While just one team has ever won the FA Cup while outside of the league set-up – Tottenham Hotspur, 121 years ago – the dream of a run in the famous competition hasn’t lost its fizz for clubs further down the pyramid.
Tomorrow, non-league Chesterfield are due to enjoy their moment in the spotlight when they travel to eight-time winners Chelsea in the hope of causing one of the great FA Cup upsets in recent history.
Although they’re not the lowest ranked side left in the tournament – that honour goes to sixth-tier Kidderminster Harriers – the Spireites certainly have one of the most attractive ties of the third round, which is being contested across this weekend.
Chesterfield, who currently lead the National League, will be looking to repeat the Cup giant-killing feats of Bradford City in 2014-2015, when the Bantams stunned Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge
“A few sleepless nights”
“There will be a few sleepless nights. It sounds a bit surreal,” said manager James Rowe. “We are back on the map, that is the most important thing. It’s about enjoying the occasion. The result is the result.”
If upsets come in pairs, League Two Swindon Town have the chance to conjure up a Cup result when they face a Manchester City side stripped of 17 first-team players and manager Pep Guardiola following an outbreak of Covid-19 tonight.
Elsewhere this weekend, eye-catching ties include Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa travelling to Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur’s match against League 1 Morecambe and rank outsiders Kidderminster facing Championship side Reading.
For some of the Premier League sides who field weakened teams, the FA Cup could be seen as a hindrance rather than an opportunity. But for lower division sides who have felt the financial impact of the pandemic more keenly, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime.
A Cup run
A cup run, with television deals and packed terraces, can steer a club away from the financial abyss to relative comfort.
In 2017, then non-league Sutton United banked around £700,000 from their Cup run to the fifth round. Marine, last season’s fairytale story, pocketed £200,000 for reaching the third round.
Following a run of inconsistent results and off-field distractions affecting a stretched squad – notably around star striker Romelu Lukaku – Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea could have a soft underbelly for Chesterfield to exploit.
“I can’t wait to see the supporters who have been lucky enough to get tickets down there at Stamford Bridge singing their hearts out,” Rowe added.
“You pride yourself on every training session and every game and it is no different whoever we play. We want to do our best.”
When kick-off comes at 5:30pm on Saturday, the 100,000 who have made Chesterfield their home will be cheering on their team.
But thanks to the enduring appeal of the FA Cup upset, that number is sure to be multiplied several times across the country.