The revelation that the BBC is likely to drop its Saturday-night coverage of the Football League in order to preserve its dwindling sports budget for Match of the Day's pundits was another blow for players in the vibrant, but increasingly sidelined world beyond the Premier League.
Today, however, offers a chance for redress.
The third round of the FA Cup remains one of the most evocative days in the calendar despite the gradual dulling of the competition's lustre. Besides the possibility of a non-League giant-killing (see right) it provides the best opportunity for the journeymen of the lower League to put one over their more exalted brethren. Top-flight clubs are arguably stronger than ever, but the growing tendency for Premier League managers to rest players balances out that advantage so it is very likely that, somewhere today, there will be a shock. Here are some of the players who hope to provide it:
Charlton Athletic (at Fulham)
For too long the nimble striker was known for his famous relations and his brushes with the law, now Bradley Wright-Phillips is making a name for himself in his own right. The son of Ian Wright, and half-brother of Shaun, Wright-Phillips began at Manchester City but, after scoring twice in 40 matches, moved to Southampton for £500,000. There, in 2008, he was arrested and charged with burglary after an alleged theft at a nightclub. Team-mate Nathan Dyer (now Swansea) pleaded guilty but Wright-Phillips went to trial, where the case was dismissed. He was questioned again a year later on suspicion of assault, but no charges were pressed.
Wright-Phillips subsequently moved on, to Plymouth, and the change of scene appeared to do the trick as he scored regularly despite the Devon club's financial problems. This earned him a move to Charlton a year ago and it is his goals – 14 to date – which have carried the London club to the summit of League One.
Upset potential: With Fulham likely to rotate their squad, and historically vulnerable to defeat at this stage, Wright-Phillips could be making more of the right headlines today.
Macclesfield Town (home to Bolton W)
The modern game is a global one and few players typify that more than the Macclesfield goalkeeper. Jose Veiga was born in Lisbon and played international football for the Cape Verde Islands while winning promotions in Portugal, where he played alongside Deco, and Spain. Somehow, from there, he found himself, at 30, in the English non-League system having had unsuccessful trials at Bury and Walsall. His professional career must have seemed over but he went to Tamworth and enjoyed a brush with fame when the Lambs played in the FA Cup's third round against Norwich City in 2007 (a 4-1 defeat). Two years later he arrived at Moss Rose and, at 35, is now a fixture at the League Two club.
Upset potential: Bolton are struggling in the Premier League but Macclesfield are on an average run in League Two themselves. If the Silkmen are to provide a shock Veiga will have to have a good day.
Gillingham (home to Stoke City)
In May Danny Kedwell had AFC Wimbledon fans in rapture as the striker scored the penalty that took the Phoenix club into the Football League. With 58 goals in 117 league games, his status as cult hero was assured. Then he left, for League Two rivals Gillingham. To outsiders it was a perplexing move but Kedwell was going home. Gillingham-born, he spent his formative football years playing for a variety of Kent clubs without ever persuading the county's only senior side to give him a game.
Kedwell struggled to start with at Priestfield, scoring only from the spot, but has now become an integral part of the club's push towards the automatic promotion places.
Upset potential: The Gills' chances of a shock today must be considered slight. Stoke are not the sort of team to be intimidated by a lower League club and the animus between Tony Pulis, a former Gillingham manager, and the Gills' chairman Paul Scally suggests City will put out a strong, highly motivated team.
MK Dons (home to QPR)
Charlie MacDonald played his first FA Cup match as an 18-year-old, and scored the only goal as Charlton beat Queen's Park Rangers in the third round. A dozen years later he finds himself playing the same opposition, at the same stage, but it has been a very roundabout journey to reach the same place.
