So it is goodbye to Cambridge United. What's more, for me, it is goodbye to non-league football in this season's competition, short of a miracle involving Havant & Waterlooville getting into the next round at the expense of first Swansea City and then either Luton Town or Liverpool. The chord to the non-league scene, born on that cool summer's evening back in August down at the end of my lane, has finally been severed. After 11 games and 138 days and 1350 miles of tarmacadam.
731 clubs registered to take part in this season's FA Cup, and come the weekend of the 25th and 26th January for the Fourth Round Proper this number will have been whittled down to just thirty two. Looking at that list of original entries, it starts with Abbey Hey and ends with Yorkshire Amateur. Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford are snugly positioned toward the end of the list amongst teams such as Wick and Weymouth (seen them), Whitehawk and Wootton Blue Cross (wish I had seen them) and Wembley (hoping to see it).
We are now down to the last sixteen ties.
Wolverhampton Wanders, after their 2-1 victory on Saturday, now take up the torch in my FA Cup marathon. Out of those 731 teams, Wolverhampton Wanderers will be my eighth team. The chain of teams that has guided me through the competition so far looks like this:
1. Chertsey Town
5. Eastbourne Borough
7. Cambridge United
8. Wolverhampton Wanderers
The jump from Blue Square Conference to Championship was quite a significant one, in all senses of the word. Bigger ground, larger fan base, bigger expectations. And a different view of the FA Cup.
A sojourn to Watford next then in the Fourth Round. More about Watford later...
The reaction to this draw? On a personal note, not bad. On the one hand, I would have liked to dwell a while in the lower reaches of the league. This may yet be possible, with Leagues One and Two still represented; the likes of Mansfield, Barnet, Bristol Rovers, Bury or Swindon offer glimmers of possibility. But in terms of distance to travel (a mere thirty one miles from my front door) and chances of getting a ticket (high) the draw has done me no harm.
As for the fans of Wolves and Watford? Disappointment is the (polite) word that best sums up their reaction. The two sides meet one week after the cup game, same venue, in a Championship game and the feeling I get from both sets of fans is that the league game is the more important. Sure, some would like to advance to the Fifth Round Proper and go on a decent cup run or cash in on a windfall promised by a Premier league team. But many would prefer the three points that the league game offers in the quest to reach the promised land of top-flight football in England. The greedy want both.
In the meantime, the likes of Chertsey Town, Dartford and Eastbourne Borough play out their seasons with the bread and butter games in front of small, but loyal, followings. If any of those clubs were still in this season's FA Cup, I wouldn't need to question their reaction to the draw.