CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) takes a trip to an FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round match and falls back in love with the competition. (Image credit: https://www.walthamstowfc.com)
Falling back in love with the FA Cup at Walthamstow
What’s on your bucket list? A long drive down the American west coast? Swim with dolphins? Go to a carnival in Brazil? All sounds good. I ticked off one of mine last weekend, at the humble surrounds of Wadham Lodge, East London.
The older I get, the more I believe in the mantra that less is more. Big concerts leave me cold, two courses rather than three please and I have little desire to attend an English Premier League football match. Keep it real, keep it small.
Extra Preliminary Round action
When this mindset started to seep in a few years ago, I had a real urge to attend an early FA Cup match. No, not a Third Round, or even a First Round tie. I’m talking before the weather gets cold. Games where everyone on the park has a day job and the idea of meeting a Football League side (never mind an elite PL team) is a distant distant dream.
So on Saturday I finally ticked this box when I watched my local side Walthamstow FC take on Walsham-Le-Willows in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round. Yeah, not just the Preliminary Round, the Extra Preliminary Round. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The idea sounded brilliant. But would the reality be a bit crap?
Not a bit of it. The jaunt to Wadham Lodge was just as I’d always hoped. Raw and rugged. Brimming with authenticity and not a shit, overpriced hotdog in sight. This was real football. Played by real people, watched by ordinary folk. And the magical thing about it was that this was the FA Cup. This was the same competition that bestrode my youth and a tournament that all the rich, untouchable clubs will enter in five months time. These ordinary blokes playing were directly linked to the superstars of the game thanks to this competition and it made me feel warm inside.
Expletives and moaning
Getting up close at Wadham Lodge was a joy. The noise of the football being smacked up the pitch, the various expletives uttered by the players and the whining and moaning aimed at the referee just made it all so real and a million miles from the detached, cold Premier League.
This was an environment where players visibly buzzed off the fans. Walthamstow were lifted by the amazing Waltham Rabble, a gaggle of lads who sang their hearts out throughout the match with bespoke songs about E17 players and an amazing play on Spandau Ballet’s Gold where they replaced the word Gold with the word Stow. It spoke of community, it spoke of commitment. And the players and staff knew it as they responded to the Rabble whenever they got a mention.
Delightfully, Walthamstow won 3-1 to move into the Preliminary Round. The scenes at the end were spirited and I found myself punching the air as the lads moved within 13 rounds and nine months of the big day at Wembley. Players and staff were clapped not just off the pitch but into the changing rooms as manager Ryan Maxwell thanked all for their support. Again, community shone through.
Soul and spirit
Walthamstow’s FA Cup journey continues on August 25th when they take on Isthmian North side Felixstowe and Walton, a side higher up the Non-League pyramid than them. It’s my stag do that day in Margate, and while my alcohol-soaked body will be staggering round Kent, my heart will be craving a Stow win and a place in the First Qualifying Round.
What’s the point of this article? I guess just to say that there’s much much more to the beautiful game than Goals On Sunday and transfer windows. There’s soul, there’s spirit, there’s authenticity. Those are values that I struggle to find in the game these days, but at Walthamstow last Saturday I rediscovered them. Up the Stow!