A Cantona style kung-fu kick, world beaters and a touch of glamour… it must be the FA Cup proper
09:54 GMT, 2 November 2012
It's FA Cup time again. The first round proper begins on Friday night when Cambridge City host MK Dons. But this is not the first round for many.
There have been six rounds so far and Sportsmail's MICHAEL WALKER has been at each one, starting at North Shields back in August.
We have followed the winners of each round and will do so through to next May's final.
On Saturday it is Torquay United v Harrogate Town. Here's how we got there.
Honours even: Hyde (in red) take on
Harrogate, a game which ended 1-1
August 11, FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
North Shields 1 Birtley Town 1
Venue: Ralph Gardner Park, Attendance: 134, Entry fee: 4 , Match programme: 50p, Prize-money: 1,000
So this is it: the last day of the Olympics, the start of the FA Cup. Down in east London, Mo Farah is about to win his second gold medal of the Games in the 5,000 metres; up on sunny Tyneside, the amateur sport is real.
The FA Cup has 758 entrants, and at this stage 400 are involved. It is regional, but nationwide. There are matches from Cornwall to Northumberland.
It is 98 days since the last FA Cup final, when Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1, if you recall. North Shields' ground, where the main sponsor is a local funeral director, feels as far from Wembley as it does from the Olympians in Stratford.
These are two teams from the Northern League's second division. But it is good. The banter among the watching lads would fill a northern, kitchen-sink novel, a sample line being: 'He didn't stop it until wor Davy stabbed him.'
There is a touch of glamour, too, from the presence of England fast bowler Steve Harmison in the crowd. Harmison's brother James is a North Shields centre half. The pitch is hairy, the standard is rusty – it's the first game of the season – and Birtley, from Gateshead, deserve their equaliser.
That means a replay the following Tuesday. South of the Tyne, Birtley Town win. They are officially on an FA Cup run. For North Shields there will be no return to Wembley, where they won the FA Amateur Cup in 1969, beating Sutton United in front of 47,000. Those were the days.
Hyde and seek: fans sample the culinary delights on offer at Hyde FC
August 25, FA Cup Preliminary Round
Birtley Town 1 West Auckland Town 4
Venue: Birtley Sports Complex, Attendance: 135, Entry fee: 5, Match programme 1, Prize-money: 1,750
It is the sodden August day when, 10 miles away, Sunderland postpone their first home match of the season, against Reading. Across in Birtley, tucked away at the foot of a housing estate, it's game on.
Anyone who has ever been on the east coast mainline can have seen Birtley Town's ground. South of Newcastle, amid the low-rise industry of the Team Valley, the pitch is beside the railway line. As Birtley take a surprise lead against the famous West Auckland – who hail from the Northern League's first division as well as football's history books – trains hurtle by, followed by those of Virgin.
The crowd seems almost entirely from County Durham – that is, West Auckland – and when 'West' equalise in the second half there is a roar. 'West' are clearly the more accomplished footballers but Birtley have excelled. Quality tells though in the next 20 minutes as the County Durham team rattle in three more.
Birtley's Cup run has ended but their players can always console themselves at a takeaway advertising in the match programme. It has speciality pizza costing 3 called 'Geordie Delight' – 'tomato, kebab and cheese.'
Gentle touch: groundsman opts for the light workout
September 8, FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round
Ashington 2 West Auckland Town 3
Venue: Woodhorn Lane, Attendance: 277, Entry fee: 6, Programme: 1, Prize-money: 3,000
A fixture with a history and a half delivered a game and a half.
The West Auckland team bus in the Ashington car park has a sign on the front with 'Winners of the World Cup' on it.
This refers to the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy, a precursor of the World Cup and West Auckland's dual triumphs of 1909 and 1911.
These were the first, embryonic international tournaments. They were held in Turin and the miners from West Auckland beat a Swiss club, FC Winterthur, in the first final and Juventus (6-1) in the second final. And in West Auckland they haven't forgotten. Nor in Turin – 'West' were invited back by Juventus for the 1909 centenary three years ago.
Ashington, also of the Northern League's first division, will always have a place in the history of English football as the two framed England shirts in the clubhouse show. One is signed by Bobby Charlton, the other by Jack Charlton.
Ashington gave the world, and the World Cup, the Charlton brothers. The town was built on coal, but while the National Union of Mineworkers are among the sponsors at the ground, Ashington is now referred to as an 'unemployment blackspot'. Dole not coal.
Outside Woodhorn Lane, young lads are saddling up a pony and trap. It's like something out of Kes. Inside, the banter, which later spills over, reflects modern life. It is dominated by rival chants concerning which town has the greater number of 'smackheads'.
But first a proper FA Cup tie breaks out. In hot sunshine, the scoring goes 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2 until, in the 87th minute, John Parker makes it 2-3 to the visitors. It is a deserved win for West Auckland.
For Ashington midfielder Andy Dugdale, it gets too much. He commits another foul and sees a second yellow card.
