collins was a prolific striker whilst at Rushden & Diamonds, who he signed for in 1994, joining the Northamptonshire outfit from Enfield. In the 1995-96 season he bagged 40 goals and two seasons later his tally was 35; in a six year spell at Nene Park he scored a total of 153 goals, which remains a Rushden & Diamonds club record. Collins went on to play for Kettering Town, and a number of other clubs including Cogenhoe United. He took up the manager's role at Cogenhoe in 2007.

I realise now that for the first few days after the draw was made I was mispronouncing the name of the team. Cogenhoe is pronounced "cook-no" rather than "cog-n-ho"; this explains their club nickname of 'The Cooks' and also explains why I was getting strange looks whenever I mentioned the game and Arundel's opposition. At least I think that was the reason why.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Game 5: Banstead Atheltic 1, Arundel 2 (aet)

Second Round Proper ~ Saturday 15th November 2008
Venue: Merland Rise, Tadworth, Surrey
Attendance: 62

Distance travelled: 49 miles

I'm glad I don't bet too much on the outcome of football matches. Saturday's enthralling encounter at Merland Rise is the type of game that crops up every once in a while. The sort of game where the odds are so heavily stacked in the favour of one team that, surely, there could only ever be one outcome; but events then unfold to prove that there is no such thing as a 'certainty' in football. Something we have all known for a long time, but every now and again a gentle reminder does no harm.

The contrary recent fortunes for both these clubs had led me to believe that it was going to be a tough afternoon for the home side. Arundel went into Saturday's FA Vase game on the back of eight straight wins in a row; Banstead Athletic had lost all bar one of their first team players in the wake of Dave Leworthy's resignation as manager. Before a ball had even been kicked, I was fairly confident that I could predict the outcome. Twenty minutes into the game I had seen nothing to suggest that my confidence was misplaced; I feared that Banstead would be comprehensively played off the park and were heading for what is known in the trade as a 'tonking'.

As it turned out, Arundel ultimately left this part of Surrey with a win, a place in the Third Round Proper and nice cheque for £1200 courtesy of the FA. But it was far from as straightforward as I had envisaged. In the end, it would be fair to say that they pipped Banstead on the line by a short head, but needed extra-time to do so. The fact that this was a great game was due, in no small part, to the turn of events on the pitch that saw Banstead still in the game right at the death. It would also be fair to say, if I had put my money where my mouth was, I would have lost my house, my car and probably the shirt on my back.

Banstead struggled to get into the game in the first half. From the off Arundel completely dominated possession, and the makeshift Banstead team, still getting to know each other after being assembled in a matter of weeks, failed to string more than a couple of passes together. 'The Mullets' from Sussex looked stronger, quicker and far more composed on the ball than their hosts; they squandered a number of scoring opportunities and a half-time scoreline of 3- or 4-nil in their favour would not have been flattering.

Arundel had the ball in the net after only 4 minutes, but the 'goal' was disallowed. Moments later they won a corner from which Josh Biggs shot wide from only a few yards. Arundel controlled the early exchanges, which were also typified by strong, firm challenges from both teams. This was an important game for either side, and both sets of players were keen to make their presence felt. The referee however failed to enter into the spirit of the occasion and spent much of the first half with his whistle to his lips; not for the first time on this FA Vase run the man in the middle quickly became the centre of attention, but for all the wrong reasons. A shout of "look at me, I've got the whistle" from one spectator quite aptly summed up the feelings of the crowd.

Arundel carried on bossing the game right up to half-time, seemingly unaffected by the referee’s frequent interventions. On 20 minutes, they had a shot cleared off the line, on the half-hour mark a second 'goal' disallowed and 38 minutes in Biggs blazed over the bar when it seemed easier to score. In amongst the Arundel chances I lost count of the number of yellow cards issued; at one stage I believe it was Banstead with five bookings and Arundel with two.

In a not particularly dirty game, the referee set a dangerous precedent with an early Banstead booking - Scott Murphy was shown a yellow for a strong challenge on the edge of his own area after only 17 minutes - and he then proceeded to reach for his pocket with gay abandon. Some of the bookings were unfortunately for dissent; the most memorable was Banstead's Russell Townsend, who repeatedly swore at the ref after the award of a free-kick to Arundel. To give the referee some credit, he gave Townsend plenty of opportunity to walk away; the referee, more than once, made it quite clear to Townsend that he would tolerate no more swearing: "Swear at me one more time, and I'll book you". Cue torrent of abuse from Townsend. "This is your last chance" replied the ref. "F*** off" said Townsend. He only had himself to blame.

