(Hampton will be hoping to upset Oldham on Monday night)
By Gregor Robertson, National League play-off winner turned journalist
I’ve been racking my brains for a few FA Cup career highlights this week, and I suppose my need to do that tells its own story!
In 15 years as a professional, a last-16 tie against Tottenham Hotspur, when I was a fresh-faced youngster at Nottingham Forest, was about as good as it got.
There was a visit to Ipswich Town’s Portman Road when I was at League Two Chesterfield, but more often than not during my career in the lower leagues my teams seemed forever destined to draw an opponent from the same division – which yields about as much extra excitement as a trip to the dentist.
That game against Spurs was the only tie I played in front of the TV cameras too. The point is, while we’re all used to seeing the FA Cup rolling round to throw up its annual David v Goliath clashes, the upsets, fairytales and myriad memorable encounters, for most players those moments are fleeting and rare. Indeed, for many they never come around at all.
This weekend, three of the stand-out ties of the first-round proper offer the chance for three Non-League clubs and their players to make memories that will last a lifetime – and maybe even create a little piece of history along the way. Furthermore they get to do it all with the eyes of the country fixed on them, under the glare of the TV cameras who, let’s face it, only roll into town when the whiff of an upset is in the air…
Haringey Borough v Wimbledon (Friday, 19:55)
The reward for Haringey Borough’s win over Poole Town was a place in the first-round proper against AFC Wimbledon and the draw could hardly have been kinder for them.
A London derby coupled with Wimbledon’s dedicated away following promises to make for a cracking atmosphere at Coles Park. Not only have they drawn the illustrious opponent every club hankers after, but Haringey have been paired with a Dons side at their lowest ebb.
Erik Samuelson, the club’s chief executive, released a statement backing the manager Neil Ardley last week after a disastrous run of results. But for the first time the natives are restless and confidence within the squad is lower than a snake’s belly.
First team-coach Simon Bassey said some Dons players weren’t fit to wear the shirt after the recent defeat to Luton. Borough, meanwhile, can approach the game with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Whatever people say about the quality of 3G pitches, Haringey’s familiarity with the surface at Coles Park could be another factor that might just tip the scales in the favour of the Bostik Premier side. Tom Loizou’s men are the story of the competition so far and there may be another chapter to be told.
Maidenhead United v Portsmouth (Sat, 12:30)
Given that, prior to their visit to Dover last weekend, Maidenhead had shipped 13 goals against Fylde and Havant & Waterlooville in the last week, you wouldn’t immediately fancy their chances against the League One leaders. And there’s no doubt they face an arduous task.
Not only do they boast an array of attacking talent, but Kenny Jackett’s men have been far more assured on the road than at Fratton Park this season.
Nevertheless their visit to York Road will be a different proposition altogether. Alan Devonshire’s men will have a little more fuel added to their fire if they see a teamsheet arrive with a raft of changes.
Maidenhead’s creditable ventures to this stage against Port Vale and Coventry City in the last few years should give them belief that they can hold their own.
Hampton & Richmond Borough v Oldham Athletic (Monday, 19:45)
The first ever game to be broadcast from the Beveree will be for the welcome of three-time semi-finalists Oldham Athletic. Distant days, of course, and the Beavers can take heart from the fact that, without Sam Surridge, the injured on-loan Bournemouth striker, Oldham have struggled for goals in League Two.
The Latics have Premier League experience in the form of Jose Baxter and Ishmael Miller but it’s been a tumultuous season already for Frankie Bunn’s side, with wages paid late and players reportedly refusing to train last month. On the pitch, you’re never sure what you’re going to get from one week to the next either.
Gary McCann’s Hampton will be hoping their visitors have one of their off days on Monday night and I would not bet against Borough reaching the second round for the first time in their history.
One more FA Cup memory… or nightmare
A tie I played in for the Spireites against Droylsden a decade ago stands out for all the wrong reasons. The first leg at Saltergate was abandoned at half-time due to fog, and our visitors, who were in the lead at the time, were not best pleased.
When the replay came round, and with the scores level, Jack Lester decided to lob Droylsden’s goalkeeper rather than passing the ball back to him after a stoppage in play. Our visitors weren’t best pleased about that either. Nor was our chairman, Barry Hubbard, who could be seen leaning out of the director’s box wildly remonstrating against the decision of our manager, Lee Richardson, to let Droylsden score an unopposed equaliser from kick-off.
To a second replay, then, and with us 2-0 to the good with 16 minutes remaining, the floodlights mysteriously went out! To the third replay, and the fourth and thankfully final meeting ended in a 2-1 win for Droylsden, we’re out, or so we thought. The next morning we discovered that that Sean Newton, their goal scoring left-back, had in fact been ineligible.
Four games, some highly irritable exchanges, and a Christmas do down the swanny, but in to the third-round round we went! The magic of the FA Cup eh?