Sunday, January 24, 2010

The tie we were most looking forward to from this weekend's FA Cup match ups was the visit of Premier League side Fulham to Second Division Accrington Stanley yesterday.

As regular readers of this blog may know, we have a huge soft spot for Stanley here at AFTN. We love stories of teams in general coming back after premature demises and fighting their way not only just back to existing but up the league ladders.

We'd watched Accrington's progress up the English pyramid for a few seasons before they finally restored the famous name to League status once again, after a long 44 years away. They also played two pre-season friendlies up at East Fife, meaning many of us Fife fans have followed their progress for a while.

If anyone didn't have a soft spot for the Club, you only had to watch the fantastic six part documentary "Accrington Stanley, Exactly" to fall in the love with the unfashionable club. Cash strapped but with such loyal dedication from those running the side and the small band of fans following them every week. It's something that fans of clubs like East Fife, and all other small clubs across the land, could really relate to.

The original Accrington Stanley, of which the current club are technically a whole different entity, resigned from the Football League mid season in 1962 and went into liquidation four years later. They were a side who had never climbed out of the bottom tier of League football in their four decades as a League side. Even before Stanley existed in that name in 1891, Accrington FC were founder members of the English Football League in 1888, so football in the small town has a long history.

The current Stanley came into being in 1968. They've showed huge fight in coming back from almost going bust for a second time, managing to rally football supporters throughout the UK to help them pay off a big tax bill earlier this season, with many fans of other Clubs turning up to support them at the matches they strategically put on on Friday nights.

With their future secured once again, the team have quietly gone about working their way up the English Second Division this season and John Coleman continues to do wonders at the Club. He's been at the helm for coming up to 11 years now and each season he has taken Stanley to a higher league position than the season before. Not many managers can claim that feat and when you consider the low budget he has been working on, it's truly amazing.

The reward for all their trials and tribulations this season was a plum fourth round home tie against a Fulham side that have impressed in the Premiership at times this year.

It's all you could want from an FA Cup tie. The game had the biggest placing difference between all the sides in the fourth round ties, with 70 places seperating the two sides in the English league set up. It was also played on a pitch that resembled a ploughed farmer's field, in misty conditions, and at a ground where the loud home crowd were on top of the players wherever they ran.

Total leveller. Total romance. Totally what makes football exciting to a lower league fan like myself and what makes the FA Cup the best Club competition in the world. You can keep your rich moneybag teams and overpaid players in the Champions League as far as we're concerned. This is real football.

It was a fantastic match and Accrington did themselves and the lower leagues proud.

Stanley had dominated proceedings when Eric Nevland nudged the Londoners into an undeserved lead after 21 minutes. So many teams would have been disheartened but Stanley hit back four minutes later and Michael Symes sent the packed Crown Ground into raptures.

Darren Kempson's dismissal for a second bookable offence four minutes before half time probably killed off the chances of a huge Cup shock there and then. Although they bravely took the game to Fulham at the start of the second half, when Damien Duff scored for the Premiership side on the hour mark that was pretty much going to be that. Zoltan Gera added a third with nine minutes left after Stanley pushed forward for an equaliser and the final 3-1 scoreline certainly didn't tell the story of the game and flattered a very poor Fulham performance.

Accrington dominated for long spells and if the casual observer looked in you would have struggled to know which side was the Premier league one, never mind which one had the extra man.

There's still some hopes of Cup shocks for the rest of the tournament though, as once again the FA Cup proves to be the most engaging and enthralling of all the club Cup competitions around the world. Just what makes it keep all this magic after all these years? If only you could bottle it.

Oh for the Scottish one to garner the same excitement and interest and equally an oh for the chance to watch something similar in Canada. Maybe one day both of these things will happen but I won't be holding my breath!

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