Is the FA Trophy worth anything these days?

I tweeted this morning that it was a shame that more Blue Square Bet Premier clubs were apparently not taking the FA Trophy seriously, this followed defeats for the likes of Fleetwood, Wrexham, Tamworth, Hayes & Yeading and Mansfield to lower league oppostion while Kidderminster, Stockport, York City also failed to beat clubs hailing from lower levels of the pyramid. All this weekend’s FA Trophy results are here.

Clearly some of these clubs have their eyes on bigger prizes, promotion to the Football League or for Fleetwood (as for Chelmsford City who also went out yesterday) a big FA Cup 2nd round replay due this coming week. But still…

By my reckoning only 11 Blue Square Bet Premier clubs are definitely through to the 2nd Round (though 2 more will be through after all BSBP replays) and the 3 above may get through their replays – meaning that it is very possible that less than half the Clubs at the last 32 stage will be from outside the top level of non league football.

To me reaching and winning a Wembley Cup Final is a highlight; for a fan, for a player, for a manager or coach or for a Club official yet many Clubs now deem it not important enough to bother about, with promotion or avoiding relegation now all important.

I have to say I understand that in some cup competitions it is an opportunity to give squad players a game, where winning is not that important, where avoiding potential fixture congestion later on in the season means getting knocked out of a cup is not always such a big deal.

Few clubs will ever accept that getting knocked out was their aim. They’ll say “we picked a team to win this game” which means “I wanted to give some of the other lads a run out and am not really bothered by this game”.

I have to think this is short sighted. Yes there are probably too many lessor cups that non league clubs have to play in – look at how many ‘bigger’ teams got knocked out in the Middlesex Senior Cup last week. But remember, the FA Cup is over for most non league clubs by October or early November so is it asking too much to play your strongest side in the Trophy? Imagine if we had taken that view in the early round of the FA Trophy in 1985?

Taking cup competitions easy is a modern phenomena that has clearly filtered down from the pro game – and it is not welcome.

Of course it might mean that clubs like Wealdstone have a chance of a run, of a giant killing against a Conference Club’s second string which we’d gladly accept of course. But for those clubs, especially those left in the competition, you’ve got a real chance of glory this season. Take it – it’ll be one of the best things you ever do.

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Is tonight’s game the season?

Big game tonight. Some might say that if we lose then we will have nothing much left to play for this season.

Well that is plainly wrong. Firstly we desperately want to win tonight and travel to Banbury in the next round. Much like the Margate tie, Banbury is a tie which both Clubs (or all three as it stands) will think they can progress from.

But whether or not we are in the Trophy after tonight, or by the end of November, we have only played 1/3 of the season so far and are only 4 points off the play-offs (11 points away from the drop zone). What the Ryman League season tells me is there is no outstanding team and everyone is capable of taking points off anyone else. Sounds familiar? seems to happen every year. People said beating Tooting was just beating a bad team but they then beat Lowestoft in their next game.  Similarly we beat an apparently struggling Hastings comfortably but they have now won their last 3 games.

Any team who puts a good run together will quickly shoot up the table. There is no reason why that can’t be us.

And yet, there is a feeling of under achievement so far this season. We know that in too many games we haven’t delivered what we expect. We know there are too many players not playing as consistently as we would all like. I am convinced there is better to come.

Of course the FA Cup was a huge let down – for everyone – and I think it set a tone for the following weeks which we’ve struggled to get away from.

We then had that 5 match run against leading teams, Hornchurch, Cray, Hendon, Lowestoft and Lewes. We were disappointed to only take 2 points from those 5 games, when with a bit more luck and more clinical finishing we might have got draws at Lewes and Cray, taken something from the Hendon game and beaten Lowestoft.  3 straight wins and a courageous draw on Saturday were good come backs and obviously we must keep it going tonight.

So even though from a cup perspective we will only be left in the Middlesex Senior Cup if we lose tonight, the season will be far from over. That said, let’s be clear, victory is what is required tonight and a good performance against a decent Margate side will be a necessity to make that happen. See you there.

A couple of dates for the diary

We have some big dates coming up the week after next (w/c 21 March).

On Monday 21 March we have the Wealdstone Club AGM. This year I expect this should be a reasonably quick affair following a year of consolidation but all are welcome to come and ask questions and find out what is happening.

On Wednesday 23 March the reserves play Harrow Borough in the Middlesex County Premier Cup Final at Harefield

On Thursday 24 March we welcome World Cup referee Graham Poll as guest speaker at a dinner, which will again by hosted by the excellent Rob Nothman (who it was great to see at Aveley yesterday). Tickets still available and I am sure it will be a great night. Someone told me yesterday just what a good speaker Graham is, so looking forward to that.

And either side of these events we have Folkestone at home on Saturday and Tonbridge away the following week.

Lots happening!

Cup of dreams or nightmares?

Interesting watching the FA Cup draw live yesterday and seeing the contrasting fortunes of our Middlesex friends Harrow and Hendon.

If you are a Harrow fan (ok if you are the Harrow fan) then you had every reason to be excited, much like us last year, getting drawn at home against Chesterfield. Standby for plenty of media coverage of Rocky Baptiste especially; and it is Harrow’s turn to enjoy their moment in the sun.

However, if you are a Hendon fan the draw must have been a huge disappointment. Remember this is the draw we would have got had we still been in the competition, away v Chelmsford City. Of course they will talk about it being a “winnable tie”, and though unlikely, perhaps it is. But having got into the First Round draw the one thing you don’t want is to be drawn away to another non league club, especially one riding high in the Conference South. Mind you Hendon still have to get through a replay at Met Police tomorrow night and as we know that won’t be easy.

Local rivalries aside though, we have to say well done to Harrow, an amazing result at Eastbourne and whatever the draw I know I’d much rather still be in the FA Cup than not.

Congratulations…

…to Dover Athletic for winning the Ryman League in March.  I presume they will be presented with the trophy at our game their in April so I guess there will be a bumper crowd there.  Regardless of the size of budgets or anything else, to win a title (which has never really been in doubt) is a terrific achievement in senior football.

…to Jermaine for two more great goals taking him past 30 this season

…and (for us most importantly) to Phil Ralston, John Moran, Leslie and all our reserve players who retained the Middlesex Premier Cup last Wednesday.  I only arrived at Ashford on Wednesday to see the second half but as has been well documented we saw two further strikes to crown a 4-0 win against Staines Lammas – with Dan Lake’s strike right out of the top drawer.  Steve has taken some great pictures which you can see here.