FA Cup Means More Than Pride for Non-Leaguers

By J.J. Zucal
Hastings’ players celebrate a goal in a victory over Wingate and Finchley. Photo by Terry S. Blackman

For most clubs in the English FA, the FA Cup serves as a source of pride. A run of several victories become a highlight of its season. For seven clubs below the Football League, however, matches this week carry more importance: big pay days.

Three replays and a rescheduled match are set for this week, and three or four non-league sides could advance into the third round proper. It is where the Premier League and Championship clubs enter the competition. With their inclusion, the potential payoffs increase massively.

Non-league clubs, those below League Two, often operate on low budgets. Opportunities for television appearances are slim to none; attendances often stay within three digits. For them, a long run in the FA Cup provides a major boost to their coffers — enough to pay bills or increase player budgets.

When Harrogate Town and Hastings United take the field Thursday night, a sellout crowd of only about 4,000 will fill The Pilot Field at Hastings. Each club’s 45-percent share of the gate will be minimal (the FA takes 10 percent), but ESPN’s cameras will be there. The nearly $55,000 each club will receive (one British pound traded at $1.60 as of Friday) likely will be more than double the gate share. The winner will get another $43,200.

Both clubs are the two lowest sides remaining in the FA Cup. Harrogate, from the sixth-division Conference National, has won about $67,000 in four matches. Hastings, from the seventh-level Ryman Premier, began one step before, in the first qualifying round, and has totaled $72,800. For these clubs, a victory, and a third-round match at Middlesborough, could set them nicely and possibly provide a financial base for next season.

For two sides from the fifth-level Conference Premier, the stakes are higher. ESPN also will television the FA Cup replay when Lincoln City visits Mansfield Town. Besides the second-round prize and television money, the winner gets a lucrative bonus — a home match with Liverpool, also on ESPN, which would mean another $217,000.

Hereford United, which has struggled financially since its relegation from League Two, has a Tuesday replay with Cheltenham of League Two. The winner gets to host Everton in another televised match, which would be a major windfall for Hereford should it win Tuesday.

Two more Conference Premier sides, Barrow AFC and the other League Two club that relegated, Macclesfield, will meet in a rescheduled match Tuesday for the right to host Cardiff City.

When a low-level side draws a home match with a Premier or Championship side, an interesting sidebar gets thrown in. While victory would be blessed, and players forever remembered in club lore, a draw may be the best result for the balance sheet. The gate share from a replay at Anfield, Goodison Park or the Cardiff City Stadium would far exceed what the Conference sides will receive at home.

This is today’s world of non-league football. Few clubs earn a profit even after ticket sales, home concessions, sponsorships and donations from supporters. For them, a deep run in the FA Cup could help in a promotion run or prevent relegation. For some of them, it could provide the necessary revenue to remain in business.





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