Many moons ago, I worked on a local newspaper in Essex named The Thurrock Gazette. My main job was to cover the borough of Thurrock's five non-league soccer clubs: Grays Athletic, Purfleet, Aveley, Tilbury and, last and least, East Thurrock United.
East Thurrock were considered the weakest. While the other four had attained the dizzy heights of the Vauxhall League, United toiled in the lowly Essex Senior League. About once a season the Sports Editor would get a pang of conscience and say perhaps it was time I did an East Thurrock match report. Off I'd head for the town of Corringham and the ground at Rookery Hill and that would be the duty done for another year.
So I was pleased last weekend to note that East Thurrock made it all the way to the first round proper of the FA Cup where they gave a good account of themselves before losing 2-0 to Hartlepool. They've come up in the world since I knew them, they now play in Isthmian League Premier Division, level seven of the league pyramid, and are the number two team in Thurrock. There is a lot of lip service paid to 'the magic of the FA Cup,' but the one place I used to always feel the magic of the FA Cup was at the third and fourth qualifying round matches where the East Thurrocks of the world competed to reach the competition proper, an achievement which would mean as much to them as winning the final would to a Premier League club.
Fourth qualifying round matches tended to be nail-biters as clubs found themselves just 90 minutes from the promised land.
So while the big clubs bring the competition into disrepute, the real spirit of the FA Cup is kept alive by the non-league teams. Sides like Warrington Town of the Northern Premier League Division One who last Friday defeated Division Two side Exeter, a full four flights above them, with the only goal coming from plasterer Craig Robinson.
Now they are just 90 minutes away from going into the hat along with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. If that's not magic, I don't know what is.
Sunday Indo Sport