John Betjeman might have described the FA Trophy as “a much-maligned competition”. It is fair to say that perhaps for managers of Step 1 clubs chasing the EFL dream – and those trying to cling on to a place in the National League – the competition is not an immediate priority.
This is borne out by some small crowds in the early rounds of this competition. But with the ultimate away-day prize of Wembley glory – and all the commercially lucrative opportunities that come with that, just ask Ascot United – this competition has merit and deserves the respect that the opportunity for clubs outside of the EFL to play at the National Stadium deserves.
In any case, it presents a great opportunity to visit some new venues. I have been to venues as diverse as Daventry Town, East Thurrock United, FC Halifax Town and Stockport County following this competition. At East Thurrock the weather conditions were so extreme that a gale force wind blew a steward’s hat clean off his head.
The best Trophy tie I have seen in recent years was a rare opportunity to watch football with a crowd during the ‘lost’ COVID season of 2020/21. 324 mask-wearing fans maintained social distancing during a tie between Bracknell Town – then of Step 4 – and Step 2 big-spenders Havant & Waterlooville.
If the supporters remained distant, the gap between the two was less obvious. Seb Bowerman equalised an early Havant goal but the hosts then had Max Herbert sent off. It took two second-half goals to eventually give Havant some daylight against the ten men, but Bowerman pulled one back from the spot as the Robins banged on the door. Stirring stuff. With most Non-League sides now falling by the FA Cup wayside, the Trophy gives sides a chance to keep dreaming into the new year.
2023/24 FA Trophy Second Round ties for Berkshire
This article appeared first in the Football in Berkshire Friday newsletter. To get your regular dose of Berkshire football news and stories in your inbox, click here to subscribe.