The View from the Bar 

Here we go then. From the lofty heights of the Premier League, the Football League, or even the upper echelons of the non-league pyramid this stage of the F.A. Cup may look like a mere trifle – a place in the First Round proper is still four games away, after all. But for the likes of us, down at the more homely end of the football pyramid, this is a big game, and tonight we welcome suitably high-ranking opposition in the shape of Weston Super Mare – themselves a National League club just a eighteen months ago, who reached the First Round proper in 2018 before losing out to Wrexham.

And of course, as early in the competition as this may be, we’re on a run. We’ve won two matches to be here, and 344 of the 737 original entrants are already out of the competition, so we’re not doing too bad. In fact, a total of 645 sides are involved in the qualifying stages of the competition, so Cowes are already in the top 50% of those, nationally.

The F.A. Cup may have lost a little of its sheen at the top level in recent years, but at our end of the pyramid it still gets the pulses racing and sprinkles a bit of its magic around each year. Just reaching the 1st Round proper seems an unattainable dream, but if you’re still in the competition, there’s a chance, and there’s the incentive right there: The dream is still alive…

Back a good few years – but still in living memory for plenty – Cowes twice got within ninety minutes of the First Round proper. The Cowes v Yeovil clash in 1963 is legend around these parts, where a narrow 1-0 win at Westwood for the famous cup fighters from Somerset dashed our hopes of glory. Six years previously we actually made it into the hat for the First Round, but only by virtue of the 2-2 draw here at Westwood against Trowbridge. The midweek replay in Wiltshire saw the Yachtsmen go down 1-4, denying us a coveted appearance in the competition proper. Interestingly, on both occasions since the war that we’ve been within touching distance of the First Round, on each occasion we’d have been handed a home tie against Southend United. Maybe we’ll finally get our tie against The Shrimpers this year… (Well you never know. At the time of writing, we’re still in the competition, and that’s what it’s all about…)

It’s actually ten years since we reached even this stage of the competition, but the F.A. Cup has provided some memorable encounters since we first re-entered the competition in 1998 after a twenty year hiatus. Back in 1998 we fell at the first hurdle to Dorking, but the following season saw our furthest excursion into the competition in recent times, ending in a 1-3 reverse at Graham Roberts’ Slough Town in the second qualifying round. To get there we’d already won at famous old cup side Leatherhead – a grand day out that was, although my abiding memory of it is a very angry chap in a leather jacket and smoking a big cigar, who took great exception to the fact we went up there and had the temerity to actually play quite well and thoroughly deserve our 1-0 victory. In the following round we won an incredible match 6-4 at Wessex League high-fliers Thatcham Town.

A few years later in 2002 our run was halted after a long trip to Herne Bay in Kent, but it was another great day out with a good contingent of the Yachtsmen faithful making the trip. And we really could have won that one too, eventually losing out by the odd goal in five after a tremendous cup tie, much to the relief of the rowdy home support, who stood behind the goals drinking beer and smoking pot throughout.

Recent years have provided somewhat slimmer pickings, but with two victories in the competition already this season, a little of the magic dust has definitely been sprinkled in our direction. Given the current state of the world we’re lucky to have a game on at all tonight, but it’s a shame we couldn’t welcome Weston here on a Saturday in more normal circumstances, as I’m sure there’d have been a much bigger crowd and a healthy contingent travelling down from Somerset too. As it is there’ll be at least one away supporter here tonight, so hopefully he’ll be made to feel welcome and will go home with a good impression (although disappointed at the result, maybe…) I know this since I’ve been sorting tickets for tonight for the past eight days since the draw was made. It might seem like a step up from car park duty, but actually I’m quite keen to get the flouro tabard back on and get out there, as I definitely end up seeing more of the game that way. I missed a good portion of Saturdays Vase win over Devizes, including both our goals, although I did get to see the penalties. That felt good, didn’t it? Especially after last Tuesdays spot-kick defeat to Brockenhurst. What price going to penalties again tonight?

Well, we can dream, and that’s what it’s all about. But whatever the result tonight – win, lose or draw (after 90 minutes), enjoy the game, and most of all, stay safe.

       Toby.

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