Monday, 24 September 2012

The Magic Of The FA Cup!

For the majority of football fans that follow teams in the leagues above the conference, the FA Cup is a competition that starts in the middle of November (even January for the Premiership & Championship fans) and runs through to the final in May at the end of the season. Little do these league football fans know about the effort that is put in by non-league teams hoping to make the first round proper!

Before the first round is even thought of, there are 6 different qualification rounds of matches! The first preliminary round (Extra Preliminary) takes place way back in August, with teams such as Wootton Bassett Town (beating Calne Town 4-2) and Thrapston Town (beating Cogenhose United 2-0) taking part. This is where many of the dreams and journeys begin for clubs as low as step 7 in the non-league structure. Another Prelim round then takes place in late August still featuring teams from step 7 up to step 4, which hold leagues such as the Sussex County League, Kent Invicta League, and closer to home for me, the Essex Senior League.

Once the Preliminary rounds are complete, in early September the first qualifying round of the FA Cup gets under way. For some teams there may have already been two rounds gone, but including this first one there are 4 qualifying rounds before any club can get into the first round proper of the cup! This round is where my local non-league team enters the competition along with the rest of the step 3 teams from leagues such as the Ryman Premier, Evo Stick North & Evo Stick South leagues. A win in this round gives the team a nice bonus of £3,000, and a spot in the second qualifying round alongside teams from step 2 (Conference North & Conference South). Concord Rangers were handed a home tie against Needham Market in this round, a team who the Beachboys had failed to beat in their past 4 meetings (albeit all away from home). Market had a good start to the season, but failed to keep that run going as Concord ran out comfortable 1-0 winners on the day. Nicky Cowley deservedly earned MOTM honours after a determined performance. Concord were much the better side throughout, with decent passing moves, playing good football, and looking dangerous on the attack. Needham however seemed to rely on a long ball tactic and it just didn’t work for them or their manager (who for all intents and purposes looked to be modelling himself on Stoke gaffer Tony Pulis).

That set up Concords appearance in the 2nd qualifying round draw, where as mentioned previously teams from the next level in the non-league pyramid would be waiting! Another home draw was gained, however as luck would have it, Conference South members Welling were the opponents. A win in the 2nd qualifying round brings in £4,500 for the club and although I wasn’t at the game this past Saturday, Concord earned a deserved 1-1 draw to bring on a replay this Wednesday. Welling were a tough prospect, and will be even more so at home in front of their own fans. Concord have nothing to lose against a team expected to beat them, so I am sure the lads will go out and give it their all.

What lies ahead is a 3rd qualifying round draw at home to Thurrock FC of the Ryman Premier, and the possibility of a £7,500 windfall for the winning club. No new teams enter the cup at this stage, as the field is whittled down to 80 teams (40 matches). If successful, the fourth and final qualifying round beckons, bringing in teams from the Blue Square Bet Conference, the final non-league step before league football. £12,500 and a possible match-up against league opposition await the winners of these matches, as teams from League 1 & League 2 enter the draw for the first round proper. This is the stage when the scalps really start to get noticed, as you could have teams from as low down as step 7 still in there facing off against League 1 opposition!

Most people are familiar with how the rest of the FA Cup works, the teams in both the Championship & Premiership enter the draw for the 3rd round where the big money really starts (£67,500 for a 3rd round win). Then as the rounds go on and teams are beaten, it all comes down to the big FA Cup Final, held at Wembley as the season comes to a close in May. So there you go, the FA Cup doesn’t just start in November, there’s a long way for some clubs to go before they even reach November! Every team dreams of making that big cup run to the final, but only a few lucky ones ever get that far. Even so, it is a wonderful experience being a part of the FA Cup at any level!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The NFL is back in business

The NFL season is now two weeks old, so in time honoured tradition i thought it was about time i put my oar in and talk about what I've seen so far around the league. The early weeks are always tough to call as teams are still fresh, not always tight as a unit & the rookies are making their first NFL starts/appearances. Bearing that in mind i think I've personally learned a few things from these two weeks.

First up, my New York Jets are both better and worse than they were in preseason (which to be honest was diabolical). Week 1 the Jets came out and pretty much demolished the Buffalo Bills before the first half was done! Mark Sanchez looked sharper than he had in some time, the WRs were getting open (especially rookie Stephen Hill, who picked up 2 touchdowns), the defence was strong (Cro grabbed a pick-6), and special teams did their bit too (Kerley returned a punt for a TD). Apart from taking the foot off the gas as the game went on, it was a great win for New York, surprising a lot of people in the media.

Week 2? Well that couldn't have been more different. After a solid 1st quarter, the defence struggled to handle anything the Pittsburgh Steelers threw at them, & on offence barely a pass was completed, although for my money that's on the WRs having a huge case of the dropsies. Stupid penalties were given up repeatedly by the defense, Landry being a big culprit, and of course Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of that. As a fan it was a relief when the game ended! Next up are division rivals Miami, who also sit with a 1-1 record, not gonna be easy, but our injury situation should be better (Revis & Keller back)

Next? The rookie battle at Quarterback that everyone was talking about before Tebow went to NY. The top 2 picks of this years NFL draft, Andrew Luck & Robert Griffin III, are going to have very different seasons. Luck was picked by the Colts, the team with the worst record last season & in the process of rebuilding the team. Griffin was picked by the Redskins, a decent all round team looking to make that next step forward.

From what I've seen of Luck over the past 2 weeks of highlights he seems comfortable in the Indianapolis set-up, but just needs a bit more quality around him before he will be leading the Colts to their first playoffs since Peyton left! They fell to a tough Bears side in week 1, but were able to squeeze out a 23-20 victory over the Vikings this past weekend. As i said earlier, the first few weeks will be tough to really read into, but Luck will be in for a long season i feel, in a way though i hope he proves me wrong!

As for RGIII, well he had as tough as test as Luck in week 1, if not even harder as the Skins took on the New Orleans Saints (who in the offseason had the whole "bounty" scandal). To be honest though, Washington didn't need to worry as they made the Saints look like the team with the rookie quarterback! Griffin was accurate, calm, precise, consistent, and had a few good rushing attempts too! Basically that game was his time to show the league what he could do, and he grabbed that chance with both hands. Week 2 was pretty much more of the same performance wise, but just couldn't get the same result as Washington fell to the St Louis Rams 31-28. RGIII didn't have a bad game, and as the season progresses i can't wait to see how both he and Luck do.

Finally I learned that although there's still chinks in the armour after a season out, Peyton Manning can get the job done. Week 1 Manning & the Broncos took on Pittsburgh. Now the Steelers did what they could to eat up the clock & keep the ball away from Manning, it seemed to be working for a bit, but not for long. Peyton went back to his old no huddle offence used so effectively when he was in Indy, & although it wasn't perfect Manning looked surprisingly good, leading Denver on 3 consecutive scoring drives as they beat the Steelers. Week 2 was where we saw Manning display that he isn't quite what he used to be. Denver had to take on a decent Falcons side, and had to face an uphill struggle early as Manning was intercepted 3 times in just the first quarter! The Broncos got back into the game behind Peytons leadership, but still ended up walking away with a loss. My thoughts though are that although Manning isn't at his best, he is still very much a threat to defences across the league & will lead the Broncos to their fair share of victories this season.

Plenty more went on over these two opening weeks of the NFL season, but those were the things that probably stood out for me the most. Well that, and the Patriots losing to Arizona AT HOME in week 2! No doubt about it, this will be one hell of an NFL season!

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