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.