COMMENT: 84 days after last season’s final, a new FA Cup campaign starts – and it begins in Portsmouth earlier than almost anywhere else

Eight four days after a Kostas Tsimikas penalty completed the 2021/22 FA Cup campaign, giving Liverpool a second penalty shoot-out cup final win over Chelsea in a matter of months, so the curtain is lifted on the 142nd edition of world sport’s greatest club knockout competition.

By Simon Carter
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 10:09 am

And Portsmouth is one of four places where the extra preliminary round gets underway on Friday evening.

Baffins Milton Rovers have brought their home tie against Alton forward from the following afternoon to avoid clashing with Pompey’s League One fixture against Lincoln at Fratton Park.

They may attract a few extra spectators as a result, sell a few more burgers, a few more pints, a few more programmes (and Baffins’ programme is very good); down in the ninth tier of the pyramid, every penny counts.

Liverpool's Kostas Tsimikas celebrates after last season's FA Cup final win against Chelsea. Eighty four days later, the 2022/23 tournament begins. Picture by Adam Davy/PA Wire.

In all, 732 clubs have entered the 2022/23 competition (compared to just 15 in the first season, 1871/72 - and three of those withdrew before playing). Of that 732, 416 begin their journey this weekend. Baffins are one of eight beginning it earlier than most.

Financially, victory is worth £1,125 - £1,998,875 less than the winners will pocket at Wembley next May.

Thirteen wins will see Baffins - or their Wessex League rivals AFC Portchester, Moneyfields, Fareham, Horndean and US Portsmouth, all of whom start their glory bid on Saturday afternoon - in with a chance of claiming that £2m jackpot.

Of course it won’t happen - no Wessex League club has ever reached the first round proper before, no Portsmouth area club has ever gone beyond the third qualifying round while a member of the Wessex - but our local step 5 players can dream. Four hundred and sixteen different clubs can dream on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Among them Chichester City, who three years ago reached the second round proper. See, this is the Football Association Challenge Cup. Dreams can come true.

This weekend’s FA Cup fixtures celebrate the diverse nation we have become.

From Bradford, Albion Sports - founded in the mid-1990s as a Sunday League side, they once won the British Asian Championship title.

From Gravesend, Punjab United - another club with a Sunday League history, and so named because the majority of players were from Asian backgrounds.

From Cheshunt, FC Romania. And from the capital, New Salamis (a club founded for the Cypriot community), St. Panteleimon (Greek orthodox community), Hilltop (Somali community) and the Maccabi London Lions (Jewish community).

The fixture list also reminds us of the nation we once were. A nation of coal mines (Pontefract Collieries, Kimberley Miners Welfare, Sherwood Colliery - Atherton Collieries come in at the preliminary round stage) and factories (Vauxhall Motors, Avro, Prescot Cables, Stocksbridge Park Steels). People who worked underground, who worked on production lines.

Other clubs conjure up images of a different England, a more bucolic landscape rather than one scarred by mineshafts, mills and chimneys - Walsham Le Willows, Mousehole, Peaceheaven & Telscombe, Virginia Water, Chalfont St Peter, Barnoldswick, Bugbrooke St Michaels.

There are the clubs from towns you’ve probably never heard of (unless you’re a groundhopper or possess a very good knowledge of English geography) - Golcar (Huddersfield), Buckhurst Hill (Essex), Takeley (Essex), Pinchbeck (Lincolnshire), Brantham (Suffolk), Long Melford (Suffolk) and Little Common (Bexhill-on-Sea, Suffolk).

There are clubs whose name gives no indication of where they are based - White Ensign (Southend), K Sports (Aylesford, Kent), Romulus (Birmingham). Moneyfields are another.

There are clubs who have known far greater days than the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup: Walton & Hersham, who beat Brian Clough’s Brighton at the Goldstone Ground in 1974; Whitley Bay, who knocked out Preston North End in 1989; Burscough, a town with a sub-10,000 population who somehow won the FA Trophy - non-league football’s FA Cup - in 2003; and Bishop Auckland, who in 1955 won the FA Amateur Cup at Wembley against Hendon in front of a barely believable (in today’s world) crowd of 100,000.

And then there is Bury AFC, the phoenix off-shoot of the club who still hold the record (jointly) for the highest ever FA Cup final victory.

Bury AFC, founded in 2020, the year after Bury were kicked out of the EFL for financial reasons, are taking part in the FA Cup for the first time.

They have been drawn away to Sheffield-based Hallam, believed to be the world’s second oldest football club, having been founded in 1860 - 38 years before Portsmouth FC were formed.

The old and the new, yoked together for one afternoon - 119 years after Bury trounced Derby County 6-0 in the final. They must have thought, not unsurprisingly, it was a record they would hold forever - until Manchester City steamrollered Watford by the same score in 2019.

AFC Wimbledon, Newport and Aldershot have shown it is possible to start again in the lower leagues and work your way back up to the promised land of the Football League (and EFL Trophy ties against Premier League youngsters).

Bury AFC’s first full season since forming saw them play in the North West Counties League Division One North - the 10th tier of the pyramid. They won it at a canter, losing just one game. But still, with a fixture list including Daisy Hill, Cleator Moor Celtic and Garstang, a far cry from six-goal FA Cup final romps; indeed, for a more modern comparison, a far cry from May 1998 when Bury finished 17th in the second tier - above Manchester City (who were relegated). Imagine that now!

So good luck to all our local Wessex clubs, good luck to Bury AFC. And remember, Chichester City progressed all the way from the extra preliminary round to the first round proper in 2019. Ok, they were the first club for 70 years to achieve such a feat, but it can be done.

Anyone for Baffins v Pompey in November’s FA Cup first round? Or Moneyfields v Pompey? US Portsmouth v Pompey? Well, if you can’t dream, you shouldn’t be involved in football …