FA CUP third round day may be the big one for football romantics everywhere but in non-League circles getting through this weekend’s final qualifying stage is very much the Holy Grail.
The world’s oldest knockout competition is one step from the first round proper. Victory today will earn a possible shot at Football League opposition that will bring not only prestige but also much-needed prize money. It could also see a club’s finances transformed overnight if that first round tie is then chosen for live television.
So, plenty at stake for the five Yorkshire clubs competing in a fourth qualifying round that pits against each other two sides who have been involved in the Cup since mid-September.
Harrogate Town and FC Halifax Town are separated by three points and four places near the top of National League North but it is knockout football that is focusing minds today.
“There is nothing like the FA Cup to generate interest,” said Harrogate manager Simon Weaver ahead of a tie that is expected to attract a 2,000-plus crowd.
“Getting through to the first round would mean so much to the club. We had a taste a few years ago and loved every minute. Halifax have had the same and, like ourselves, will want more. It should be a great tie.”
Harrogate have twice made it through to the first round proper. In 2005-06, they bowed out after a replay against Torquay United but then exacted revenge seven years later with a shock 1-0 win at Plainmoor.
That set up a second round tie against Hastings United that also went to a replay before the Yorkshire club bowed out on penalties. Hastings’ reward was a trip to Middlesbrough and Weaver, in charge since 2009, admits to being left devastated.
“There were lads in tears in our dressing room after losing that replay,” he added. “Older lads, too. Lads who knew it was maybe their last chance. There was a lot of hurt.
“But, equally, what an experience that run was. Chib Chilaka got the winner at Torquay to write his name into our history.”
Both Harrogate and Halifax have already banked £13,000 in prize money this season for negotiating two qualifying stages.
Another £12,500 is up for grabs today if a place can be booked in the first round proper on November 5-6 along with the chance of bagging a Sheffield United or Bradford City in a first round tie that could then entice the live TV cameras – something that would be worth £67,500.
The Shaymen have twice been broadcast live in the Cup since reforming eight years ago, Charlton Athletic’s 4-0 win in 2011 being screened by the ITV while BT Sport showed the narrow 2-1 derby defeat to Bradford three years later. The latter also attracted a bumper crowd of 8,042 to The Shay to underline the potential financial benefits of a Cup run.
Finances, though, will not be dominating thoughts today. “Everyone loves the FA Cup and we have been fortunate to have some good home ties in the competition,” said director Bobby Ham, whose club lifted the FA Trophy last season at Wembley.
“It would be nice to get through again but this will be a tough tie. Harrogate beat us 1-0 earlier in the season and are having a good season. Like a lot of teams in our division, they spent a bit of money in the summer and recruited well. But we have picked up lately and won five of our last six games.”
Judging by Harrogate’s previous two ties this season, any supporters tempted to leave early today may be best thinking again.
Only a ‘96th-minute’ equaliser at FC United of Manchester United earned a replay in the last round, and Weaver’s men also left it late against Bridlington Town.
“We looked to be out against FC United but came up with an equaliser with almost the last kick,” added Weaver. “This is going to be a huge challenge. The big thing is we are at home. That’s all you can ask from a Cup draw and we are looking forward to the tie.”