Against all the odds the teams went in goalless, no doubt much to the relief of the Banstead players and officials. When I say "went in", the players left the pitch to find themselves locked out of the changing rooms and spent a few minutes queuing in the cold waiting for a key to be found. In what was a rather comical incident (in a sad sort of way), it crossed my mind to take a photo of the bemused teams to post here. I thought better of it, and scurried off to the warmth of the clubhouse.

Or should I say boardroom, which is where we were invited to at half-time. I attended the game with PB and our welcome at Merland Rise was first class. We had started the day by taking a tortuous route to Banstead's ground by way of Hampton Court, Hinchley Wood, Chessington, Ewell, Cheam, and Sutton. We were not lost, but were on the quest to visit PB's Mum, which turned out to be a wise move as the prize on offer at the end of the circuitous meander through Surrey suburbia took the form of a fresh pot of coffee and a pork pie. In my humble opinion, there is nothing finer than a pre-match pastry, as many of my friends can testify. Therein lays a completely different, and not at all interesting, story.

Before the kick-off, we had met the new Banstead manager Graeme Banyard who was genuinely pleased to talk to us. We were introduced to committee member Eddy Adams, who kindly escorted us (at half-time) to Banstead's boardroom, resplendent in its display of trophies and pennants, allowing us to meet some of the officials. A splendid cuppa in one hand and a digestive in the other, we got to meet Terry Parmenter (Banstead's secretary). The unconditional hospitality was a real bonus for us and we both learnt a little more about the club. It was also nice to once again meet the Arundel chairman, Bob Marchant; having now spoken to a number of officials from most of the teams that I have so far encountered on this FA Vase run, it is crystal clear just what this competition means to teams at this level. The FA Vase is important.

Back to the game, and the second half began how it had ended, with Arundel having won a free-kick, a corner and had a chance to score (Matt Huckett heading over) all within 10 minutes of the re-start. But then, just as it seemed that Banstead were simply buying time against a tide of inevitability, the game somehow changed. I'm not really sure what happened; maybe Banstead had received a real grilling at half-time? Perhaps Arundel took their collective feet of the gas? Possibly the Banstead players had found some self-belief? Whatever the reason, the home team started to string some passes together, keep hold of the ball and against all odds began to grind their way back into the game. It was more than obvious that this shocked the Arundel players; you could hear their frustration as they realised that their total dominance for a large chunk of the game may not actually yield anything. On the hour mark Banstead produced a good move down the right that culminated with a shot which went the wrong side of the post by a matter of inches. A couple of minutes later, Alex Bryant in the Arundel goal fumbled a cross out for a Banstead corner. Arundel were now rattled, and Banstead's confidence was on the up.

And so, rather ironically, it was somewhat against the run of the second half play that Arundel took the lead. Matt Axell sent in a testing cross from the left onto the head of Mike Huckett (Matt's brother) at the far post to put the visitors 1-0 up after 65 minutes. Before the goal, Arundel had brought on Richard Ghent, a speedy winger who started to give the Banstead left back a torrid time. Following the goal, Arundel routed most of their play through Ghent and once again, I was sure that Arundel would add to their lead and win comfortably.

Cue the Banstead equaliser on 75 minutes. After a scramble in the Arundel box, Louis Hollingsworth reacted quickest to turn the ball beyond the visiting keeper. The game had turned again, and now Banstead were pushing for the winner. The Arundel players were by now urging each other to "calm down" as their controlled style of play had seemingly deserted them. As both teams tired, the last fifteen minutes was a joy to watch as vast amounts of space opened up across the pitch and either team could have snatched a winner in an end-to-end finish to the game. Banstead came closest with five minutes remaining when Luke Edghill forced a marvellous save from Bryant.

