FA Cup dispute erupts

Non-League notebook
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The Independent Online
Stevenage Borough, the GM Vauxhall Conference champions, and 13 fellow members of their league enter the FA Cup this weekend at the first qualifying round stage - which, according to the Conference, is a travesty.

Although the Nationwide League Third and Fourth Division clubs do not enter the Cup until the first round proper in November, over half the clubs from the Conference will have to play at least four matches to reach that stage. Only four non-League clubs are exempt from qualifying for the first round: Macclesfield and Northwich, last season's Trophy finalists, and Woking and Enfield, the two non-League clubs with the best recent record in the Cup. Twenty non-League teams are exempt until the fourth qualifying round - but that list includes such relatively lowly teams as Colwyn Bay, Ashford and Spennymoor and excludes the likes of Yeovil Town and Boston United as well as the 14 Conference clubs.

The Conference wants the exemption rules altered. Bill King, its chairman, said this week: "We have reached the stage where the FA Cup has simply lost touch with the structure of senior football. Supporters keep asking us why the likes of Stevenage are competing at such an early stage of the competition. There is no logic to the existing exemption rules."

King points out that it is impossible to schedule midweek league fixtures because of cup replays, and that league standings become unbalanced because teams in the Cup from the early stages have played several games less than their exempt rivals by the end of October. Also, cup commitments can mean clubs going several weeks without a home game.

However, the FA is happy with the exemption rules as they stand. Its spokesman, Steve Double, points out that exemptions are based on past performances in the Cup. "Having little clubs playing bigger teams is part of the romance and tradition of the Cup even at this early stage," he said yesterday.

Stevenage are away to Arlesey tomorrow at Hitchin Town's ground, while Southport visit Rossendale United and Kettering travel to Rocester in two other little-and-large ties.

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