Non League Daily

When the magic disappears: Non-League clubs after their FA Cup runs

For a few days each season some Non-League clubs emerge from the shadows of the Premier League giants and have their day in the sun, the FA Cup works its magical spell.

The live television cameras roll up at their grounds, eager journalists hunt for the unique story about a player who works as a postman through the week but deliver goals on a Saturday, see what I did there?

Managers, who are normally used to dealing with volunteer club press men, are thrust in front of national media, sink or swim? Many, to their credit, do the latter and with some style too. Mourinho, Wenger et al should take note.

Chairmen and Directors find their eyes lighting up as pound after pound rolls in, this is their club's day in the limelight, why shouldn't they make the most of it? Ground capacity is reached, programmes are sold out, magic moments are played out, heroes are made, giants are killed, memories, money, fame.....but then it all goes quiet.

You're beaten, reality hits, the TV cameras roll away as quickly as they came, back to the "bread and butter", back to the Tuesday night trips halfway across the country and returning home at 2am. Back to life, back to reality.

So how does it feel for a Non-League club when the FA Cup rollercoaster is over? We spoke to the managers from two of this season's giantkillers to get their thoughts on, what one of them called, "the best club competition in the world.

Firstly there is Shaun Reid (above, right), manager of Warrington Town, the club who kicked off this season's giantkillings on the very first night of what are somewhat disrespctfully known as the "proper" rounds. SkyBet League Two club Exeter City were seen off by the Yellows on a crazy night on Merseyside. A Second Round exit at the hands of Vanarama Conference club Gateshead put an end to the dream but heroes were made.

Then we have Tom Wade (above, left), the man in charge of Blyth Spartans, a club familiar with famous giantkillings. The Northumberland outfit saw off Conference side Altrincham and fellow North East club Hartlepool United, a game shown live on Match of the Day. A brave exit at the hands of Championship club Birmingham City saw Spartans fans dare to dream of another giantkilling as their side raced into a two goal lead before being brought back down to earth by the Blues.

So first up we look at what impact their exits from the competition had on their clubs. For Reid, initially it was negative, however he believes that the run gave his side some confidence and belief in the long run.

"These lads might not get the chance to play in front of three million people again, it was always going to have an impact. Initially it was tough as a manager to get them up for league games and our form was shaky at first but they have reacted well since that and have gained confidence and belief since we went out"

That is something Spartans manager Wade agreed with.

"Initially when you are on a high, then it's like turning a tap off, you aren't flavour of the month, it is hard but they settled well eventually. It has had a positive effect on the changing room"

A run in the FA Cup can have an impact on a club's league schedule. With each round that passes, more league games are moved to midweek, meaning more time off work for players and up to four games a week in some cases. Surely that is a hinderance to a club?

Yellows boss Reid argues that the financial rewards of a cup run offset any fixture pile-up.

"Of course it can be a hinderance and it's hard to explain to anyone not involved just how hard it is for the boys when the fixtures do get congested but we can't ignore the financial rewards. They are magnificent for any non-league club and can keep you going for five years"

With a cup run comes new supporters and those who come along to see a "giant" visiting a smaller club. That is a chance for new supporters to be found but do clubs manage to retain what some would call the 'bandwagon jumpers'? Wade suggests, in Spartans case, the answer is yes.

"We looked at our crowds when I came into the club to help out and we were below 300, then after last season we were around 350. Now, after the cup run, we are heading towards 500 and there is no doubt that the cup run would have helped us. We took over a thousand to Hartlepool and it seems some of them have stuck around, which is great for the players"

Reid agreed that the floaters have stuck around and argued that they are helping his club hit the objectives he has set.

"The crowds have went up and that was one of my long-term objectives at the club. It's not just the FA Cup, its the play offs last season, the Doodson Sports Cup (League Cup), overall it's helping us constantly improve"

With an FA Cup run comes media interest, with media interest comes a platform for a club's big players to make their names on and with that comes interest from other clubs. Both Wade and Reid have felt that pressure and both agreed it has its positive and negative aspects.

Wade said "You're under pressure to make sure your top players are on contracts. It's tough because some lads don't want that but you don't want to lose them for nothing. We have lads who have made names for themselves during the run and it has sparked interest but so far only one has gone so I guess we have been lucky. We wouldn't stand in their way if a league club came in but we have to look after our club's interests first and foremost"

Reid also felt that one rule in Non-League makes it more difficult to do that.

"The seven day rule is one I can't abide by. It's a crazy rule and it makes it even harder to keep hold of players. We have had interest and we have had approaches since the cup run and at the end of the day finances dictate"

In the craziness that is a non-league club's FA Cup run it is easy to lose sight of the fact that players and managers have their normal daily lives to go about. The attention spreads to their jobs and into their family lives. It can be an almost claustraphonic environment but when asked if they would go through it again both men were emphatic in their replies.

"It's the greatest club competition in the world bar none. I had some great times in it as a player and now I have my first as a manager. Without doubt I would go through it all again, it is the lifeblood of the Non-League game" said Reid.

And his Spartans counterpart admitted that he has taken a lot personally from his own experiences.

"This is my club and to be part of an amazing cup run, and everything that comes with it, will live with me for a long time. We have a chance to kick on and get this club higher up the pyramid, we can't waste that and if doing it again meant that we could make that process quicker, despite everything that comes with it, I would do it again in a heartbeat"

So while the cameras, the press and the attention may now be long gone, the FA Cup still has the abililty to have a profound, long-lasting effect on whoever it touches. Long may that continue!

Photos: Action Images

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