Monthly Archives: November 2012

MK Dons vs AFC Wimbledon: Evil vs Good?

 The biggest match in Europe this weekend won’t take place in Old Trafford, the Camp Nou or San Siro; it will take place in Stadium MK where the Milton Keynes Dons face AFC Wimbledon for the first time in history.

You read correctly, on a weekend when fixtures include Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund and Ajax vs PSV, the most important encounter is an FA Cup 2nd Round match between the MK Dons of League 1 and AFC Wimbledon of League 2.

But before you close this tab, thinking I’m some kind of nut case, let me explain myself, and more importantly let me explain the significance of Sunday’s game.

The History

Wimbledon FC fans protest against their club being moved to Milton Keynes

Rewind to the year 2000, when Wimbledon FC were struggling financially following relegation from the Premier League. They were ready to start their 10th season ground-sharing with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, 6.5 miles from their traditional home at Plough Lane, which they left in 1991 due to the club’s inability to fund its renovation.

At this time Milton Keynes didn’t have a professional football club, despite having a population of nearly 200,000 people. Businessman Pete Winkleman wanted to change this and began the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, with the intention of building a state of the art arena to persuade a Football League club to move to the city.

The only person enticed by the suggestion was Wimbledon’s new chairman, Charles Koppel, who saw it as a great way of relieving the club’s financial woes. Unsurprisingly Wimbledon’s fans were outraged by the suggestion and passionately protested against the move.

At first the FA and the Football League both opposed the plan, calling it “franchising” and predicting a disastrous outcome should the move go ahead. However, after a lobbying campaign by Wimbledon’s board, an independent commission gave the plan the green light and in 2003 Wimbledon FC moved 60 miles to Milton Keynes.

The club continued to use the name Wimbledon FC for a year until it was changed to the Milton Keynes Dons in 2004. The MK Dons were English football’s first ever franchise.

Rising from the ashes

Out of the ashes of Wimbledon FC a determined group of fans got together and formed AFC Wimbledon, with the long-term intention of achieving promotion back into the Football League. A lightning-fast climb up the amateur leagues culminated in promotion to League 2 in 2011.

The success of AFC Wimbledon has gained the club huge plaudits and they’re particular a favourite of underdog-loving neutrals.

Anger towards the MK Dons had inevitably eased over the years as AFC Wimbledon attempted to rebuild, but when the two clubs were drawn against each other for the 2nd Round of this year’s FA Cup old memories came flooding back.

Most AFC Wimbledon fans didn’t want this fixture and still don’t feel enough time has passed since their club was stolen from them. Many AFC Wimbledon fans are still extremely bitter, not only about the move, but also about the Milton Keynes club’s conduct since 2003.

Between 2003 and 2007 MK Dons Chairman Pete Winkleman had tried to pass off Wimbledon FC’s history as MK Dons’s history. This has not been forgotten by AFC Wimbledon’s fans despite Winkleman returning Wimbledon FC’s trophies and memorabilia to AFC Wimbledon in 2007.

AFC Wimbledon fans are angry the Milton Keynes club is still calling itself “The Dons.” The old Wimbledon FC were nicknamed the Dons, as are the current AFC Wimbledon and fans claim the MK Dons have no right to use it.

Many AFC Wimbledon fans are refusing to travel to Milton Keynes on Sunday because according to them the issue’s still far too sensitive and painful.

What about the pantomime villain?

The MK Dons are nearly a decade old and they’ve changed a great deal since the original controversy over their creation.

The club has worked very hard to forge an identity and a history of its own. They have already won a League 2 title and a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in their short history and their support base is growing year by year.

The club is trying its best to shake off the nickname “Franchise FC” and by now the vast majority of football fans have accepted the MK Dons are here to stay.

But despite the MK Dons’s superb attempts to establish its own identity, Sunday’s game against AFC Wimbledon is expected to trigger the same negative coverage the club received when it was first formed.

 Franchising: still the ultimate evil

The coverage will be damning because despite the football world’s acceptance of the MK Dons, fans are still wholeheartedly opposed to franchising.

For most fans franchising remains the ultimate evil: a putrid concoction of commercialism and arrogance borne out of pure greed.

