After 613 Extra Preliminary, Preliminary, First Round, Second Round, Third Round and Fourth Round Qualifying ties have (almost) been decided, the First Round (proper) of this season’s FA Cup was drawn on Monday night. As the clubs from Leagues One and Two join the surviving entrants from Non-League sides competing in Level’s ten and above, the prospect of an early juicy tie against a comparative big-hitter awaited the part-time minnows. With previous modern cup winners such as Wigan Athletic, Portsmouth and Coventry City in the draw, as well as famous football names such as Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool, the likes of Shaw Lane and Heybridge Swifts will have been hoping for a plum draw in a bid to become this season’s giantkilling headliners. While the draw threw up some tasty looking fixtures for lower league fans, the tie of the round pits Hyde United – the lowest ranked side left in the competition – at home to MK Dons.
“Number 61, Hyde United….will play number 27, MK Dons”. The eruption at the Hyde United clubhouse, where the BBC had wisely decided to hold the FA Cup First Round draw, told the whole story. The Greater Manchester side currently sit in seventh place in the Evo-Stik North Division One, albeit with multiple games in hand on most sides above them, and are enjoying an unbeaten start to the season. Their First Round opponents are sat in mid-table in League One, well over one hundred places higher in the English league pyramid.
Hyde’s journey to the first round began on 19th August, entering at the second stage of the competition in the Preliminary round, a set of fixtures usually reserved for work teams of solicitors firms, council staff, and clergymen if Brimscombe & Thrupp, City of Liverpool, and Waltham Abbey are anything to go by. A 4-2 victory over Congleton Town, during which Hyde contrived to throw away a two-goal lead, set The Tigers on the long, long road to Wembley, and secured their place in the First Qualifying Round. A goal from midfielder Phattharaphol Khamsuk was enough to settle the tie at home to Kendal Town, and after a last minute equaliser from Karl Jones away at Evo-Stik Premier side Warrington Town, the Tigers progressed into the Third Qualifying Round with a 2-0 win in the replay – fittingly Jones opened the scoring at Ewen Fields. A kind draw away to Boston Town left Hyde supporters dreaming of the first round proper, and a hat-trick from top scorer Matthew Beadle saw the Lincolnshire side brushed away in a 3-2 victory. The only team standing between Hyde United and a their first appearance in the FA Cup first round since 1994 were Scarborough Athletic, the phoenix club established after the liquidation of Scarborough FC. Another goal from Beadle and a second from winger Luke Porritt secured a 2-0 victory for Hyde, though they’ll be wary that the quality facing them in the next round will be next level compared to the sides they’ve faced on their run so far.
“We couldn’t ask for more than a home game and against a big club. It’s absolutely perfect for us. These guys deserve it. It’s the best team this club has had in a long, long time.”
Steve Hartley, Hyde United Chairman
Not only is it Hyde’s first appearance in the first round since 1994, but this season’s run also matches their best ever in the competition. A 3-1 home defeat to Division 3 Darlington in ’94 was preceded by a 2-0 home defeat to second division Burnley the season before, and a 5-1 defeat to Workington way back in 1954, when Hyde were still members of the Cheshire County League, before becoming founding members of The National League in 1968. Though the club does not celebrate its centenary for another 18 months, and they have never troubled the football leagues, the North-West side can claim to have far more history in the four stands of Ewan Fields – opened in 1885 and formerly the home of Hyde FC – than their first round opponents can muster. MK Dons were infamously formed when the Norwegian owners of Wimbledon decided to relocate the club to Milton Keynes after a consortium led by now-Dons chairman Pete Winkleman purchased a plot in the new city to build a football league stadium, with the sole purpose of relocating an existing club. The fallout from Wimbledon fans was immediate, and during the season of the relocation, and two years before the name Wimbledon was stripped from the club entirely, supporters set up AFC Wimbledon.
Not that this lack of history affects the magnitude of the tie for Hyde supporters. On the 4th November they’ll play host to a side that have beaten Manchester United 4-0, competed in the second tier of English football, and developed the talents of internationals Dele Alli and Will Grigg. The most deluded of Dons fans might even try and convince you that they’re technically former FA Cup winners, since their forbearers lifted the trophy in 1988 after shocking the all-conquering Liverpool at Wembley. Though the famous blue and gold shirts and crazy gang spirit are nowhere to be seen in the identikit soul vacuum of stadium:mk.
The chances of Hyde progressing to the second round for the first time in their history will be slim, with MK Dons being knocked out at this stage only three times in twelve years, all by league clubs, but the key to a victory may lay at the feet of their defence. A near watertight backline has seen Hyde concede only four times so far this season, while MK have struggled in front of goal, registering 0.92 goals a game in the league. The Dons had also better watch out if Matthew Beadle’s about, with the former Northwich forward netting 9 in 16 so far this season. No doubt this will be the BBC’s televised pick of the round, and memories of Salford City knocking Notts County out at the same stage in 2015 will conjure hopes of an upset. Hyde United will have the backing of millions of neutral supporters, particularly in South West London.
Elsewhere in the draw, Bostik League side Heybridge Swifts travel to hat-wearing Paul Tisdale’s Exeter City; Truro City, the first Cornish side to qualify for the competition proper since 1968 were handed an exciting five hour drive to South London to take on Charlton Athletic; Maidenhead United travel to 1987 winners Coventry City, and Shaw Lane, the Yorkshire club founded in 2012, offer a novelty sized banana skin to Mansfield Town.
Whichever way the game at Ewen Fields goes this generation of Hyde United supporters will have a memory to cherish, but if they can take a leaf out of last season’s surprise packages of Lincoln City and Sutton United, they might be celebrating ‘til the concrete cows come home.