Football fans from England prior to the Premier League era in 1992 will have fond memories of giant-killing performances in the English FA Cup over the years when the non-league clubs and third and fourth division sides at the time would upset the odds and humble the top flight and established teams.
Too many sides to name, but a number standout such as Wrexham, Bournemouth and Colchester United from the lower leagues, then the non-leaguers such as Sutton United, Woking, Telford United, Blyth Spartans, Altrincham, Wimbledon, famous Hereford United and going back further following the Second World, notable scalps by Bedford Town, Worcester City and Yoevil Town accounted for Newcastle United, Liverpool and Sunderland.
This was the essence and romance of the cup seeing the big boys, humiliated and on numerous occasions in front of the cameras on national TV. Sadly this has evaporated these days in England as big money has taken over ‘big club priorities’ as league positions and getting into a Champions League place is more important than a decent cup run and putting out second string squads instead.
However, this season some of that magic and romance has rekindled the good old days with the exploits of Lincoln City and Sutton United from the fifth tier of English Football, making history as it was the first time since adopting the present format in the 1925-26 season that two non-league sides had reached the fifth (last 16) round. Lincoln City last reached this stage during the Victorian era and for Sutton United it was the first time they advanced to this stage having twice been knocked out at the fourth round stage.
Sadly for Sutton they lost out to Premier League Arsenal on Monday night by 2-0 on their artificial pitch and in view of 5,000 fans and a nationwide audience, but can hold their heads up high as they beat Dartford and league sides Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United 1-0, who ironically they played back in 1970 at the same stage and venue and lost 6-0. Lincoln City went one step further, as they upset Premier League Burnley at its Turf Moor ground with a last minute 1-0 win to become the first non-league side since Queens Park Rangers in 1914 to reach the quarter finals and now face Arsenal at their Emirates
Stadium and currently lead the National (fifth tier) League and will be hoping to get back into the Football League at the end of this season.They have knocked out Guiseley, Altrincham and a record equalling four league sides - Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town, Brighton and Hove Albion and Burnley. Another side, Lincoln Red Imps the champions of Gibraltar made headlines last July when they stunned Scottish champions Celtic with a 1-0 win in the Champions League second round first leg qualifier before losing 3-0 in the second leg in Glasgow. Joining Lincoln City in the quarter finals are Millwall from the third tier after they knocked out Premier League champions Leicester City 1-0 and now play at Tottenham Hotspur, while the tie of the round is Chelsea against Manchester United and Middlesbrough against the winner of Manchester City or Huddersfield Town.
After this season’s FA Cup, interest certainly amongst smaller teams will increase and fancy their chances of glory in future years following the exploits of Lincoln and Sutton.