The FA Cup is 150 yrs old and while Clubs will likely prioritise league title and promotion chases, has it really lost its magic? For a Non-league side to draw a big club, it is their dream tie, their cup final.
The Oldest and most famous Club competition in the world is, and always has been, like no other. It sees an average of 750 clubs compete each season and when we get to the final in May, the country and indeed the whole football world stops to watch as it's beamed live around the globe.
It’s the only knockout competition where a top-tier glamour club can be pitched against a part-time side made up of Insurance Brokers, Bank Clerks, and Postmen, and the minnows get to fry the bigger fish.
It's happened. Even if you weren't around in 1972 like me, you will have likely seen on YouTube, the Ronnie Radford Rocket rifled into the top corner for Non-League Hereford Utd. A spectacular goal Against a Newcastle Utd side spearheaded by the prolific Malcolm 'Super Mac' McDonald on a ploughed field of a pitch. If you haven't, check out the clip with commentary from Alan Partridge which is more befitting than John Motson's " Ronnie Radford, what a goal". Motty, the pioneer of staple Football Commentator fashion - the sheepskin coat.
Hereford's ground, Edgar Street, was so full that younger supporters had to stand along the touchline, shuffling back for corners to make room for the taker. There were people sitting in trees and on the floodlight pylons for a grandstand view of this once-in-a-lifetime game. The crowd of 14,000 made enough brouhaha for 40,000. The pitch, a muddy morass, the white lines dissolving by the minute in the quag. As the goals went in, the kids rampaged through the mud to celebrate with the players. This was their cup final. This was like winning the trophy itself. This is the magic of the FA Cup.
Fans of non-league clubs licked their lips when they drew a top side at home on their mud-caked and quite often sloping pitches. Portacabins for dressing rooms in the corner of the car park with no heating and lukewarm bath water. That's if someone remembered to put the immersion heater on.
Neutrals too, had their appetites whetted, yearning for a giant killing when the Goliaths faced the Davids.
The look of consternation on the "Star's" faces as they entered the fray and the underdogs got stuck into them from the first whistle. ("They don't like it up 'em Sir!") An Electrician would hope to etch his name in FA Cup folklore. Older fans will remember a Ronnie Radford or a Tim Buzaglo. Just as they equally recall a Sutton Utd or Harlow Town.
Last Saturday saw the 4th Qualifying round for the FA Cup "proper" as in the 3rd round when Clubs from the top two divisions enter the draw. The round that tends to produce the bigger "cupsets".
One of the standout fixtures was Anstey Nomads (a village team on the outskirts of Leicester) at home to Chesterfield. One of the National League's frontrunners and promotion hopefuls. Indeed The Spireites went all the way to the semi-finals in 1997 as a League One Club.
However, at The Aftermatch our attention was drawn to the Clash of The Corvids, The magpies vs the Ravens, the game between Notts County & Coalville Town.
Why? because Coalville is our local town. A mere 7 miles away from The Aftermatch base camp. Travel the M1 through Leicestershire and you will see Coalville signposted off Junction 22. Just south of Loughborough, an industrial ex-mining town of roughly 35,000, it's a halfway house on the A511 between Burton on Trent & Leicester.
The football club competes in the Southern League Premier Division Central, two promotions from the National League and currently sit in 4th place.
Although they may be relatively unknown to most, they are approaching their Centenary year having been formed in 1926 when they went by the name Ravenstone Mining Athletic. For almost 70 years, they played in Ravenstone a tiny village on the outskirts of Coalville. In fact, it wasn't until 1995 that they had a name change, Coalville FC, and relocated to the town. A move born out of the Council's objection to them installing floodlights. In 1998 they became known as Coalville Town.
The Club's rise if not meteoric has been steady and they have made a noise in the FA Cup before, playing the then Football league second division side (now known as League One) Wycombe Wanderers in the first round in 2004, where they were on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline. Then seven years later in 2011, they were FA Vase finalists, losing out 3-2 to Whitley Bay at Wembley Stadium.
