FA Cup first round: 'When we scored, I felt the ground shake'

Chasetown in 2005
Chasetown were a ninth-tier side when they reached the FA Cup first round in 2005

The final has the coveted trophy and the glory. The semi-finals have the tension and, for the losers, the trauma.

Third-round weekend is not to be missed, but for sheer enjoyment I always think the FA Cup first round is very hard to beat.

For 32 of the 80 clubs involved in the first-round draw, just getting that far is an achievement. As many as 608 teams have fallen by the wayside over six qualifying rounds before we even get to November's big day.

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In round one, those clubs more used to being relative minnows in the Football League are suddenly turned into Goliaths, all hoping to avoid a slingshot from some sharp-eyed David emerging from the non-league pyramid to grab the headlines.

It's a magical transformation which can catapult an almost unheard-of club into the nation's consciousness.

This season, that opportunity goes to Warrington Town and Exeter City. Their match will be shown live on BBC Two on Friday 7 November.

For me, the weekend of the first round always stirs memories 2005. I've been lucky enough to go to five World Cups and five European Championships in my commentating career, but a game played at the tiny Scholars Ground nearly 10 years ago ranks as one of the most memorable I've covered.

It was the year that Chasetown made that journey from obscurity to prime time.

Chasetown fans in 2005
Around 2,000 fans cheered on Chasetown when they reached the FA Cup first round nine years ago

Chasetown's ground is a couple of long throws from the M6 toll road at Burntwood and in 2005 they played in the Midland Football Alliance - the ninth tier of English football.

They had played six games in the competition before reaching the fourth qualifying round, where they had earned a 2-2 draw at Blyth Spartans. The draw for the first round proper pitched the winners of the replay at home to Oldham.

For the Match of the Day bosses looking for a first-round tie to televise live, this was too good to miss.

Not much more than a decade earlier, Oldham had been a Premier League club and FA Cup semi-finalists. Blyth had their own special place in FA Cup history when they came within a few moments of reaching the quarter-final as a Northern League Club in 1978. And Chasetown?

Well, Chasetown against Oldham seemed too fanciful to be true.

Chasetown's manager in 2005 was Charlie Blakemore. He says: "Knowing that we'd be on Match of the Day if we beat Blyth sent the whole thing into orbit.

The non-league FA Cup giant killers
Seven non-league clubs have reached the FA Cup fifth round since 1945: Colchester United (1947-48), Yeovil Town (1948-49), Blyth Spartans (1977-78), Telford United (1984-85), Kidderminster Harriers (1993-94), Crawley Town (2010-11) and Luton Town (2012-13)

"We knew if we won, we would raise 10 times our normal annual income in just one game. No pressure then!

"The night of the replay will live in the memories of all the players, supporters, management, staff and committee members and all their families for the rest of our lives.

Chasetown in 2005
Chasetown's FA Cup adventure in 2005 brought the Match of the Day cameras to the Scholars Ground

"We had supporters in trees, on the fences and on the roof of the stands. It was awesome. We scored the winner with four minutes to go and it was pandemonium!"

Chasetown's game against Gedling Town in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup that season had attracted a crowd of 76. More than 2,000 people had used every vantage point to watch them win that replay against Blyth. Oldham and the people from the telly were coming to Chasetown.

Neighbours Walsall printed the match tickets and provided stewards, temporary stands were built and a local firm covered the car park with asphalt to prevent the TV trucks from sinking into the mud. New dugouts were bought, new advertisers battled for perimeter boards and - after torrential rain the night before the match - volunteers and club staff helped to dry the pitch with blowers.

Again 2,000 fans crammed inside for kick off - and 3.2m more watched on BBC One as the team from the ninth tier unbelievably took the lead with a goal from Nicky Harrison against an Oldham team 154 places above them in the league ladder.

Nicky Harrison scores for Oldham
Chasetown had hopes at an upset when Nicky Harrison gave them the lead against Oldham

My co-commentator Mark Bright and I could hardly believe what we were describing. Soon, David Eyres equalised for Oldham but Chasetown thoroughly deserved their replay.

Charlie Blakemore remembers: "When we scored, I felt the ground shake - it was absolutely magic. Oldham drew level but we still had a go and 1-1 felt like a win for us.

"That one game brought us hundreds of new supporters and gave the club a profile on which we have improved our ground and facilities.

Chasetown's 2005-06 FA Cup run
Preliminary round: Causeway United (h) W2-0
First qualifying round: Gedling Town (h) W2-1
Second qualifying round: Belper Town (h) D3-3
Replay: Belper Town (a) W4-1
Third qualifying round: Cogenhoe United (a) D1-1
Replay: Cogenhoe United (h) W4-3
Fourth qualifying round: Blyth Spartans (a) D2-2
Replay: Blyth Spartans (h) W1-0
First round: Oldham Athletic (h) D1-1
Replay: Oldham Athletic (a) L0-4

"We now have a full-time academy with 45 16- to 18-year-olds developing in both education and football. It's no exaggeration to say it transformed Chasetown."

At Boundary Park in the rematch footballing logic finally exerted itself and Chasetown were beaten 4-0, but a club with an average crowd of a little over 100 took almost 2,500 fans north for the replay. That's why they talk about the magic of the Cup.

Three years later, Charlie Blakemore led Chasetown still further in the competition, beating Port Vale and taking the lead against Cardiff City before succumbing 3-1 as they became the lowest-ranked club ever to reach the third round of the FA Cup.

But that's another story.

Nicky Harrison
Nicky Harrison was Chasetown's goalscoring hero against Oldham in 2005

The FA Cup first-round match between Warrington Town and Exeter City is live in the UK on BBC Two from 19:30 GMT.

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