Non-league clubs performed brilliantly in the First Round of the FA Cup last weekend, slaying several giants from Leagues One and Two in the process.
Eighth-tier Marine stunned League Two’s Colchester on penalties, while National League Stockport knocked out League One Rochdale, thanks to a long-range effort from Wayne Rooney’s brother.
There were four other shocks in store for England’s higher tiers, with Darlington defeating Swindon, Dagenham & Redbridge knocking out Grimsby Town, Boreham Wood downing Southend, and King’s Lynn progressing to the Second Round for the first time ever, thanks to a late winner at Port Vale.
With six non-League sides in the next round, we can’t help but wonder just how far a lower tier side can progress in this season’s tournament.
Winning the actual final at Wembley in May seems to be out of the question. Despite the heroics of the First Round, online betting providers still haven’t bothered giving quotes for any Non-league side to win the trophy outright, with even most League Two sides receiving quotes of as much as 1000/1.
Still, with six contenders in the mix, a few of the remaining non-league sides should be able to negotiate the Second Round, and by the time of the Third Round, many Championship and Premier League sides will already be mired in relegation and promotion tussles, with minimal focus left for the cup competitions. This could be the perfect opportunity for a Non-league side to progress to the fourth and even fifth rounds of the FA Cup.
It’s not like we haven’t seen this story before. Non-league clubs actually seem to be progressing further and further into the tournament. Indeed, of the 9 times that a non-League club has made it to the fifth round of the FA Cup since the war, 4 of these occasions have happened in the last decade.
The last team to do so (Lincoln City in 2017) even got as far as the Sixth Round, before losing 5-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates. This remains the furthest any non-league outfit has made it in the FA Cup. Lincoln City used that run as a springboard for promotion pushes to the higher tiers of English football and are now sitting pretty in League One, showing just how well-organised and funded many clubs in the National League are.
With Premier League and Championship sides increasingly prioritising their relegation, promotion and even Champions League qualification campaigns over the magic of the cup, we feel that the time is ripe for a lower tier club to make it as far as the FA Cup Semi-finals.
Who is best placed to do so this time around? The National League top division has the required quality, but Stockport and Dagenham & Redbridge might be too distracted by their own respective promotion and relegation troubles. On the other hand, Boreham Wood look destined for a season of mid-table mediocrity – which seems perfect for a good run in the FA Cup. A quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford would be a slam dunk for Boreham Wood, since the Red Devils would be forced to take the game to their non-league opponents (which they are dreadful at), all the while thinking about how to get back into the top 4.
Luke Gerrard and the boys would have no such distractions in such a scenario and would easily bamboozle United’s backline of Maguire and Lindelof.
What’s more, a run to the semi-finals would see the Hertfordshire club play at Wembley, a mere 9.3 miles from Meadow Park. That’s quite an incentive for The Wood to try extra harder, and if the luck of the draw shines in their favour, we think history could be made, and a non-league side make it to the last 4 of the FA Cup.