As the 2020-21 FA Cup goes into its Second Round Proper, there are some really interesting games this weekend on ESPN+. Let’s take a look at them.
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First, What is the FA Cup?
For a quick primer, the FA Cup is an annual nationwide tournament with neither seedings nor a bracket. Home and away for each round is determined by random draw. With each round, clubs from higher levels of the pyramid of leagues enter the fray, meaning if a smaller team survives they have a chance to play a bigger team, either home or away.
After several rounds of qualifying, the First Round Proper sees the arrival of fully professional clubs for the first time. That round was in early November, so this weekend, with the Second Round Proper, some of those tiny amateur clubs are still around, fighting it out with clubs from the third or fourth tier of the pyramid.
You can read a lot more in the posts “What is the FA Cup?” and “A Guide to the Leagues and Cups of English Football.”
FA Cup Second Round: Interesting Games on ESPN+
ESPN+, where a subscription is just $4.99 per month and includes tons of other sports, is the sole broadcaster in the US of FA Cup games. For the 2020-21 Second Round, they have at least one game per day from Friday through Monday. Let’s take a look at each one with a brief summary of who’s involved.
Friday, November 27, 2:55 pm Eastern: Brackley Town at Tranmere Rovers. Brackley, from a town of 13,000 people between London and Birmingham, play in the sixth-tier National League North, and their stadium holds 3,500 people — only 300 with actual seats. For this game, they travel to Tranmere, a club very near Liverpool who currently play in League Two at the fourth tier. Just two years ago, Brackley Town won a minor competition called the FA Trophy, so they are no strangers to big games.
In 2019 I saw a magical FA Cup game at Tranmere Rovers where, by the way, the teams walk out to the theme music from the Rockford Files.
Saturday, November 28, 7:30 a.m. Eastern: Solihull Moors at Morecambe. The host club are known as the Shrimps because Morecambe, a town of just over 40,000 way up on the north west coast of England, is famous for its Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimp, said to be a favorite of Her Royal Highness. The club is currently in League Two, and I actually ran into them once when they played at Notts County, some 160 miles away. One coach worth of hardy Shrimps made the trip.
Solihull, meanwhile, is in the greater Birmingham area, and are just one league below in the National League. The name comes from the club’s founding in 2007, when Moor Green FC was merged with Solihull Borough FC.
Saturday, November 28, 10 a.m. Eastern: Kings Lynn at Portsmouth. Portsmouth, aka Pompey, is one of my favorite places to send groundhoppers to. It’s not too far from London, is packed with naval history, and is home to a fabulously supported club way too big for its current setting in League One. Learn more about Portsmouth FC.
Kings Lynn Town, meanwhile, are two leagues below Portsmouth in the National League — and they were just promoted to that level this year. In fact, they have been promoted the last two seasons and were just formed in 2010 when a previous version of the club went out of business.
Kings Lynn Town have never made it out of FA Cup qualifying before this season; they made the First Round because Notts County had to drop out, then they beat Port Vale of League Two to get here. So they are a fairy tale club of this round.
Saturday, November 28, 12:30 p.m.: Chorley at Peterborough United. Peterborough are a solid third-tier team a couple hours north of London. But Chorley, known as the Magpies, are another contender for fairy tale club of this round. They are currently in the National League South, three tiers below their hosts, and in the last round they beat 2013 FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic, also in League One. So keep an eye on the Magpies in this one!
Sunday, November 29, 8:30 a.m. Eastern: Darlington at Bristol Rovers. Darlington is another club formed (in 2010) after the previous version went out of business. They started over in the ninth tier, and since then have been promoted three times to the National League North. Bristol Rovers, meanwhile, were one of the first grounds I ever visited, a funky stadium in a really cool city where the fans are known as Gasheads and their signature song is the old blues standard “Goodnight Irene.”
Sunday, November 29, 8:30 a.m. Eastern: Shrewsbury Town at Oxford City. Here is a League One team that hasn’t been above that level for over 30 years visiting the famous city of Oxford — but not Oxford United, where I once had a really fun time listening to blokes bantering in front of me. No, this is Oxford City of National League South, and the game will be at their 3,500-capacity Marsh Lane. Known as the Hoops for their striped home kits, City have only been this far in the FA Cup three times in their 137-year history, and only one other time since 1970.
Sunday, November 29, 9:45 a.m. Eastern: Havant and Waterlooville at Marine. First, about that name: in 1998 Havant Town and Waterlooville FC merged to form the Hawks, who now play in the National League South. Those are two towns down near Portsmouth. Marine, meanwhile, are from Crosby, Merseyside — the Liverpool area — and play in something called the Northern Premier League Division One North West. That would be level eight of the pyramid; only two teams from that level remain in this year’s competition.
To give you an idea of the world Marine inhabits, to get this far they beat Barnoldswick Town, 2-1, in the Preliminary Round on September 12. Then they beat Frickley Athletic 1-0 in First Round Qualifying, Runcorne Linnets on penalties in Second Round Qualifying, Nantwich Town 4-1 in Third Round Qualifying, Chester 1-0 in Fourth Round Qualifying, and Colchester United of League Two on penalties in the First Round Proper.
One final note on Marine: they had the longest-serving manager in post-war English football. Roly Howard occupied the post from 1972 to 2005 for a total of 1,975 games.
Monday, November 30, 2:45 p.m: Boreham Wood at Canvey Island. I wish I could report that getting to Canvey Island requires a windswept ferry ride from a romantic pirate-infested port; in fact, it’s a refinery town on reclaimed land at the mouth of the River Thames. They actually have two local semi-pro clubs, and the older of the two, Canvey Island, is lately the less successful. Still, they play on in the Cup, and here they host National League side Boreham Wood, whom I once saw in the FA Cup at their home ground just outside London.
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