Hitchin keen to draw faith from history

Phil Shaw on the part-timers chasing fame in the first round of the FA Cup
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The Independent Online
Despite sprawling over six days like some timeless Test match, the melting pot that is the FA Cup's first round proper offers a reassuringly familiar blend of ingredients this weekend. They include England's top scorer, the world's oldest ground and even an overseas tie - well, you try walking to Newport, Isle of Wight.

Seven non-League clubs are certain to be involved in the second round but, as ever, attention will focus on those games where part-timers are striving to knock out Endsleigh League opposition, with Hitchin Town especially keen to draw inspiration from history as they receive Bristol Rovers at Top Field.

Currently 16th in the Icis League Premier Division, Hitchin are the only club still playing in the Cup who took part in the inaugural competition. In the first round - 124 years ago today - they drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace (not the present club), both teams going forward to the next stage due to others withdrawing. There they lost to Royal Engineers, who went on to become beaten finalists.

Last November, Hitchin updated their Cup achievements by dispatching Hereford after a replay. However, they face Rovers without their defensive linchpin, the former Luton player Tim Allpress, who flew out to join the Enterprise club of Hong Kong this week, and might be glad of a draw.

Hereford, Southern League giant-killers of a quarter-century ago, may again find the boot on the other foot. Now under the managership of Graham Turner, who suffered one of the great Cup indignities when his Wolves team were thrashed by Chorley, they play host to Stevenage Borough. The GM Vauxhall Conference club, undefeated in 12 and playing against League opposition for the first time, ought to be capable of forcing a replay.

Farnborough go to Brentford hoping that Chris Boothe, who outscores even Les Ferdinand with 19 goals this season, can do the time-honoured business of upsetting the club who rejected him after a trial. Boothe, who works for the BBC, will have the stalwart support of Trevor Senior, 34 this month but no mean marksman himself during his League career.

At the Drill Field, the 120-year-old venue which Northwich Victoria claim as the oldest on the planet, another player with something to prove awaits Scunthorpe. Steve Walters, a class-mate of Trevor Sinclair, Ian Walker and Andy Cole at the FA National School, had his career with Crewe wrecked by illness. The midfielder once coveted by Liverpool is now rediscovering his promise, and will be watched by League scouts.

Of the five former Cup holders involved, Cardiff look most at risk. The 1927 winners visit Northamptonshire and the Beazer Homes League leaders, Rushden & Diamonds, whose squad includes one Julian Capone. Brighton, agonisingly close to winning the "and Smith must score" final of 1983, must improve on the form that finds them 23rd in the Second Division to avoid embarrassment by Canvey Island's hotch-potch of veterans tomorrow.

Woking, with Clive Walker still tormenting defenders, are attempting to reach the second round for the seventh season running. They return to Barnet, where they led 3-0 a year ago before drawing 4-4 and winning the replay. For the side 22nd in the Third Division, a repeat could undermine Ray Clemence's tenure as manager.

Meanwhile, Chris Price will be appearing at the Causeway, Cinderford - shoring up the Forest of Dean side's defence against Bromsgrove Rovers - barely four years after he played for Aston Villa at San Siro, Milan against Internazionale in the Uefa Cup. Defeat will hurt just as much, and victory taste equally sweet. Such is the wonder of the FA Cup.

n Walsall played superbly to win 3-1 at Burnley last night and become the first team to move into the second round of the FA Cup. The Second Division rivals went in at half-time level at 1-1, but Walsall took command with a goal from player-coach Kevin Wilson and another from Scott Houghton after a quick free-kick.

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