Friday, November 5, 2010

I love the early rounds of the FA Cup.

I'm looking forward to all of this weekend's action and have been following the tournament from quite an early stage this season for a change, which has been a wonderful breath of fresh air.

The Cup loses a bit for me usually around the fifth round when most of the smaller clubs have gone out and the moneymen basically take over. It's been great to have unfashionable and non Premiership teams make the final in recent seasons both sides of the border. Keeps part of the top flight game fresh and interesting.

A lot is made of the romanticism of the FA Cup, so I won't go down that well trodden path. It's real passion, real commitment, real football and what the game should be all about it in these early rounds.

You're not going to get much of a better example of that than in tonight's epic encounter between League One side Rochdale and FC United of Manchester from the Evostick Northern Premier League.

95 places and five tiers of the English football pyramid seperated the two teams but watching the game you would never have known.

I've followed FCUM's fortunes with interest since they founded, surprising seeing as how much I despise Manchester United. It's a feel good, success story. The kind that you don't see too much of in these depressing times in football, where every week seems to see another Club in money troubles, administration or going out of business altogether.

It's also two fingers up to the money men and overseas buyers that are slowly killing the modern game, basically eliminating all bar a few clubs from success at the top. The message is simple. Kill our club or change it beyond recognition and we'll go and set up another one that is not only more fun but one which you actually feel like a real part of and not simply a commodity.

The fans that shunned their old love, or worship at another church as has been a chosen analogy of many, have shown the true spirit of the game as they rise up the levels. The sheer ecstasy shown on the faces of the FCUM support this evening was a joy to behold. It was enough to make even a man with a glass eye shed a tear.

They've worked hard to get where they are and deserve every minute of their success.

The atmosphere at Spotland for the tie was incredible. I don't think the FCUM fans were quiet for a second and that includes pre match and half time. It was electric as the commentators like to tell us. This time that came across very loud and clear. The singing, the bouncing, the flares, even the pitch invasions were TV gold.

Despite being under intense early Rochdale pressure, with the Dale having an excellent penalty claim for handball waved away, FCUM fought back and when Nicky Platt put the non league side ahead on 42 minutes you sensed you were watching something special. An apt description also for Jake Cotterill's screamer that put the visitors two up four minutes into the second half.

Rochdale fought back and two set piece headers looked like being FCUM's downfall, as the League One side tied proceedings up with twelve minutes remaining.

A replay at Gigg Lane was looking on the cards, with both sides seeming tired towards the end. It was a proposition that had me licking my lips to be honest but Michael Norton's controversial goal four minutes into stoppage time saw the Evostick side through to round two.

Norton clearly kicked the ball out of the hands of Dale keeper Josh Lillis, but only certain angles of the TV replay showed this so you can't blame the referee for giving the goal and it shouldn't take any shine off FCUM's victory. It's a real shame that Rochdale were on the end of it though as they are a Club I admire and who I've been rooting for last season and this. Hopefully this will let them follow that old cliche of concentrating on the League as Dale in the Championship would be the joy that their long suffering supporters deserve.

As an AFC Wimbledon fan, and Dons Trust member, it's been great to see both them and FC United of Manchester flourish in recent seasons. Both fan owned, the 2010/2011 campaign is shaping up to be one of the most memorable for both teams short histories.

Let's hope that the Dons can match their northern counterparts achievement in reaching the second round.

The dream ties of AFC Wimbledon v MK Dons and FC United of Manchester United still remain possibilities and that's what the FA Cup is all about.

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