MacDonald never scored again for Charlton, and after a series of loans drifted into non-League, initially with Margate. While he was a regular scorer at that level, with a variety of clubs, it was not until he was 26 that he earned a return to the Football League with Southend United. Brentford was his next port of call before, this season, MK Dons manager Karl Robinson decided the diminutive (5ft 7in) but tricky front-man was the player to replace Sam Baldock after the latter's sale to West Ham United. With seven goals in 14 matches it looks as if Robinson was right.
Upset potential: With MK Dons in good form, and QPR struggling both for goals and in central defence, this looks the most likely upset. Much will depend on what sort of team Neil Warnock is able to field, and what their attitude is.
Bristol Rovers (home to Aston Villa)
By day he is a barnstorming striker, by night he is a royal prince. Not quite, but Matt Harrold does have an alter-ego. The ginger-haired forward was once cast as the younger prince in a TV film about the royals and is known in the lower Leagues as "Prince Harry".
Like so many players at this level Harrold, who went to school with GB 400m runner Christine Ohuruogu, had to make his way in non-League after being released by his first professional club – in his case Southend. He returned to Roots Hall at 22, after spells at Brentford, who signed him from Harlow Town, and Yeovil. But after three goals in 53 games he left Southend again, for Wycombe Wanderers, then Shrewsbury, before being part of Paul Buckle's spending spree this summer. However, despite Harrold's respectable nine-goal return, Rovers have hugely under-performed this season in League Two and Buckle paid the price this week. They thus face their Premier League visitors under caretaker manager Shaun North.
Upset potential: In the circumstances a giant-killing would be a shock, despite Villa's inconsistency, but the FA Cup has brought Rovers relief from their league travails this season and in Harrold and Scott McGleish they have goal potential.
Cheltenham Town (away to Tottenham)
Luke Garbutt is only 18 but he has already been the subject of one of the most controversial transfers of recent times. Garbutt spent eight years at Leeds United's academy but moved to Everton to sign his first professional contract when he was 16. The clubs could not agree a fee for the junior England defender and it went to a tribunal. That ordered the Premier League club to pay £600,000 down, rising to a possible £1.5m. Neither club was happy and the fee was a significant factor in the Premier League pushing through the much-resented compensation agreement incorporated in the new Elite Player Performance Plan.
Against this backdrop Garbutt has had to get on with developing his game. He is currently doing it at Whaddon Road on loan to a Cheltenham side pushing for promotion from League Two.
Upset potential: The Robins are in form, but Spurs have an affinity with the FA Cup and a deep enough squad to allow Harry Redknapp to rest half his team and still win with ease.
Raffaele de Vita
Swindon Town (home to Wigan Athletic)
Who else could lead Paolo Di Canio's assault on the FA Cup but an Italian striker? However, though Rome-born like his manager, Raffaele de Vita has played all his senior football in Britain, beginning with Blackburn Rovers, whom he joined at 17. He failed to make an appearance there and went to Scottish club Livingston before being signed by Di Canio this summer. The 24-year-old has forced himself into the team in recent months and, with Alan Connell, is the most likely source of goals against Wigan today.
Upset potential: Given the overwhelming need to avoid relegation, Wigan might not mind going out. Roberto Martinez's team selection will provide a clue, as Swindon may well beat a weakened Wigan.
Surprises: How the mighty fell
The last 12 top-flight sides knocked out by League One and Two clubs:
Sunderland 1-2 Notts County (L1)
Southampton (L1) 2-0 Blackpool
Stevenage (L2) 3-1 Newcastle United
Wigan 0-2 Notts County (L2) (replay)
Man United 0-1 Leeds United (L1)
Hartlepool United (L1) 2-0 Stoke
Everton 0-1 Oldham Athletic (L1)
Huddersfield (L1) 2-1 Birmingham
Bristol Rovers (L1) 0-0 Fulham
(replay; Rovers won 5-3 on pens)
Nottingham Forest (L1) 2-0 Charlton Athletic
Brentford (L1) 2-1 Sunderland
Fulham 1-2 Leyton Orient (L2)
Research by Tom Metcalf
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