Franchising is the American invention that goes against everything we as football fans believe in. It devalues supporters and shows complete disregard for their needs and emotions. It underestimates and takes for granted loyalty, the most important trait of any football supporter.

When Wimbledon fans were robbed of their club it provoked universal revulsion among football fans across the World because we all empathised with them. We all imagined how we’d feel if the clubs we support were taken away from us.

For most football fans life without our club is almost unthinkable but this was the reality for Wimbledon fans in 2003.

 Good vs Evil?

It’s awfully tempting to look at Sunday’s game as a clash between footballing good and footballing evil; honest, loyal, traditional fans taking on a plastic, commercially-driven franchise. We once again find ourselves sympathising with Wimbledon fans and hating the MK Dons.

But one of the main reasons Sunday’s game is so important is because it’s a chance to normalise the situation and give both sides a greater degree of closure.

Both sets of fans knew this day had to come sometime and although Sunday’s sure to be an emotional, awkward and heated day, it will hopefully relieve a lot of tension.

The first meeting of the MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon will draw a heap of attention but once the full-time whistle is blown all football fans can begin to move on. After Sunday’s game all future encounters between these sides will seem far more normal.

Many fans on both sides won’t look forward to Sunday but everyone knows the game’s an essential step in the development of both clubs. From Sunday onwards we can stop viewing the MK Dons as the franchise which stole Wimbledon FC, and begin to see them as a club in their own right. Likewise we’ll be able to see AFC Wimbledon as more than just an antidote to the MK Dons.

On the field I can only see one result.

The MK Dons are hitting form at a good time in the season and they’re playing a sophisticated style of football which I expect will lead them to promotion. AFC Wimbledon on the other hand are entrenched in a relegation battle and struggling for confidence.

But in many ways what happens on the field on Sunday is irrelevant. The important thing is that AFC Wimbledon fans get a degree of closure from the match and the MK Dons use the landmark event to move on and leave the past behind.

How did Millwall get there?

Millwall are one of the shocks of the seasons so far; Kenny Jackett’s unfashionable team travel to Wolves tonight sitting  6th in the Championship and top of the form table, but the question is can they sustain their current form?

The Lions are roaring this season and causing the odd shock.

Millwall were as usual one of the pre-season favourites for the drop despite finishing a very respectable 16th in the Championship last season. The club looked to be set for another season in the bottom half of the table when they lost five of their first seven league games.

However Millwall are unbeaten since their home loss against Brighton and Hove Albion on September 22 and they’ve won five of their last six games. Millwall’s current 11-match unbeaten run is the longest they’ve gone without defeat since gaining promotion in 2010.

The Lions’s turnaround is largely down to shrewd business by Jackett in the loan market.

First Mark Beevers was borrowed from Sheffield Wednesday. The 22-year-old was frustrated with life on the bench at Hillsborough so he went on loan to the Lions and has formed a watertight central-defensive partnership with veteran vice-captain, Danny Shittu.

Prior to Beevers’s arrival the Lions had failed to keep a clean sheet in the league but Millwall have now only conceded two goals in their last six games. Beevers has added composure and confidence to the Millwall back 4 and he compliments Shittu brilliantly.

On November 1 Adam Smith was loaned to Millwall from Spurs in order for him to get more first team experience. Smith has shown himself to be a very capable right-back; defensively solid and an effective attacker.

Arguably the key addition was New Zealand international Chris Wood, who has scored seven goals in his last seven games. The on-loan Wes Brom striker has added potency to a Millwall’s functionality, with his height causing defences a lot of problems.

Kenny Jackett has shown foresight and planning in choosing young players who are hungry and eager to impress. But with all three scheduled to return to their parent clubs in the new year can Millwall sustain their promotion push beyond January?

Where can Millwall finish this season?

It will of course depend on whether they are able to keep hold of any of them, and if they are unable to keep hold of them, will they be able to replace them?

Millwall haven’t got the resources to compete financially with the league’s big spenders so it’s vitally important Jackett keeps making the best possible use of the loan market. This means selective borrowing and choosing players that will add an extra dimension to the team.