But 1-1 it remained at full-time, so spilling the tie into extra-time. Banstead had the first chance to take the lead in this period when Jason Hannington struck a wonderful effort from 30 yards out, arrowed towards the top corner of the goal. Somehow Bryant produced another fantastic save to turn the ball around the post. Just as it looked like Banstead might now take the game, it was Arundel who regained the lead. On 98 minutes, Howard Neighbour scored a fine goal, thumping the ball into the roof of the net from short range. Banstead still had time to equalise and forced a number of corners but, in the end, they came up short. Their frustration at facing an exit from the competition boiled over in a frenetic last few moments of the game, with Lee Matthews receiving a second yellow and then Jason Haniff two quick bookings in the space of a minute. The tie for Banstead, now reduced to nine men, was over.

Wow. All of this for a £5 entry fee. A great game; great hospitality from Banstead Athletic and another great afternoon in the company of non League football. We rounded off our first ever visit to Merland Rise with a quick drink in the boardroom, a brief chat with Graeme Banyard about his plans for Banstead for the rest of the season and then off and away from the ground feeling very happy that we had been part of another chapter in this season's FA Vase story.

One thing is for sure; I'm already looking forward to the Third Round Proper in December and wherever the draw takes me, I'll certainly be there. You can bet on it.

Photo Gallery 1 [more of my shots]
Photo Gallery 2 [courtesy of Simon Roe, Copyright © Simon Roe 2008]

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Does anyone remember the classic 80's US sitcom 'Cheers'? It was a favourite of mine, and there is an exchange from one scene that I often quote that still makes me laugh two decades on. One of the characters was Norm Peterson, otherwise referred to as 'Big Norm', who was played by the actor George Wendt. In the show he was renowned for his one liners. On one occasion he enters the 'Cheers' bar preceded by a flurry of snow blown in off the wintry Boston streets. As he enters, one of the 'Cheers' regulars perched at the bar shouts over "Hey Norm! What's up?" to which Norm replies "My nipples, it's freezing outside!" I've lost count of the number of times I've rolled this one out. I'd like to apologise here and now to all my family and friends.

There is some relevance to this story. At last, the Banstead Athletic v Arundel tie is within sight, only a few days away now. I mentioned in an earlier post that Merland Rise, the venue for Saturday, has a reputation as being a very cold ground to stand in. I fear it could be very cold this coming weekend. It was only two rounds ago that we were standing in glorious sunshine at the FA Vase tie between Hassocks and Chertsey Town, with short sleeved shirts, basking in the last flickers of a fading summer. And in the blink of an eye, the weather turned, the clocks went back, the days got shorter and darker and all of a sudden it feels very cold. As Dean Martin sang, "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

At the weekend a friend accused me of having lived for far too long in the south and I had become a "southern wuss". I think she is right. I seem to feel the cold much more than I used to. I know, I know; it's probably an age thing. That week in Devon I spent with my family a few weeks back was bitterly cold, with a biting sea wind playing its part. When subsequently asked "how was your holiday" the words "cold", "chilly" or "freezing" invariably crept into the first sentence of any of my replies. I guess it serves us right for having our summer holiday in October.

In the seemingly mammoth gap between the First and Second Rounds of this FA Vase competition, I have satiated my thirst for football with a few other games. Last weekend I took my son to see the top-of-the-table Ryman League Premier Division clash between Staines Town and Dover Athletic. He had a free entry voucher, a commendable scheme run by Staines Town whereby vouchers are given away to local schools. An entertaining game, in which Dover grabbed a 90th minute winner to chalk up a 3-2 win and in doing so, cemented their position at the summit of the League. But it was cold. We are now at the stage of the season where several layers are loaded on; a t-shirt, a long sleeved shirt, a thick jumper, a fleece, a jacket. Hat. Gloves. Not quite the weather for thermal leggings, but that is not far off I'm sure. I was so bulked up at the game I occupied two seats in the small Wheatsheaf Park stand.

The following day, I headed off to Essex for the FA Cup tie between AFC Hornchurch and Peterborough United with Mackem and POSH Mate. The forecast was once again for low temperatures, so I went armed with layers of clothing. After a warming Full English breakfast in Upminster, we walked a couple of miles to the ground. By the time we reached 'The Stadium' I was feeling kind of toasted; the sun then came out and I began to regret being cocooned in so much cotton and wool. But the moment the sun retreated behind the clouds, that arctic cold snuck back in. The match itself was poor; played against a strong wind blowing the length of the pitch, it was never going to be a classic. In a game of little incident, Peterborough snatched victory at the death when the Hornchurch goalkeeper, Dale Brightly, spilled an innocuous looking long range shot to present Craig Mackail-Smith with a simple tap in. The Hornchurch players collapsed in disbelief at the mistake just when a deserved replay at London Road looked likely. One couldn't help feel for the young keeper; an inconsolable Brightly left out in the cold.