So sensing an upset, even if the Coalville fans we listened to didn't, we set off for Meadow Lane Nottingham and Notts County, who with just one defeat in 13 games, sat on top of the National League. The Magpies vs The Ravens, but who would be ruffling who's feathers?
Meadow Lane is a stadium that belongs in the Football League even if The Pies haven't since their relegation in 2019. An inspiring venue for any lower league side to come & play, on a mild sunny afternoon, on a pristine surface tailor-made for passing football.
Although a low-key fixture, a decent crowd of 5000 were in attendance and more impressively, 1400 of them were Coalville supporters. Admittedly it's not too far to travel, just a couple of junctions up the M1 but as one Notts fan remarked, "many National League sides do well to bring 60/70 fans with them".
With their main focus being promotion it was hardly surprising to see The Pies field a largely second-string 11, but in doing so were inadvertently vulnerable to the upset.
The Ravens have in their ranks many players with Football League experience. One or two began their careers at near neighbours Leicester City, while Billy Kee, despite only being on the bench for Town, was banging them in for locals Burton Albion and then Accrington Stanley earlier in his career.
Buoyed by vociferous support Coalville made a dream start when after just two minutes Tom McGlinchey seized upon a wayward pass and fired a clinical shot into the far corner.
Notts fans were in stunned silence but only for seven minutes as Sam Austin converted Adebayo- Rowling's cròss to bring them level.
The earlier hiccup now forgotten, the scores level, normal service was being resumed. Or so they thought.
Noticeable from the get-go was this Coalville side were an assured, well-drilled, well-organised outfit. They seemingly had a game plan defending with two banks of four, sitting deep, inviting their opponents on, and waiting to hit them on the break.
It was a tactic that paid off in the 23rd minute as The Magpies for all their possession fell foul of the sucker punch. The Ravens countered and Ash Chambers restored their lead sending the travelling support into raptures once more. As for us, the game was beginning to get interesting.
Notts continued to huff & puff but couldn't break a resolute Coalville down and at the break still trailed 2-1. Who'd have thought it?
In the second half, The Pies changed it up by bringing on Ruben Rodriguez and Matt Palmer and became encamped in their opponent's half. However, it wasn't until the 66th minute that they got the breakthrough. Taylor's deep cross evaded everyone apart from Sam Austin who headed his and the home side's second to level the scores.
Again the feeling among the home support was that their side would now go on & put the tie to bed. Especially as they then played their trump card by sending on free-scoring striker Macaulay Langstaff. But The Ravens hadn't read the script and Langstaff barely had a sniff as they thwarted everything that was thrown at them.
Then in the 84th minute, Luke Shaw's scrappy finish (who cares how they go in) put Coalville back in front again. The travelling supporters were in a frenzy of exaltation as they sensed the upset was well & truly on with just six minutes left. In fact, Notts had an additional six minutes by way of stoppage time, but The Ravens held out to claim what must surely be their biggest scalp. Players and Coaching staff ran over to their fans to celebrate what was a thoroughly deserved victory.
The draw for the next round sees Coalville's charges away again, this time at League One Charlton Athletic -another plum tie. The Addicks will no doubt provide a sterner test. Not only because of their league status, but because they will surely see them as a more serious proposition and prepare accordingly having noted their win at the National League leaders.
Coalville are a decent side based on their showing at Meadow Lane and have a nucleus of good players that mixes experience and youth.
At the helm is local man and ex-Raven himself, Adam Stevens. A highly-rated coach particularly after his work at Grantham Town.
Who knows, with their evergrowing fanbase behind them and by keeping the core of their squad together, plus the addition of a few good players along the way, they may well be in the National League themselves in a few years time.
Coalville Town FC we are watching you!
© Joe Davison | The Aftermatch 2023