Millwall have a functional team, full of hard-working, determined players. In Kenny Jackett they have a calm, composed and competent manager, who understands the league and knows how to get the best out of his squad.

Millwall’s football isn’t pretty but it’s certainly effective and no team will look forward to travelling to the Den this season (although when has a team ever looked forward to playing at the Den?).

Over the course of a season it’ll be difficult for Millwall to maintain their promotion push.

The squad is still very small and with Wood, Beevers and Smith all leaving the Den for the second half of the season, will Millwall get the clean sheets or goals to keep up the push for a top 6 place.

What Millwall need to do now is take advantage of their current run of form to make the club more appealing for prospective signings. Millwall has always been a very unfashionable club for many reasons, but if they enter January riding high in the league perhaps they’ll be able to attract a higher calibre of player.

Where Millwall will finish this season depends a great deal on the business the club conducts in January. And who knows, with the right signings, Millwall may be able to compete for one of those prized play-off spots?

A tribute to Europe’s fattest footballer

Adebayo Akinfenwa: Europe’s fattest footballer

One of my favourite players in the Football League is in red hot form at the moment and I think it’s about time he gets the credit he deserves.

Adebayo Akinfenwa is famous for being Europe’s heaviest footballer. The Northampton striker weighs a staggering 16st 7lbs (106kg or 233 pounds) and has a BMI of 30.6, which means he is technically obese. This means he weighs the same as Welsh international hooker (rugby) Huw Bennett and Denver Broncos linebacker (American football) Von Miller.

His size has led to Akinfenwa being ridiculed throughout his career and he’s often been seen as a big fat joke. Opposition fans regularly target Bayo with chants such as “who ate all the pies” and “You fat b******.”

Unfortunately for Akinfenwa his weight has also had an adverse effect on his health over the years. Akinfenwa picks up many injuries due to his size and it also means he takes longer than the average player to recover. Bayo once broke his leg jumping for a header in his Swansea days, the weight of his torso too much for his bones to handle as he landed.

It’s quite easy to see why people view Akinfenwa as a freak-show; he doesn’t look like a footballer, in fact he doesn’t look the least bit athletic.

But for years Akinfenwa’s been bulldozing his way through League 1 and League 2 defences, using his massive frame to good effect.

Few players are as naturally strong as Akinfenwa so he uses this strength to brush off defenders and create chances. But there are plenty of physical, combative forwards in League 2, and I would be doing Akinfenwa a great disservice if I didn’t mention his other attributes.

What sets Akinfenwa aside from other big, hulking strikers is that he can move with the ball. He lacks pace but he has great ball control for a big man and this control, coupled with his physical presence means he dribbles like a tank. He moves slowly across the pitch but it’s very hard to steal the ball from him. The ball sticks to his feet when he runs and it can get very comical watching misguided defenders literally bounce off Akinfenwa as they try to tackle him.

His goals record proves he’s an adept poacher. He’s scored seven goals in his last four games for Northampton, including a hat trick at Accrington on November 10. He has a strong aerial presence and constantly gets into good goal-scoring positions.

Akinfenwa, one of the football league’s great journeymen, has 12 league goals for Northampton this season, which makes him the 3rd top scorer in League 2 this season.

Akinfenwa is a formidable striker and a nightmare for most League 2 defenders but it’s his personality that really endears him to football fans. A deeply religious man, he is often seen as a gentle giant off the pitch. Regardless of form he’s always positive and he’s one of the changing room’s liveliest characters.

Akinfenwa’s uniqueness means he’s very well-known among football fans but all too often people look at him and fail to see beyond his size. In fact Akinfenwa’s skill and goal-scoring deserves far more credit than it currently receives.

Can John Hughes save Hartlepool?

If there’s one club in the Football League that needs a lift it’s Hartlepool United.

The beleaguered Monkey Hangers are rock bottom of League 1, six points off 23rd place Shrewsbury and nine points off safety. The club’s only league win this season came on September 1 against Scunthorpe and on October 24 manager Neale Cooper resigned.

Phil Brown, Colin Cooper and even Sven Goran Eriksson were considered by the Pools but in the end they chose Livingston manager John Hughes.

