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From Wimborne to Wembley...an FA Cup journey
 Women's Football News 13 May 2016
From Wimborne to Wembley...an FA Cup journey - 13 May 2016 - Women's Football NewsIn the women's game, the FA Cup still holds an iconic status, even if the financial rewards for success are still minimal. 
The competition can trace its roots back to the earliest days following the lifting of a 50-year English FA restriction on women playing organised football in 1971. The Mitre Trophy was the forerunner of the current completion which has had a wide variety of sponsors in the 45 years it has run. The SSE Women's FA Cup regularly has over 275 entrants and bridges the gap between the winter and summer pyramids in place since 2011. It truly remains the sport's flagship competition, even more so now the final takes place at Wembley.
My goal this season was to follow the competition from start to finish, all 12 rounds of matches. The first qualifying round on September 6th in glorious late summer would involve teams from the County Leagues, although only the top division of that tier of the pyramid are eligible. I was privileged to witness the first ever match of Dorset County League side Wimborne Town, played at the men's Cuthbury Stadium with its unique scoreboard. And very successful it was, an 8-0 win being marked out for photo opportunities post match.
In the second qualifying round, the New Forest vs Poole Town at Romsey Town FC was delayed when a tree root suddenly appeared above ground in one penalty area. The hosts, sadly soon to fold through lack of players. shipped a dozen despite a brave effort. Poole Town hat-trick heroine Sacha Paynter wanted the match ball but Regional League budgets don't cater for this sort of thing.
My own budget and advancing years restrict me to journeys in the South of England, so apologies to all those brilliant Northern clubs involved in this great competition. The mighty Blackburn Rovers were the most northerly club seen, smashing seven past West Ham at the Third Round stage. However there were plenty of other great stories attached to the journey in the early rounds. Newly christened Leyton Orient, formerly KIKK FC, offered spectators a feast of free food laid out in front of the main stand, provided by generous players and staff for their victory over Stevenage.
The random match selection from each round gave a great variety of places to visit. The London A to Z took a fair old battering during my journey round the outer suburbs, Mile End and Hornchurch in the East to North Greenford and Hampton in the West and Eltham in the South East.
It was at the Club at Well Hall, Eltham, that my first 'Cup Thriller' occurred as Gillingham just outlasted London Corinthians in a seven-goal epic. Then, on the south coast at Lancing, another wonderful seven-goal extravaganza as Brighton gave Sporting Club Albion a three goal start, hauled back the deficit, only to concede a late winner to give the Midlanders a dream tie at star laden Manchester City.
In fact, however, many of the matches were one sided, as my 'expert' selection of 'close' matches was a bit awry. I insisted that Fulham would give Premier League Lewes a close game....ten goals to nil later....
My favourite trip was a lifetime first to the marvellous Canvey Island in deepest Essex, a magically quirky corner of the country. Watching the container ships sailing past the far end of the ground and climbing the sea defences pre-match...can't beat it!
A semi final at Staines between the two top teams of the moment, Chelsea and Manchester City, would have made a wonderful final and was a great spectacle, watched by over 2,000 people. The Final between Chelsea and Arsenal promises much as well, hopefully a contest worthy of the setting and the large crowd to complete the competition's nine month journey.
However, for me the true magic of the Cup comes in the early rounds, not the showpiece. The magic that allows a newly formed club to play its first ever match in early September and able to dream of the Wembley Arch in mid-May.
'Legendary' photographer James Prickett was my travelling companion for many of these matches and he has provided the photo which accompanies this account. 
by Patrick Higgins

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