Magic of the cup

Muhammadu Faal celebrates his goal against Braintree in the FA Cup
Muhammadu Faal celebrates his goal against Braintree in the FA Cup (credit Tom Scott)

Enfield Town are eyeing up a run in the world’s best domestic cup competition, writes Andrew Warshaw

The FA Cup, as we are told by ‘experts’, no longer has the lustre and glamour it once did. Nonsense; it’s still the greatest domestic cup competition in world football and, at non-league level, it arguably means more than it ever has.

Not only can the prize money on offer shape a team’s entire season, but the chance of a giant-killing or two is as exciting as it gets for part-time and grassroots clubs, often bringing out the best in them.

Enfield Town manager Andy Leese has a special affinity with the tournament which made last month’s second qualifying round clash with National League South side Braintree Town – a division above Enfield – all the more mouth-watering. When he was boss of Chesham United in 2015/16, the Buckinghamshire outfit pulled off a historic first-round FA Cup victory at Bristol Rovers, making a mockery of the 75 places between the two teams at the time. The next season they were beaten by Peterborough United at the same stage.

Before the Braintree game, in which Enfield Town pulled off a significant upset with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory, Leese said: “I had two fantastic FA Cup years at Chesham and I guess that’s where I got the passion for the competition.”

Things may not have gone according to plan last season with an ignominious first qualifying round defeat by lower-league Bedford, but this season Town’s fighting cup spirit has returned – first against Rushden and Diamonds, then Braintree. It was reminiscent of that fabulous run when, shortly after Leese joined Enfield, they came within a whisker of ousting Maidstone and taking on a Football League team. Conversely, Leese doesn’t need reminding that when at Chesham he dumped Enfield out of the tournament. Recalling that day he said of Town fans: “The noise they made was incredible even when they were losing.”

The Towners are now due to meet Chichester City in the third qualifying round on Saturday 5th October. Win that and only one more hurdle would stand between Leese’s team and a possible crack at a full-time league team. Chichester are one step below Enfield on the football pyramid and this time it will be they eyeing up a potential giant-killing. Leese knows it could be fraught with danger especially with £11,250 at stake for the winners. “We’ll pay them all due respect and will treat it as though it were a league game,” he told the Dispatch.

“Players and managers at our level love it [the FA Cup]. Everyone wants to pit their wits against higher opposition…You never forget the heady days, they are fantastic memories.”