AFC’s FA Cup Home Debut Win Takes Shine Off Shiners’ Cup Hopes

In swirling winds and weather that couldn’t decide if it was August or November, AFC Mansfield eventually showed their superiority by beating near neighbours South Normanton Athletic by two goals to nil in this Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round tie.

AFC, who play in the 5th tier of the non-League pyramid in the Northern Counties East League’s Premier Division, a step above their opponents from the East Midlands Counties League, were the better team throughout, although with glaring chances missed in the first half, including two comical ‘sitters’, it wasn’t until the second half that their higher calibre showed with two well taken goals.

Athletic, going in level at half time, must have felt they had a chance to cause a slight upset in this Notts versus Derbyshire Derby at AFC’s Forest Town Arena, just 25 minutes up the road and over the border.

The wind was the leveller in this game, causing mayhem with long balls floating out of play or holding up in mid-air, with players trying to second guess where the ball would fall. It certainly made for an entertaining affair.

But, with the wind now in their favour, AFC dominated the entire second half and deservedly took the lead on 69 minutes and increased it a few minutes later giving Normo no chance of clawing their way back into the game.

In fact only a horrible skied effort from just 10 yards out from an AFC marauding defender, reacting on a rebound after Normo’s keeper had saved well with his feet to deny their striker, kept the scoreline respectable.

AFC will now themselves face tougher opposition in Stratford Town, who ply their trade in the Southern Football League in level 4 of the pyramid.

The game will be only the second ever FA Cup game at the Forest Town Arena, Saturday’s tie being a history-making home debut in the competition for AFC.

So I now switch my allegiance for the first time in this season’s FA Cup Quest, and will return to the Arena on September 3.

Talking of the ground, it’s a strange one. The facade is very much miners’ welfare, with a spacious function room with a bar on your right as you walk in, and pool tables and TVs for entertainment when there’s no game on.

To get pitch side, you head towards the bottom of the room through the door. Sitting beyond this is a guy sat at a desk taking your admittance money. You walk out onto a raised area just above the uncovered seated area. The pitch is about 25 feet below street level, giving it a sunken look.

The pitch is also surrounded by what looks like the remains of a running track, giving it an almost European feel. The far side of the pitch is inaccessible to supporters, making it a three-sided ground in terms of viewing.

I choose to stand (with a pint, plastic cup of course) just above the seated area – the best vantage point, and where most supporters tend to congregate it seems, even when the weather turned towards the end of the game. In fact, the small covered seated area was hardly used despite the threat of rain.

See my pictures for further evidence of the layout.

It’s certainly a pleasant ground to watch a game, which is handy as I’ll be returning next month, oddly enough on my sixth wedding anniversary. I offered the wife the chance for pool, beers, Jeff Stelling and an FA Cup tie but she simply replied with “Just be back at a reasonable time, we’re going out!”.

You can’t win ’em all I suppose.

Shiners Win Sets Up Cup Re-Match

On a day when the Football League kicked off and hogged the headlines, many people wouldn’t have known that the world famous FA Cup also began today (Saturday, August 6). Ok, so it might be the Extra Preliminary Round, but for the clubs involved this day was massive.

South Normanton Athletic, the team I have chosen to begin with, again, and Aylestone Park, play in the same league, but progression in the cup was paramount and a hard fought tie saw the home side progress 2-0, and set up an away tie at local neighbours AFC Mansfield.

It was an energy-sapping hot August afternoon, but The Shiners edged the tie with first half goals from Luke Crosby (penalty) and a Phil Massingham cracker.

Aylestone were making their debut in the FA Cup but will have to try again next year as the hosts always looked like the better side.

The Shiners’ victory sets up a reverse repeat of last season’s Cup tie in the next round when they make the short trip into Notts to play AFC Mansfield, who made their FA Cup debut in the Extra Preliminary Round at Lee’s Lane last season.

AFC Mansfield beat Shepshed Dynamo comfortably by four goals to nil in Leicestershire and will now host The Shiners after the pre-determined draw always looked like matching up the two sides for the second season running.

So it’s a new ground I shall be visiting on August 20, as I make another relatively short trip to Forest Town, a suburb of Mansfield.

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Back to Normo

It’s the start of the football season this weekend, with all 72 Football League teams in action, including the Premier League’s fallen giants Newcastle United and Aston Villa. But who cares about that when the FA Cup also returns this weekend?

It doesn’t seem like two minutes since I was rinsing my phone’s data allowance trying to get my hands on Cup Final tickets last May, but tomorrow night, the 2016/17 Road To Wembley begins its winding way once again at the Extra Preliminary Round stage, the earliest of the 14-round, 9 month adventure.

There’s a slight degree of deja vu for me, as once again I’ll be starting at South Normanton, the closest team – at this level of the competition – to my home. I was hoping to see Heanor Town at Hinckley as Heanor is the town of my birth. But even though the game was switched to a Friday night, logistically, it became impossible.

So I’ll be at Lees Lane on Saturday to see South Normanton Athletic take on Leicester-based side Aylestone Park, who happen to be league rivals. Both teams play in the East Midlands Counties Football League at Step 10 in the whole pyramid if we’re taking into account league teams, or step 6 if we’re just including teams at non-league level. So it should be an evenly-contested game, on paper at least.

The winner will play the victors from the Shepshed Dynamo v AFC Mansfield tie, potentially setting up a reverse of last season’s Extra Preliminary Round tie between South Normanton and AFC Mansfield, should the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire sides progress against their Leicestershire counterparts.

This year, my FA Cup Quest is a little different, and a little lonelier. Last season’s companion Mark will not be joining me due to poor health. So I shall go it alone. I have had some interest on Twitter from likeminded individuals who share my passion for the cup, so I’ll be keeping in touch with them to see what course they’re taking.

This weekend though, it’s back to Lees Lane to cheer on The Shiners once again.