Sweet FA?

Last Sunday’s Vitality Women’s FA Cup First Round will have the pinnacle of the season for many clubs.  A change in the competition structure this season has afforded far more teams than in previous years the opportunity to reach this stage, genuine democratisation of the competition, if you like.

Whereas in both 2018/19 and 2019/20 not one club from below tier five made the First Round, and in 2020/21 only one did so – I’ll come onto that later – this season no fewer than fifteen clubs from tier six and four from tier seven were involved.

That is undoubtedly a ‘good thing’ for the development of the game as a whole, although it comes with the caveat of several unbalanced scorelines – four ties on Sunday produced double-figure wins, three of those involving a three-tier gap between the teams.  Maybe that is a price we must pay for opening up opportunities for ‘smaller’ clubs to see a little more of the spotlight.

Nevertheless, these instances are surely balanced out by tier seven sides Netherton United and Clapton Community’s accomplishments in winning through to the Second Round.  In Clapton’s case they bridged a two-tier gulf to knock out Bedford, a feat matched (I crave no forgiveness whatsoever for the blatant self-indulgence here) by my own club, Stourbridge, who won 3-2 at Derby County.  Incidentally, we were that one tier six representative last year as well…

Be that as it may, at this point I have an issue with the FA.  I know, I know, join the queue…

Imagine a summary of the 1971/72 (Men’s) FA Cup Third Round that neglected to mention Hereford and Ronnie Radford knocking out Newcastle, or similarly a round-up from 1989/90 that overlooked Coventry’s defeat to Sutton United.  Unthinkable!  Those matches are interwoven in the Cup’s very mystique (or some such marketing spiel…).

Yet it’s exactly what we’re expected to accept where the Women’s FA Cup is concerned.  The FA website’s ‘wrap’ led with Netherton and Clapton – and no complaint there at all, huge congratulations to both! – but made no mention at all of Stourbridge’s frankly phenomenal win.  Nada.  Zilch.  Not a sausage.

And this isn’t just me having a whinge because my team’s been ignored.  Three weeks earlier in the Third Qualifying Round, Shrewsbury of tier six dumped out Wem Town of tier four.  They too saw absolutely no acknowledgement in the FA website round-up. Nor – for instance – did Sutton Coldfield Town get any credit for defeating Leek Town from a level above.  There are probably more examples, but these, in particular, resonate as local to my patch.

Instead, the focus seemed to be on the big, sexy, scores.  FC Manchester United put 12 past BRNESC, Leafield scored 12, Sherborne Town 13, countless clubs (Stourbridge included, funnily enough) got their names in the frame for scoring nine or more.  But these aren’t stories – quite apart from the question of whether highlighting such scores is really good publicity for women’s football – with genuine respect, most were routine thumpings of lower-level opposition.

What is the FA Cup about?  It’s about the shocks, the giant killings.  If we don’t have them, we don’t have the Cup.   To see such fantastic achievements lazily ignored is a ridiculous state of affairs and betrays an FA which either doesn’t care about the lower levels of women’s football or doesn’t actually know anything about them.  Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse.

Photo: @VitalityWFACup