Hughes has been linked with Hartlepool before and with the club in dire straits he’s decided to join. His only previous experience of working in the English league came at Swansea where he spent a short spell as a player in the 90s. He later went on to play for Celtic, Hibs and Falkirk in Scotland.

His managerial career has been mixed. He began as player-manager at Falkirk in 2003, hanging up his boots in 2005 after winning Scottish Division One and the Challenge Cup. In the SPL they overachieved and in the cups they excelled, finishing as Scottish Cup runners-up to Rangers in 2009 and qualifying twice for the Europa League. Hughes’ Falkirk team were highly praised, not just for their comparatively high league finishes, but also for their aesthetically pleasing passing style.

In 2009 Hughes left Falkirk to join his hometown club, Hibernian. The Edinburgh club expected great things from Hughes, and the Scottish media looked forward to seeing Hughes prove himself at a bigger club. His first season ended in Europa League qualification and a 4th place finish, six points ahead of hated rivals Hearts. His second season started poorly and the fans quickly turned on his bungling side when it became apparent Hibs were in a relegation battle.

He’s been at Livingston for less than a year and in that time he’s struggled to motivate the team. Livingstone are thought to have one of the best squads in the division but they’re currently stuck in mid-table.

In truth, although Hartlepool are in huge trouble at the foot of League 1, the manager’s job has become available at a good time for Hughes. Thing had gone stale in Scotland and Livingston fans were ambivalent about his departure. It was now or never if he was going to test himself in England.

What can he do?

So what awaits Hughes at Hartlepool? Probably the biggest challenge of his football career.

Morale is predictably low and Hartlepool have huge problems at both ends of the pitch.

In most games this season the Pools defence has looked decidedly shaky and increasingly nervous. Only Carlisle have conceded more goals and the Hartlepool defence has developed a worrying trend of dropping too deep and panicking whenever their opponents are on the ball.

The defenders’ jobs are made harder by a midfield that struggles to hold onto the ball and lacks any sort of creativity.

When midfielders aren’t creating chances, life is difficult for the strikers. Life is particularly difficult for Hartlepool’s mishmash strike-force. Youngsters Franks and Poole have seriously struggled for confidence in a losing team and veteran Steve Howard, back at his first club, has looked way past his sell-by date.

Will he be able to save Hartlepool from relegation?

Hughes is a manager that’s often spoken about long-term aims and building success over several seasons. This was how he flourished at Falkirk, and it may explain why he didn’t last at Hibernian or Livingston. But Hartlepool don’t need a long-term project, they need a quick fix. They need results to change drastically before they lose sight of the other 23 teams in the division.

I don’t give Hartlepool much hope for the rest of the season. They have one of the worst squads in the division and their league position is a fair reflection of their performances. More than anything I don’t see any individual in the squad that can raise their game and lead the charge towards safety.

I wish John Hughes all the best because as a football purist that encourages passing football, he’s the kind of man we need to see working in the Football League. Unfortunately I don’t think he’ll have enough time to turn things around at Hartlepool and save them from relegation.

L’influence francophone

Aujourd’hui c’est la journée européenne des blogs multilingues. Donc pour commémorer cette journée unique j’ai décidé d’analyser l’impact des francophones sur le Championship (Div 2 anglais) cette saison. Essayez d’ignorer les fautes grammatiques s’il vous plait ; je n’écris pas en français depuis presque 6 moins.

Le Championship est un ligue multiculturel et cette saison plusieurs francophones font un grand impacte, particulièrement les jeunes francophones qui introduisent un élément de classe au ligue qui est rarement associé avec du football superbe.

 

Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace

Probablement la star des premiers moins de la saison, l’attaquant qui était née en Côte d’ Ivoire, prépare maintenant pour son premier match pour l’équipe national anglais. Le sélectionneur anglais, Roy Hodgson,  lui choisit pour encourager Zaha de commettre à l’Angleterre. Avant cette semaine le joueur de Crystal Palace annonçait qu’il désirait de représenter son pays natal, mais l’intérêt anglais a peut-être changer son avis.

Zaha quittait l’Afrique en 1999 mais il parle un peu de français.

