FA Cup Qualification heats up as minnows eye up first round
While the FA Cup final, heck, even the third round when the Premier League teams enter, is a long way off, qualification has already been well underway for some time. Many non-league minnows are still alive and kicking, hoping to see their name entered into the first round proper.
The oldest cup competition in the world may have lost some of its glamour and prestige in 2018, but for many non-league clubs it is the still the biggest games of the season.
It's far from a priority for the elite teams, who set their sights on Premier League and Champions League glory, but it can really make a difference for non-league clubs where the prize money and potential TV earnings can support teams for years.
Next weekend sees the third of four qualifying rounds take place. The National North and South teams entered in the last round, with those in the National Premier yet to join in. They enter at the final qualifying stage.
There are already giant killings taking place.
While they aren’t the biggest shocks you will hear about this season, for some of the smallest teams who entered the competition, they have gone way further than expected already.
There have been four rounds played in the FA Cup; the extra preliminary round, preliminary round, first qualifying round and second qualifying round.
Those still in are now just two victories away from entering the first round draw and potential ties against huge clubs such as Sunderland and Portsmouth.
Currently, two sides remain in the competition from the ninth tier of the English pyramid, four promotions away from the top level of non-league football the National Premier.
North East side Dunston has already progressed through four rounds to get to this stage. In their last tie they overcame Irlam, of the same level, 2-1, but previously they knocked out North Ferriby United. An opponent who, just two seasons ago, were in the National Premier.
They have been rewarded with a huge tie at home to Chester who currently play in the National North, but were previously a Football League club. It is a great reward for the Northern League side and guarantees them a big attendance regardless of the result.
The Southern Combination League Premier side are not yet in the third qualifying round, but they are still in the competition in one of the unlikely stories so far. Like Dunston, they play in the ninth tier of the game. Lancing lost in a first qualifying round replay to Phoenix Sports; before their opponents were kicked out of the competition for fielding an ineligible player. It meant Lancing were reinstated. They are yet to play their second qualifying round game with Hendon after the game was postponed, the winner will travel to National South side, Chippenham Town.
They are the only two sides from that level still in, but they are plenty of others from the eighth tier with realistic hopes of reaching the first round proper.
Peterborough Sports produced one of the biggest shocks of the last round, beating Boston United of the National North 2-0. In the next round, they host National North unbeaten leaders Chorley. The game will also be streamed live by the BBC on the red button, who have continued their coverage from last season by showing a game from each of the qualifying rounds.
At least one step eight side will be in the final qualifying round draw as two sides from that level meet when Winchester City host Cirencester Town.
The FA Cup is still and will always remain special for those in non-league and while the third qualifying round this weekend won’t make the sporting headlines for many clubs it could be the highlight of their season.