Something is said on the sidelines as Dugdale departs and he stops, turns and leaps over the perimeter barrier kung-fu style and plants an Eric Cantona Selhurst Park-style boot on a West fan. For a minute it gets ugly and threatens to run out of control. Who says the FA Cup doesn't matter any more
Afterwards a detour leads to Beatrice Street where Bobby Charlton returned after the Munich air crash to recuperate. There is a famous back-lane photograph of Charlton with some local children. But outside the front of 114 there is no blue plaque. But then what did the Charltons ever do for England
September 22, FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round
West Auckland Town 2 Harrogate Town 2
Venue: Darlington Road, West Auckland, Attendance: 194, Entrance: 8, Programme: 1, Raffle prize: four cans of lager, Prize-money: 4,500
Turning off the Durham Road in Bishop Auckland, a shiny new stadium comes into view and anticipation rises. The car park is full and there is an FA Cup tie soon to begin. But this is Bishop Auckland v Fylde.
West Auckland is further on. There you park on the grass and walk down a back lane to a sloping pitch that presumably was once a farmer's field. It is massive.
But the welcome is warm and West Auckland are far from agricultural. They have a reputation for aggression but there is not much evidence here. Against Harrogate Town, three divisions higher in the Conference North, West keep playing pass-and-go even when they fall 2-0 behind with 15 minutes left.
But West have two stars on their badge – those World Cup wins – and more than two on the pitch. Ten minutes from the end, John Campbell strikes home a penalty and, in injury time, captain and centre forward Mattie Moffat spears in the equaliser. Fans are on the pitch.
Moffat is one of those natural ball-players that populate the Northern League and their ilk. There are a few who could play higher and West showed that again in the replay. Though they lost 5-1 it was 1-1 in the 66th minute. Jose da Veiga, the Harrogate goalkeeper who began at Benfica and who was first choice for Levante in La Liga II for three seasons, made vital saves.
West reached Wembley last season in the FA Vase but there will be no FA Cup to add to those two stars next May.
October 6, FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round
Harrogate Town 3 Frickley Athletic 2
Venue: Wetherby Road, Attendance: 349, Entry: 12, Programme: 2.50, Prize-money: 7,500
Autumnal sunshine gives picturesque Wetherby Road a yellowish hue. The pitch is heavy with the rain that has swamped Yorkshire. But an end-to-end county derby unfolds.
Harrogate manager Simon Weaver was a youth player at Sheffield Wednesday. His programme notes refer back to the West Auckland replay, when West had a man sent off late on.
'I was pleased that (our) players did not get sucked into a fight as the players of West Auckland seemed determined to 'snap' some lads in two, according to instructions from their dug-out.'
There will be another red card in this game, for Harrogate's Lee Elam.
The two teams had met in the previous round last season when there needed to be a replay, won by Frickley. They are now 'Athletic', they used to be 'Colliery'; they bring a bunch of fans north to leafy Harrogate who chant: 'You're so posh it's unbelievable.'
Frickley, of the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier, are 1-0 up in three minutes. The scoring then goes 1-1, 2-1 and 2-2 when, with 15 minutes left, Adam Bolder scores a beauty. Bolder, 31, scored two for Wednesday in a Sheffield derby in the Championship four years ago.
But Frickley, 100 years old last season, come again. You can almost touch the commitment as they pursue an equaliser. But no, it will be Harrogate Town going to Hyde to seek progress to the first round proper.
October 20, FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round
Hyde 1 Harrogate Town 1
Venue: Ewen Fields, Attendance: 393, Entry: 14, Programme: 2.50, Prize-money 12,500
'Let's make it official, Hyde,' shouts an especially eager fan at kick-off. 'In the FA Cup, First Round Proper.'
You can tell he really enjoys saying 'proper'. There has been no shortage of competitiveness in any round to date, but the prize here – beyond the 12,500 winners' money – is status. The FA Cup's first round proper is even called the FA Cup First Round Proper. It's proper status.
Unfortunately for the Hyde fan, this is the first match in this series when the most striking thing about the FA Cup is its apparent irrelevance. This is 90 minutes lacking traditional values. It is polite, coached football.
Hyde have a seat at the top table of FA Cup history. They hold the record defeat – 26-0 to Preston in 1887. They are one up early through Phil Jevons, who replaced Nick Barmby when making his Everton Premier League debut 13 years ago. It is a soft penalty.
Hyde won the Conference North division that Harrogate finished 12th in last season. But Harrogate deserve the 88th- minute equaliser from substitute Leon Osborne. That means a replay, by which time the clubs know the Proper prize is a trip to League Two Torquay United.
Harrogate feel this a 'cruel irony'. In 2005 they got the same first-round prize. But they won it again, 1-0 on Wednesday night, deep into injury time. A replay that was postponed twice finally took place on Harrogate's neighbours' pitch. The Yorkshiremen are off to Devon.