Il a des techniques excellent et comme un des attaquants les plus vites en Angleterre il pose plusieurs problèmes aux défenseurs. Zaha a marqué 4 buts mais il a contribué plusieurs passes décisifs pour ses coéquipiers. De temps en temps il fait rager ses supporters et ses entraineurs parce qu’il peut être égoïste. Mais c’est évident que Zaha possède le talent nécessaire pour réussir dans le Premier League.

 

Anthony Knockaert – Leicester

Si Zaha est la star de la saison jusqu’à maintenant, Anthony Knockaert, 20 ans, est le grand surprise. Le jeune milieu français a rejoint Leicester de Guingamp en juillet. Il a déjà marqué un des buts de la saison contre Huddersfield et il semble très confortable dans la ligue anglaise. Knockaert était inconnu en Angleterre avant l’été dernier mais maintenant il est célèbre et quelques grands équipes comme Arsenal et Newcastle suivent son progrès.

Stylistiquement il est génial et Knockaert a donné un aspecte plus créatif aux attaques des Renards. Il m’excite beaucoup et pendant les 12 moins il jouera sans doute dans le Premier League.

 

Gaël Givet – Blackburn

Le français le plus connu dans le Championship est l’ancien défenseur de Monaco, Gaël Givet, 31 ans. L’arrière gauche joue pour Blackburn depuis 2009 et il reste un des joueurs les plus réguliers des Rovers. Dans le Premier League il montrait sa qualité supérieure dans une équipe agité. Dans le Championship son expérience est très importante parce que Blackburn a un des équipes les plus jeunes dans la ligue.

 

El-Hadji Diouf – Leeds United

Le milieu offensif sénégalais reste un des joueurs les plus controversé dans l’histoire du foot anglais. Célèbre pour cracher, pour commettre des fautes et pour énerver tout le monde. Diouf est détesté autour d’Angleterre et avant rejoindre Leeds en juillet, l’entraineur de Leeds, Neil Warnock lui appelé un rat.

Mais il est un joueur très efficace qui a une bonne technique et la capacité de marquer des buts. Cette saison il est le joueur le plus important pour Leeds, et le seul raison pourquoi ils ne sont pas menacés par la relégation. Leeds est tristement célèbre pour la violence sur le terrain et dans les tribunes, donc Diouf est parfait pour le club.

 

Bakary Sako – Wolves

La saison jusqu’à maintenant est difficile pour Wolves, qui n’a pas adapté après relégation du Premier League. Mais un des aspects positifs de la saison pour Wolves est leur nouvel attaquant, Bakary Sako. Le Parisien a marqué cinq buts pour Wolves et il est leur meilleur joueur. Il est rapide est fort, et il est naturellement commode pour le foot anglais.

Sako, qui a rejoindre Wolves l’été dernier de Saint-Etienne, est un attaquant qui peut réussir en Angleterre mais peut-être il faut qu’il quitte Wolves pour le faire.

 

Nadjim Abdou – Millwall

Il n’est pas bien-connu en France, mais Nadjim Abdou est un héros pour des supporters de Millwall. Le milieu combative a passé quatre saisons avec les londoniens. Il est un des joueurs les plus réguliers à Millwall et son détermination fait lui un des joueurs favorites des supporters. Il n’est pas un joueur spectaculaire, mais il travaille pour ses coéquipiers et il protège les défenseurs.

 

Gui Moussi et Adlène Guedioura – Nottingham Forest

Gui Moussi est un milieu français énorme et Guedioura est un milieu offensive algérien, qui était née en France. Ils ont des styles très différents mais ils sont très efficaces. Moussi est un géant défensif très fort qui protège la défense et organise le milieu. Mais il aime attaquer aussi et quand il attaque il rassemble à Yaya Toure.  À Forest il est surnommé l’orignal.

Guedioura est beaucoup plus offensive. Il est rapide et difficile à contrôler. Il est aussi capable de marquer des buts extraordinaires. De temps en temps il semble paresseux mais il est très utile. Il a représenté l’Algérie seize fois.

 

Yann Kermorgant – Charlton

Il y a deux ans Yann Kermorgant était regardé comme un échec en Angleterre. Le milieu a passé une saison peu remarquable à Leicester, et dans les éliminatoires de 2010 il a échoué une pénalité décisive et à cause de son pénalité Leicester était éliminé.