So welcome to British winter football; several months of cold and rain and frost and damp and snow await. My thermal leggings may just make the first appearance of the season for the trip to Banstead on Saturday. The danger being that I could end up sweating like a pig, which is another thing 'Big Norm' was known to do:

Norm: "I have, on several occasions, been known to perspire a bit."
Carla: "We could grow rice."

Friday, 7 November 2008

Banstead Manager Resigns

I was surprised to read the news that the manager of Banstead Athletic, Dave Leworthy, has resigned. To be totally honest, I'm not sure why I was so surprised. I have never been to Banstead Athletic, never watched them play and up until the draw for the Second Round Proper of the FA Vase, had never really given the club more than a passing thought. Managers resign, are sacked, or walk out of clubs frequently. It is not an unusual occurrence. High profile names that have been flung off the manager merry-go-round at speed already this season have included Kevin Keegan, Juande Ramos, Iain Dowie, and Aidy Boothroyd with Joe Kinnear and Harry Redknapp jumping on board. The phrases 'job security' and 'football management' are not happy bedfellows.

There are of course exceptions. Yesterday (6th November), Alex Ferguson celebrated 22 years in charge of a certain well-known club from the North West of England. Only this week the Football Association officially recognised Jimmy Davies as the longest serving manager in English football. Davies set up Waterloo Dock FC (Liverpool) in 1963 and is still in charge after 45 years of management. But this level of loyalty in the game is rare.

I guess one of the reasons I was surprised by events down at Merland Rise is that there appears to be no obvious reason for Leworthy's exit. The club has had a successful start to the season; at the time of his departure Banstead were lying 4th in their League and were seen as genuine promotion contenders; they have also navigated a tricky path through the FA Vase to set up the tie with Arundel. Confidence was high at the club. So why did Leworthy leave?

This is the official Press Release from Banstead Athletic

"The Club can confirm that Dave Leworthy has resigned as manager of Banstead Athletic F.C. as of Thursday 23rd October 2008. Mr Leworthy has stated personal reasons for his departure and he leaves the club in 4th position in the Combined Counties Premier Division, as well as in the 2nd Round Proper of the FA Vase. In an unfortunate turn of events the majority of the 1st team squad also departed with Mr Leworthy on Thursday evening. Considering the team has started well and the Manager has been given full support throughout his time at the club we find his decision very strange but wish him all the very best for the future. The Club can confirm that in no way have we gone back on any promises given to Dave and his team throughout his time at the Club. Graeme Banyard is now caretaker manager and in only 24 hours put a team together, including only 3 of the previous management’s squad, which won 2-1 away at Ash Utd last Saturday. Any players that wish to return to the club please ring Graeme, or turn up at training on Thursday 30th October where the committee will be available to answer any questions."

As the statement says, Mr Leworthy evidently left for personal reasons; I doubt the real reasons will ever be made public and I am not going to speculate. The thing that surprised me most is the obvious impact this departure has had on the club, specifically that most of the first team players and back-room staff have also decided to follow the exit signs. This happens in football; once a manger goes, sometimes players also go, often following the manager to a new club. This is predicted to happen at Portsmouth following Redknapp's exit. But at non League level, the scale of player departures are often more significant. Without the tie-in of complex and lengthy contracts, players can, and often do, leave clubs at short notice and players leave in large numbers. The strange thing about this particular case is that the players that have left have gone off in different directions (e.g. Sol Patterson-Bohner has joined Whyteleafe) and this is not a case where all departing players have followed the manager to pastures new. There is no news about whether Leworthy, who used to play for Tottenham Hotspur and spent 10 months in charge at Banstead, has joined another club.

The problem for Banstead Athletic is that now, at very short notice and apparently completely out of the blue, the club is bereft of players. The new caretaker manager is Graeme Banyard, who started this season as Website Manager but has previously had an 18 month spell in charge of the club. He faced an immediate problem in getting eleven players together for a League game only a day after Leworthy left the club. I had already made contact with Graeme before this all happened, so I guess part of my initial surprise was fuelled by a great deal of sympathy for Graeme in what must be an unbelievably difficult and testing period for him. A couple of days ago Graeme explained to me that the last two weeks have been "manic"; in Graeme's own words "not the ideal preparation for our important Vase match next Saturday!"

