Leon Wobschall '“ Why the true essence of the FA Cup lies in the first round

IT COULD have been one of several things.

CUP RUN: Guiseley joint-manager Marcus Bignot helped steer his and Russ O'Neill's side through to the FA Cup second round with a 4-3 win at home to Cambridge on Sunday. Picture: Steve Riding.
CUP RUN: Guiseley joint-manager Marcus Bignot helped steer his and Russ O'Neill's side through to the FA Cup second round with a 4-3 win at home to Cambridge on Sunday. Picture: Steve Riding.

The little lad, enthusiastically helping out with press assistance duties, respectfully asking me if I wanted a hot beverage bringing over at half-time.

Or the Cambridge United dignitaries turning around to each other just before kick-off and saying with warmth and unanimity: ‘What lovely, nice people they are at Guiseley.’

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Or the elderly gentleman, just as I was endeavouring to file my match report from my laptop perched on the top of a spectator barrier at Nethermoor, mistake my computer for a television and ask if he could watch the highlights.

And what highlights they were on an afternoon which was nourishing for the soul.

One that no-one connected with Guiseley AFC – or Cambridge United for that matter – will not forget Sunday’s FA Cup first-round tie in a hurry. A 4-3 win for the hosts and a tale-and-a-half to tell.

But in a sense, it was not just solely about the football. It was the special occasion in-the-round which showed that while most aspects of the modern world are changing, some - quite wonderfully - stay the same, and we are all the better for it. Certainly in the sporting realm.

Metropolitan Police's Max Blackmore shows his frustration during his side's FA Cup first round defeat to Newport County at Imber Court on Saturday. Picture: Daniel Hambury/PA

Amid the talk of financial doping, the breaking of FFP rules, European Super Leagues and one player signing a new, grotesque £300,000 weekly deal, here was an Everyman footballing day which possessed an authentic charm, in no way artificial in these increasingly sanitised times.

Whether it be Nethermoor, Maidstone’s Gallagher Stadium or Chorley’s Victory Park home, few spectators – taking partisanship aside – will have gone home too disappointed.

This was a jaunt back down to your warm and comforting local which probably disappeared a few years ago. No Espresso machines, all-day breakfasts or Tequila Slammers. Just hand-pulled ale and chat - and a pickled egg and a pack of pork scratchings if you are lucky.

It was players wearing No 2 on their jerseys and playing at right-back. It was hearing the odd profanity from those on the pitch and words of good-natured admonishment from the referee. It was shouts of ‘half-time draw tickets, one pound’ to break any lulls in play.

Haringey Borough's captain David Olufemi leads his team out against AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup first round at the Coles Park Stadium on Friday. Picture: Nigel French/PA

Yes, it is about the winning, but also the taking part too. Cup dreams may be over for the likes of Weston-super-Mare, Met Police and Haringey Borough, but there is a new entry in their record books to state that their club made it to Round One and earned a handy little sum to maybe help them through possibly fallow times in the winter.

Just as it was last season for Truro, whose beguiling story saw them become the first Cornish side to reach the first round of the FA Cup since Falmouth in 1969. Pre decimalisation, for goodness sake.

Truro may have bowed out at Charlton Athletic, but the Cornish flags were still heartily displayed with gusto and everyone from the south-west who made the 600-mile round-trip to The Valley had a ball.

The third-round weekend may be wholly embraced, but it is the first round which is the true essence of the competition and, thankfully, looks like being preserved for generations to come.

If it is not, then the game is well and truly over.