Mais depuis son transfert à Charlton le milieu a réinventé son image. Il était intégral dans la promotion de Charlton de League 1 (Div 3 anglais) la saison dernière. Maintenant il a beaucoup plus de confiance et il joue bien pour les londoniens.

 

Yannick Bolasie

Bolasie est un coéquipier de Wilfried Zaha à Crystal Palace. L’ailier lyonnais n’a jamais joué professionnellement en France, et c’est en Angleterre que ses talents sont appréciés. Avant rejoindre Palace en aout il jouait pour Plymouth et Bristol City. Bolasie est très rapide et il menace des défenseurs. Ses centrales ont contribués à beaucoup de buts cette saison, et il est un des grands raisons pourquoi Palace sont maintenant en premier dans le Championship. Il est un joueur qui a gravi les échelons et il espère de jouer dans le Premier League la saison prochaine.

FA Cup 1st round special

League 1 and 2 is off this weekend due to the 1st round of the FA Cup and we’re all waiting patiently for some giant-killings!

Every year a host of league clubs make uncomfortable journeys to cramped, rusty old non-league grounds, hoping they can overcome the bumpy pitches and excitable fans in order to book their spot in the next round.

But it just wouldn’t be the FA Cup without the odd upset. Therefore I’ve trawled the fixture list, looking through the league vs non-league fixtures for some quirky stories and possible upsets.

 And please feel comment on any of these previews and whether or not you agree with my upset ratings.

Cambridge City vs MK Dons                         Upset Rating: 4/10

The Friday night game will be televised on ESPN, proving the media smell a possible upset in this game. The Dons are desperate to get promoted this season and the Cup’s unlikely to be a priority for manager Karl Robinson. Unusually for the aesthetically pleasing MK Dons, they’ve struggled for goals this season. However, Cambridge City (not to be confused with former league outfit United) are also struggling at the moment. Languishing 16th in the Southern League, they’ll need all the help they can get in this one. Home advantage might just be enough to get them the replay, but I think the Dons will have too much for City on this occasion.     

Hereford vs Shrewsbury                               Upset Rating: 5/10

Despite the two local rivals exiting League 2 in differing directions last season, the derby’s back. Neither club’s set the world alight in their new leagues and the Cup will be a chance to get a confidence boost. Expect a highly-charged, competitive derby, but I see Shrewsbury’s superior skill winning it for them. Expect drama!                       

Aldershot vs Hendon                     Upset Rating: 5/10

Aldershot have had a dreadful start to the season and Hendon will be boosted by the fact the Shots have only won once at home this season. However a light has recently appeared at the end of the Aldershot tunnel with a win and a draw ending their run of seven straight losses. Hendon aren’t doing too well either, 20th in the Isthmian League. They need to travel with confidence and determination. A few tasty tackles early on could unnerve Dean Holdsworth’s low-scoring side and make things interesting. Don’t rule out a replay in this one.                        

Carlisle vs Ebbsfleet                        Upset Rating: 5/10

Carlisle have struggled for consistency this season and manager Gregg Abbott’s emphasised the on and off-field importance of the Cup. Carlisle have hit poor form recently, but Ebbsfleet have only won three games all season. They’re capable of scoring against the Cumbrians, but the seriousness with which Abbott views this contest suggests Carlisle will want to get the job done.                           

Chelmsford vs Colchester            Upset Rating: 6/10

A meeting between two of the competition’s form teams, and this could also be classed as a derby with just 23 miles separating the two clubs. Chelmsford are 2nd in the Blue Square South and they have FA Cup pedigree; they’re aiming to reach the second round for the third season in a row. The confident Claret Army will be out in force and will be buzzing with confidence. On the other hand Colchester have suffered just one loss in seven games and are charging up the League  1 table. Despite Colchester’s hot form, this is the kind of opponent that causes problems for league clubs.             

