5 reasons the early rounds of the FA Cup are worth watching
Think you should only bother with the FA Cup from January onwards? Think again. Here's why you should give it your attention this weekend.
It’s more than just a man and his dog
The FA Cup first round is where League One and League Two clubs join the fun.
That means there seven former winners of the tournament pitch up early on, with Portsmouth having lifted the trophy as recently as 2008.
Each of those clubs has also spent time in the Premier League and, along with Swindon and Oldham, there are nine teams in the opening round who have experienced the big time.
There are also another three non-league sides still in the cup that have previously played in the EFL.
With some big hitters among the EFL clubs still in the competition, it deserves to be taken seriously.
There’s plenty of names you’ll recognise
As the number of high-profile teams in the competition grows, so does the number of recognisable players.
Sunderland were only relegated from the Premier League in 2016 and have plenty of familiar faces in their first team.
Striker Duncan Watmore made 37 Premier League appearances for the club before relegation, while captain Grant Leadbitter also made his club debut in the top flight.
Aiden McGeady is still at the club, having signed from Everton in 2017, along with Will Grigg. You know, from the song.
Other notable players include George Boyd and Jamie Mackie, who currently play for Peterborough and Oxford respectively.
But it’s not just the EFL sides that will make you feel nostalgic.
There are plenty of names in non-league as well, as Alan Alger explains in this piece, and it’s not just on the pitch that you will see them.
Want to get a glimpse of former Tottenham midfielder Jamie O’Hara? He’s currently managing National League South side Billericay, who travelled to League Two leaders Forest Green in the first round.
And some gems that you don’t (but will do soon)
Quality footballers do exist in non-league and an impressive FA Cup campaign is a great way to get themselves in the shop window.
Just ask Jamie Vardy.
The 32-year-old was playing for Fleetwood, then of the National League, in 2011/12 and scored in the first, second and third rounds of the FA Cup on his way to 34 goals in all competitions.
The Cod Army were knocked out by Championship Blackpool in the third round, but Vardy had already announced himself.
He would later become the first ever million-pound non-league player with a move to Leicester the following summer.
Charlie Austin, Chris Smalling and Tyrone Mings are others who began at the bottom before working their way up.
Don’t be surprised if more talent emerges through the FA Cup this season.
You can keep tabs on your club’s loan players
If you need convincing to watch the early rounds of the FA Cup, the likelihood is you’re a fan of a Championship or Premier League club and are waiting until January to join the party.
But you needn’t feel left out.
Fans of most clubs in the top two divisions can still watch some of their own players that are out on loan in the opening two rounds.
There are 11 players from the Big Six alone who are currently playing in League One and League Two and are eligible to play in the FA Cup.
Those include Arsenal midfielder Ben Sheaf, who is on loan at Doncaster until January, and Manchester United goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara, who has been ever-present for Burton this season.
Not a fan of a Big Six club? No problem.
All but two of the 48 clubs in League One and League Two have at least one loan player from a Premier League or Championship side, with the only outliers being MK Dons and Crewe.
It’s magic, you know
Thought cupsets only happened from the third round onwards? Think again.
There are plenty more examples of non-league sides overcoming EFL opponents in the early rounds of the FA Cup.
Warrington Town overcame a gap of 100 league places to beat League Two Exeter City in 2014, with defender and plasterer Craig Robinson scoring the only goal of the game after seven minutes.
The following season, then seventh-tier Salford knocked Notts County out at the same stage after a 2-0 home victory.
We have already seen a (sort of) upset this year as well.
Chichester City came into the first-round draw as the lowest ranked side left in the tournament.
They were given a bye to the second round and pocketed £36,000 prize money simply for having the good fortune to have been drawn out last.
Their players and fans celebrated like they had won the cup.
With 15 EFL v non-league ties scheduled in this year’s first round, and another nine in the second round, you can expect even more magic before the big boys get involved.
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