FA Cup: Anniversary waltz in the shadow of the A1

IN NOVEMBER 2021, it will be 150 years since the first FA Cup games were played. Was it really 50 years ago that we celebrated the 100th anniversary with the bruising Leeds United v Arsenal final? Later this year, there’s a planned tournament involving the “original” teams from that inaugural competition. Although the legitimacy of some of those teams, notably Hitchin and Crystal Palace, is debatable, it looks good to have sides resembling those FA Cup pioneers.

Meanwhile, the 2021-22 campaign has been underway for some weeks, but the road to Wembley started for clubs like Biggleswade Town and Hitchin Town on September 4, a local derby played against the background of speeding cars whizzing past on the A1 racetrack.

Ironically, given Hitchin’s tenuous FA Cup ancestry, the Canaries ran out at Biggleswade in fuschia and black shirts, a startlingly eye-catching strip that is a marked improvement on their usual all-green away strip. The game attracted around 500 people, many of whom took the opportunity for a “day out” to see Hitchin away from home. Certainly, their support outnumbered the Waders’ contingent.

Hitchin, who hadn’t had a good start to the season, losing three of their four league games, looked much better than their previous showing when they were comfortably brushed aside by a robust and experienced Royston Town. But against Biggleswade, Hitchin were in control from the start, playing confidentally and with a high level of energy.

The cup tie also provided a reminder that fthe non-league game is not just about watching 22 young men kicking a leather ball around. There was an atmosphere of rediscovery for some people, who had spontaneously decided they wanted to watch some football. The past 18 months have seen many a weekend routine destroyed by the pandemic. Fans are only just getting into their old habits of attending games once more and they’re clearly enjoying the experience. Win, lose or draw, it’s good to be watching football again.

But we’re all older and the players look younger – given the demographic of non-league football, 18 months away from regular games does have an impact of the appearance of most supporters. Hair has disappeared, crevices have developed on faces and those replica shirts are now straining at the seams. Hitchin, for example, have lost a number of their senior supporters, including some legendary figures. It’s a reminder that football is certainly not more important than life and death. One loyal Canary, a so-called “legacy fan”, was seeing his first game as he’s boycotting the club because of the “online only” advanced ticket regime.

As for the game, Hitchin were awarded a very suspect penalty in the 12th minute (no VAR at Langford Road) and Alex Brown netted from the spot. They looked quite relaxed for the rest of the first half and at the start to the second, they scored again, Luke Brown shooting into the top right hand corner. With 12 minutes remaining, Hitchin finished the game off when Henry Snee (what a great name!), saw his shot parried by Jake Alley and Callum Stead finished from close range.

It had been surprisingly stressless for Hitchin and kept their hopes of a lucrative FA Cup run alive for at least another couple of weeks. And there was the added bonus of £ 2,250 in prize money. What’s not to like about the FA Cup?


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