Cheltenham vs Yate                        Upset Rating: 3/10

Yate are the lowest ranked side left in the competition, but don’t be fooled by the fact they’re bottom of the Evostik Southern League Division One South and West. In the last round they incredibly beat Blue Square Premier leaders Newport County in a replay. They’re plucky, they’re brave and they’re ready to take advantage of any Cheltenham complacency. Cheltenham should have too much for the beautifully nicknamed Bluebells. But everything we know about the Cup says that this is one to watch.                                                             

Coventry vs Arlesey                        Upset Rating: 4/10

When the first round draw was being made many non-league clubs would have hoped for an away tie at Coventry and it was Arlesey that got it. The Southern League side will travel to the impressive Ricoh Arena in high spirits and whatever the result, it’s likely to be an unforgettable day out for everybody connected with the club. But don’t rule out a replay in this tie. Coventry have only won once at home this season and though Mark Robins looks to be slowly turning things around at the Ricoh, there are still signs of fragility.                             

Doncaster vs Bradford Park Avenue        Upset Rating: 4/10

It’s a Yorkshire derby at the Keepmoat on Saturday as Rovers welcome Bradford PA. Bradford Park Avenue were once a league club until financial problems led to their expulsion from the league and eventual liquidation. They reformed but unlike clubs like AFC Wimbledon, FC United, and even Chester FC their climb back up the leagues has been slow and arduous. Nevertheless they hope to gain promotion to the Blue Square Premier this season. They’ll face a Doncaster team in great form, and it’ll take a monumental effort to beat them.                 

Forest Green vs Port Vale                            Upset Rating: 7/10

Forest Green Rovers aren’t your typical football club. They’re striving to become the world’s first organic football club. The stadium food’s completely vegetarian, the lawnmower’s solar-powered and the Chairman’s an eco-activist. However the formula seems to be working pretty well as Forest Green currently occupy a play-off spot in the Blue Square Premier. They’re playing well this season and targeting promotion to League 2. Port Vale on the other hand are looking to leave League 2 and return to League 1 under Mickey Adams. Vale look like a good bet for promotion, but away against tough opposition, this could be very interesting.                           

Fleetwood vs Bromley                   Upset Rating: 3/10

This is the first ever meeting between these two sides. Fleetwood have taken to life in League 2 like a cod to water (see what I did there). Last season they reached the third round where they were knocked out by local rivals Blackpool. They enjoy the Cup, but will know from personal experience that it’s unwise to underestimate lower league opponents. Bromley are adapting steadily to life in the Blue Square Premier and currently sit 16th in the table. Fleetwood’s confidence and superior skill, combined with home advantage should see them through.                   

Kidderminster vs Oldham             Upset Rating: 4/10

If you want proof of how tough the transition from league to non-league can be, take a look at Kidderminster Harriers. Since their relegation from League 2 in 2005 the Worcestershire club have struggled financially and now find themselves depressingly 21st in the Blue Square Premier. Oldham’s results have been inconsistent this season and just like last term goals are in short supply. This could be a tight one, and who knows, if Kidderminster approach the game in the right frame of mind they might get a valuable replay.                            

Lincoln vs Walsall                              Upset Rating: 3/10

Much like Kidderminster, Lincoln haven’t adapted to life outside the Football League. They’re currently 19th in the Blue Square Premier and battling against relegation. The Cup could provide some much-needed relief for the Imps but their record in the FA Cup hasn’t been good of late. Walsall are having their best season in years, playing entertaining, passing football on a limited budget. Lincoln will do very well to get a replay from this game.                      

Met Police vs Crawley                    Upset Rating: 2/10

It’ll be a very unusual feeling for the Met Police to have the neutrals on their side for a change. This is the first time the Met have reached the first round since 1993 and they’ve never gone beyond this stage of the competition.  They’re one of the lowest ranked teams left in the Cup and they’ll be facing a team that has its sights set on the Championship. Crawley know what it takes to succeed in the Cup as underdogs. Two years ago they narrowly lost at Old Trafford against Man Utd as a non-league team. Crawley’s rise has been phenomenal and they ooze professionalism and organisation. I can’t see the Met Police causing Crawley too many problems.                              