An understatement to say the least.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A Sideways Glance At The FA Cup

A wonderful week in Devon; no computer, a rudimentary television (how did we ever survive with only four channels?) a small radio and plenty of time to read, relax and totally unwind. I'm now back home from a Luddite's paradise and my batteries are charged to the brim.

Driving down to the South West last Saturday I knew that it was FA Cup day and I felt a little disappointed that I wasn't driving to a game. After my exploits of last season I understandably feel a great deal of attachment to the competition and I get somewhat rueful reading through the Cup fixtures. I am thoroughly enjoying this season's FA Vase, and there is much more to look forward to. But I have managed a couple of FA Cup diversions this season as well, one at Chertsey Town (2-2 v Deal Town) and the other at Hampton & Richmond Borough (2-0 v Whyteleafe). As I was heading off to a week of peace and quiet, clubs up and down the country were preparing for Fourth Round Qualifying matches and were only one tie away from the First Round Proper. Part of me wanted to be part of it all, again. In the meantime, a brief sideways glance will suffice.

On the Sunday morning I managed to catch up with the FA Cup results in the newspaper (how primeval) but by late afternoon I was braving the October elements and skimming stones of the crests of white horses with my son; thoughts of FA Cup games had drifted off on the cold sea breeze and I was well and truly 'on holiday'. But then I received a text message - my only concession last week to modern life - and it was from POSH Mate with a rather strange question: "Where is Hornchurch?" He being a person of knowledgeable mind my first reaction was that he obviously knows where Hornchurch is (he could surely find out very quickly if not) and therefore his question was hinting at something else. But what? My wife put me out of my misery - the cogs in my brain had by now dropped to their lowest gear possible - and suggested that maybe Peterborough United (his team) were going to be playing in Hornchurch. My thoughts then turned back to the FA Cup, but I was still all at sea. Literally and metaphorically. Wasn't this mid-Sunday afternoon, a day before the draw for the First Round Proper? Had I lost a day already? That happens towards the end of holidays, admittedly, but surely not that early in the week?

I had to conclude that the First Round Proper draw had taken place; in the dark recesses I had a vague memory that ITV and Setanta were now involved and had evidently introduced a degree of tinkering to announce their arrival on the scene. This turned out to be the case and Peterborough United indeed face a trip to AFC Hornchurch. Which is in Essex, by the way.

There were some great results and stories in the Fourth Qualifying Round; Ridgeons Football League (step 5) side Leiston shocked Lewes (of the Blue Square Premier League, step 1) with an impressive 3-1 replay win at The Dripping Pan after being held 1-1 at home. They will be joined in the First Round Proper by another Suffolk club, Bury Town who beat Basingstoke Town. Brackley Town won 1-0 at Hampton & Richmond Borough, Eastwood Town overcame Wrexham after a replay and Rushden & Diamonds fell by the wayside at Evesham United.

The First Round Proper will be played this coming weekend. Setanta have been plugging the fact that they now have TV coverage of the FA Cup by, most annoyingly, declaring that they will be screening games from "every round of the FA Cup". In a glaring breach of the Trades Descriptions Act, Setanta have conveniently ignored the first six rounds. As we all know some of the best FA Cup football takes place between August and October and no, Setanta, the FA Cup does not start in November; the First Round Proper is the seventh round of the competition.

Debutants in the First Round Proper next weekend are Evesham United (drawn away at Torquay United), Brackley Town (away to Eastwood Town) and Curzon Ashton (home to Exeter City). The TV coverage starts on Friday evening with Leeds United v Northampton Town (don't get me started on why Setanta have chosen that game as their opener and duly ignored ties involving non League teams) and continues with ITV coverage on Sunday with Havant & Waterlooville v Brentford. Setanta then on Monday have arguably one of the highlights of the Round with AFC Wimbledon v Wycombe Wanderers.

Oh, and the draw for the Second Round Proper will be shown live on ITV at 1:45pm on Sunday 9th November before the Havant & Waterlooville tie. Opportunity for another sideways glance at the FA Cup for me before my next FA Vase outing. This time I'll be prepared.