Alternative Route

In my last blog, I hinted at looking at the comparison between the team I started with on my FA Cup Quest – South Normanton Athletic – and the team I wanted to start with, Heanor Town.

Below is the route I would’ve taken had I started with my first choice team, Heanor. The reason I didn’t is due to my missus being out on the Friday night on which Heanor started their Cup run, leaving me on child duty. So I opted for South Normanton, whose game was on a Saturday afternoon.

It transpires that had I started with Heanor at Leicestershire-based side Hinckley on that Friday night, I would’ve eventually joined Lincoln City’s epic run to the Quarter Finals.

The Imps, who have since gained promotion back to the EFL, made cup headlines by beating 4 league teams on route to the Quarter Final, where they were defeated 5-0 by eventual winners Arsenal at the Emirates. With almost everyone in Lincoln crammed into a corner of the Emirates, I’d have struggled to get a ticket for that one!

Lincoln’s run started by beating Altrincham in the First Round Proper. Prior to that, my allegiance would have been with Matlock Town, until they were beaten by Altrincham.

Although I would’ve attended 17 games (one more than on my actual route), I would’ve only switched teams 5 times, largely due to Lincoln’s run, which saw them beat Altrincham, Oldham, Ipswich (after a replay), Brighton and, famously, Burnley away.

Here’s what I could’ve done…

Extra Preliminary Round
Friday, August 5, 2016
Hinckley AFC 1 – 1 Heanor Town 

Extra Preliminary Round Replay
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Heanor Town 5 – 1 Hinckley AFC

Preliminary Round
Friday, August 19, 2016
Heanor Town 3 – 2 Long Eaton United 

First Qualifying Round
Saturday, September 3, 2016
Matlock Town 4 – 2 Heanor Town 

Second Qualifying Round
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Kidsgrove Athletic 1 – 2 Matlock Town 

Third Qualifying Round
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Matlock Town 1 – 1 Workington  

Third Qualifying Round Replay
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Workington 1 – 3 Matlock Town 

Fourth Qualifying Round
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Altrincham 3 – 1 Matlock Town 

First Round Proper
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Lincoln City 2 – 1 Altrincham 

Second Round
Monday, December 5, 2016
Lincoln City 3 – 2 Oldham Athletic 

Third Round
Saturday, January 7, 2017
Ipswich Town 2 – 2 Lincoln City 

Third Round Replay
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Lincoln City 1 – 0 Ipswich Town 

Fourth Round
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Lincoln City 3 – 1 Brighton 

Fifth Round
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Burnley 0 – 1 Lincoln City 

Quarter Final
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Arsenal 5 – 0 Lincoln City 

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester City 

Saturday, May 27, 2017
Arsenal 2 – 1 Chelsea





Wembley Wonder Completes Cup Quest

As I walked out of Wembley after watching Arsenal lift the FA Cup aloft last month, crammed in amid thousands of supporters waiting patiently to get into Wembley Park tube station, I started to recall where my FA Cup Quest actually began.

Readers of my blog will know that my starting club was South Normanton Athletic. But the decision to start with them, a decision which would ultimately plot my journey to the final, actually began on a wet and muggy July evening at a friendly between Heanor Town and Mansfield Town.

You see, the intention was to begin my Quest in Heanor, a small town in Derbyshire, as I was born there 39 years ago. So I thought it would be fitting to start with them. But, as I went for a half time pint at that friendly, I noticed a poster in the club house informing fans that Heanor’s Extra Preliminary Round tie was scheduled for a Friday night. And, with the missus already having plans for that night – meaning I was on child duty – the decision to once again start at Lees Lane, South Normanton, was made. I like to start local, with a Derbyshire team if possible, so Normo was ideal. I will, at a later date, compare the two routes. The route I actually took, and the route I would have taken had I have been able to attend Heanor’s game.

So as I waited amongst gleeful Gooners, I felt a sense of achievement. I’d accomplished something. I’d done what I set out to do 10 months ago. I’m not the only person who’s ever completed this journey of course. In fact there are probably a few who have done it this season (if you have, let me know. I’d be interested to see your journey). But to go to every game – all 16 – from the Extra Preliminarily Round to the Final, for me, at least, was something I can tick off my ‘to do’ list.

That’s not to say this is the end of my Quest. I’ll be back again in August – hopefully with Heanor Town this time – and I’ll start it all over again. But if it goes belly up and I simply cannot get to Carlisle on a Tuesday night, then so be it. Although I shall try my hardest.

The Final, as you will know, was a cracker. Chelsea v Arsenal could’ve been dull. They could have cancelled each other out. But it was end-to-end, and I’m pleased that the team I was officially following won. Not just because they were my Quest team, but because they absolutely deserved it.

Pre-game I’d spent time amongst Chelsea fans in their designated fan zone. I soaked up the atmosphere as the sun shone down and celery was thrown. Yes, celery. For some unknown reason, sticks of celery were flying over people’s heads as the Chelsea fan zone became vegetable warfare. The fan zone idea is great. A DJ whipped up the atmosphere while beers were drank and burgers were scoffed while a big screen showed Chelsea’s former Cup triumphs.

Although can someone explain why this is only made available for one club? Arsenal fans weren’t given the same deal. There’s only one fan zone and that was Chelsea’s. It was the same in the semi-final, with Man City supporters getting the zone. Maybe the deal is that the ‘home’ side get the zone and the ‘away’ side get the pubs. It certainly seemed that way in the semi as every pub around Wembley was Arsenal.

Despite the lack of balance over the fan zones, all around the ground the atmosphere was friendly. The week before, Britain had once again been targeted by terrorists, as a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester had killed 18 people. With the country’s terror alert maxed up to critical, meaning more terror attacks were imminent, many thought the Cup Final could be targeted. But that did not dampen the atmosphere. In fact, it probably bolstered the air of togetherness; a unity between rival London supporters seldom seen at matches. Fans mingled, selfies were taken with police horses, supporters chatted with cops and people just got on with things. It was heart warming to see a bunch of kids – in both Chelsea and Arsenal replica shirts – happily having a kick about outside the stadium.

It was my first ever FA Cup Final, and what a day it was. Hopefully I shall return next year. Until July, when next season’s Extra Preliminary Round draw is made, that’s all from me.

Pics and videos from cup final day

The obligatory pre-match Wembley Way shot.

Bobby Moore standing proudly outside the stadium.

The Arsenal end fills up…

 …as does the Chelsea end.

The teams are out.