Southend vs Stockport                  Upset Rating: 7/10

Times have been tough for Stockport. They’ve had numerous brushes with bankruptcy and are lucky to remain in existence. But for the first time in years the club could be on the up. They’ve ended their ground-share agreement with Sale Sharks, meaning the rugby team no longer play at Edgeley Park and on the field they’re starting to play some good football. Their unflattering 11th place standing in the Blue Square Premier masks the good football they’ve been playing recently. Southend have been inconsistent this season and if they’re not careful they’ll be spending this season trapped in mid-table. Stockport could spring a surprise here.                           

Swindon vs Macclesfield               Upset Rating: 4/10

Last season this was a League 2 fixture. But this weekend’s fixture will see 7th place in League 1 taking on 7th place in the Blue Square Premier. Macclesfield have reacted admirably to relegation and haven’t been overwhelmed by the culture shock. Swindon under Paolo Di Canio have excelled in Cup competitions and last year they eliminated Wigan Athletic. Di Canio takes this competition very seriously. Although they may still be slightly tired physically and emotionally from their last gasp defeat to Premier League Villa on Tuesday, Swindon will in my opinion beat Macclesfield.         

Torquay vs Harrogate                     Upset Rating: 1/10

Harrogate’s preparations for this game can’t be ideal. After all they only qualified for the 1st Round on Wednesday night after winning a replay against Hyde in Extra Time. This means player-manager Simon Weaver will have just two whole days to prepare for his team’s game against Torquay. Add to that the fact that Harrogate now have one of the longest journeys in this round, plus the inevitable fatigue following the extra-time victory against Hyde and the Blue Square North side clearly have a mountain to climb. Torquay, currently 7th in league 2 and unbeaten at home, probably can’t believe their luck. I can’t see any hope for the Yorkshiremen. This should be Torquay’s most comfortable victory of the season.                                    

Braintree vs Tranmere                   Upset Rating: 4/10

Shamefully this is the only game being shown on terrestrial TV this weekend. Sunday’s clash sees League 1 table-toppers Tranmere travel to Blue Square Premier strugglers Braintree. Nobody on Earth expected Tranmere to be where they are in the league, but the team deserve to be where they are. However the last few games have been more difficult for Ronnie Moore’s men and Braintree, in front of the ITV cameras, will look to take advantage. They’ll raise their game for the cameras and this game will be difficult for Tranmere. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on events at Cressing Road.                                     

Burton vs Altrincham                      Upset Rating: 3/10

Burton will have to keep an eye out for Damian Reeves against Altrincham. The striker’s in red hot form at the moment and already has 16 league goals to his name this season. On the other hand Burton have been formidable at home this season with only one loss so far. They’re a tough nut to crack and Altrincham will have to come up with something pretty special to beat Burton on Sunday. The quality gap should see Burton win this one comfortably but with a player like Reeves on the loose don’t rule out a shock.                      

Gloucester vs Leyton Orient       Upset Rating: 6/10

The Orient bus driver will undoubtedly be questioning his directions this weekend because Orient’s away game against Blue Square North side Gloucester is being played in Cheltenham’s Whaddon Road. Gloucester haven’t played at their home ground, Meadow Park, since it was submerged in 8 feet of water in 2007. The flooded stadium’s insurance skyrocketed and City had to look elsewhere and they now groundshare with Cheltenham. This is the first time in the club’s 129 year history that they’ve made it to the 1st round of the FA Cup and everybody connected with the club is ecstatic. Orient will be nervous before travelling to Cheltenham. They currently hover just above the League 1 relegation zone and probably won’t view the cup as a great priority. This one could possibly end in an upset.               

Dorchester vs Plymouth               Upset Rating: 4/10

Cornwall isn’t known for its football. It’s the only English county that’s never been represented in the Football League and the only footballer of note to come from the Celtic outpost in recent times is former England goalie, Nigel Martyn. But Dorchester of the Blue Square South are hoping to put Cornwall on the football map with a derby win over League 2 Devonians, Plymouth. One man in particular will be looking forward to the game. Sam Malsom was let go by Plymouth as a teenager but instead of dropping into non-league, he pursued his dreams abroad and played in the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Sweden before returning to the West Country. Aged just 24 he’s already played for clubs in four different countries. He’ll be looking to show Plymouth what they missed out on. It would really be befitting of the cup’s romance if cute Dorchester can pull off a win in this one.