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Land of hope and glory

ESPN staff
November 11, 2011
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This weekend sees the first round of this year's FA Cup get underway as sides from League One and League Two join those valiant survivors from the non-league pyramid in getting an opportunity to realise big dreams in the competition.

For most teams those dreams will not be of anything as outlandish as making the final at Wembley in May, but they may just include tentative hopes of reaching the third round - and earning a glamorous tie with one of the Premier League big boys.

For a lot of teams - half, to be exact - that dream will die at the first hurdle. But, as the 140-year history of the competition shows us, almost anything is possible. In acknowledgement of that fact, ESPN takes a look at some of the smallest teams ever to make an impact on the competition...

Chasetown (2007-08)
The lowest ranked team ever to reach the FA Cup third round, Chasetown are surely the story to which every non-league club now aspire. Their moment in the limelight - their 90 minutes of fame, if you will - came at the start of 2008, as the unheralded side from the British Gas Business Southern League Midland Division (the eighth tier of the league system) took on Championship side Cardiff, who would go on to reach the final.

Chasetown became the lowest ranked side ever to reach the third round of the FA Cup © Getty Images

The reward came after equally impressive wins over Team Bath and Port Vale to even reach the third round, where they went ahead against the Bluebirds in what was their tenth game of the run thanks to a fortuitous own goal. A 17-year-old Aaron Ramsey soon turned the game around, but by then the club comprised of customs officers, decorators and postmen had already achieved more than they ever could have expected.

Chasetown manager, Charlie Blakemore, was delighted at his team - even as he prepared to return to his day job as a supply manager for British Aerospace.

"I am the proudest man in the world at what they have achieved," Blakemore said. "It's been an absolute dream, the whole journey, and I was really in dreamland when we scored. There are 135 league places between us and Cardiff and it was like fantasy football."

Team Bath (2002-03)
The first university side to reach the first round of the competition since 1880, the work-shy, tax-dodging, soap-dodging, collection of players that made up the Bath squad put those lazy stereotypes to shame with a memorable run that brought them national exposure.

Playing each week in the Screwfix Direct Western League Premier, the students - most of whom were on a two-year sports science course, with a couple having previously played professionally - disposed of giants including Barnstaple and Bemerton Heath to reach the first round, where they were drawn against Mansfield Town.

Victory would not be forthcoming, as they lost 4-2 in front of 5,469 vocal supporters, but by then their place in history had already been assured.

Alvechurch (1971-72)
The current Midland Football Alliance side didn't escape the first round of the FA Cup in 1971, but that was hardly surprising considering the torturous route they took to get there. Drawn against Oxford City in the final qualifying round, the Worcestershire club needed six matches (five replays) and over 11 hours of football to defeat their rivals - finally edging a 1-0 win after draws of descending quality (2-2, 1-1, 1-1, 0-0 and 0-0).

Two years later they beat King's Lynn to reach the third round, where they played Bradford City in the first game of the competition ever to take place on a Sunday, but it was their marathon tie that will be remembered - and never beaten, after penalty shootouts were introduced to decide drawn replays for the 1991-92 season.

Bideford (1973-74)
Alvechurch can be proud of their stamina, but just two years later Bideford would create an endurance record of their own as they went on the longest cup run of any side in FA Cup history. They played an impressive 13 games in the 1975-76 competition ... enough for them to get knocked out in the very first round.

They required five games to beat Falmouth Town in one preliminary round and another four to bypass Trowbridge in the next, before the current Evo-Stick South & West club succumbed to Bristol Rovers at the start of the competition proper, 2-0. Presumably then they had a good lie down.

Aylesbury United (1951-52)
Known affectionately as The Ducks, Aylesbury became the first team from the Delphian League (no, us neither) to make the first round of the FA Cup after a stunning run in the competition in 1951. Third Division Watford awaited and then successfully negotiated a potential banana skin, but it was nevertheless a proud moment for the club founded in 1897.

Turning semi-professional in 1976 the club have continued to enjoy a good rapport with the FA Cup, making the first round in seven straight years between 1985 and 1992 before enjoying their highest moment - making the third round where they lost to Premier League side QPR in 1995. In the process the players became cult figures for their 'duck walk' celebration, so there's that as well.

Aylesbury were also the first (and, so far, only) non-league side to face England ... but that is perhaps another story for another time.

Tony Rains and Matt Hanlan celebrate their goals © PA Photos

Sutton United (1988-89)
The last non-league side to beat Premier League opposition, Sutton United etched their name into the record books with a memorable triumph over Coventry City - the winners of the competition just 18 months earlier - at the start of 1989.

The Us beat Dagenham and Aylesbury to set up an improbable meeting with the Sky Blues, and then won that one as well thanks to goals from Tony Rains and Matt Hanlan doing the damage.

It would be remiss of us to compile such a list without mentioning the club that has knocked out more league sides than any other while remaining non-league for its entire history. Altrincham's 16-strong list of scalps include Blackpool, Birmingham, Sheffield United and Wigan - while they impressively reached the third round in four consecutive seasons between 1979 and 1982.

They most recently reached the first round in 2008, where they lost to Luton Town on penalties after both the tie and a subsequent replay went goalless.

Histon (2008-09)
The first non-league club to beat the famous Leeds United, albeit while they were free-falling down the leagues, the Cambridgeshire outfit reached the third round of the competition in 2008 after beating Swindon Town in the first round and then the Elland Road outfit at home in the second. Alas, Swansea City ended the Conference National side's memorable run.

Curzon Ashton (2008-09)
Recent proof, if any were needed, that memorable cup runs are not a dying art even for the smallest of clubs - Curzon Ashton reached the second round of the competition just three years ago, despite being in the eighth tier of English football's pyramid.

But it was the manner they got there rather than the feat itself that was impressive, the minnows from Ashton-under-Lyne beating Exeter City - a full four leagues above them - 3-2 in front of 1,259 home fans on the way to the second round, where they were finally downed by Kidderminster Harriers.

Redbridge (2011-12)
One from this year - Redbridge, managed by London cabbie Terry Spillane, are the lowest-ranked side that remain in the competition. A trip to Oxford City is the reward for the Ryman Division One North club, after they beat the fan-owned Ebbsfleet in the final qualifying round to get to this stage.

Can the club formerly known as Ford United find yet another gear to become the latest minnow to progress through the rounds?

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