Qualifying for the 2020-21 FA Cup continues this week with 234 non-league clubs scheduled to compete in the first qualifying round.
Some 160 teams who advanced from the preliminary round will be joined by 74 clubs who start their cup campaign.
There are three more qualifying rounds after this stage.
Sport looks at some of the clubs, players and managers competing this week who hope to make it through to the first round proper on 7-8 November, when teams from League One and League Two enter.
From San Siro to St Ives
Edmund Hottor was living the dream when he was signed by AC Milan at the age of 17.
Training with the second team, the Ghanaian midfielder would often play practice games against the first team, sharing a pitch with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo.
Now aged 27, Hottor plays for Cambridgeshire part-timers St Ives Town, who start their FA Cup campaign in Suffolk against Brantham Athletic on Tuesday.
“It’s been quite a journey,” said Hottor, who spent six years on the books of AC Milan without making a senior appearance for the seven-time European champions.
“It was a fantastic experience for me. I had a chance to train with such big names and I was learning a lot growing up as a teenager at AC Milan.
“I don’t have any regrets even though I didn’t get to play in Serie A.”
Hottor was signed by AC Milan soon after playing in Serie B for Triestina. His CV also includes a short spell, in his early 20s, at Inter Milan where he left without making a senior appearance.
Having also played in Portugal and Malta, Hottor arrived in England in 2018 and turned out for Kettering Town and Banbury United before signing for St Ives,
who play in the seventh-tier Southern League Premier Division Central, in December 2019.
“I came to England with no agent and I had to start from somewhere,” he added. “I’m enjoying playing again.”
Also at St Ives Town is 38-year-old Marc Richards, the former Port Vale, Northampton and Barnsley striker.
Back in Dugout After Cancer
Mark Fell knew something was wrong when he could not remember one of his team’s wins – despite being at the game.
A few days later the 37-year-old Lancaster City boss was undergoing radiotherapy after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in November 2019.
Despite on-going treatment which involves a “small” operation in October, Fell is back in the dugout and preparing his seventh-tier side for Tuesday’s home tie with Runcorn Town.
“It was identified quite quickly and they cut it out,” said Fell, boss at Northern Premier League Premier Division Lancaster since October 2018.
“I hadn’t been well for a while, I felt ill and was passing blood.
“We played Colne in a cup tie and just before that the doctor told me I needed some tests.
“We won but I don’t remember the game. All I remember is telling my assistant Graham Lancashire ‘I’m not right’.”
Lancashire, the former Burnley, Wigan and Rochdale forward, took charge of the team while the manager underwent treatment.
Incredibly, Fell was in the dugout when Lancaster won 3-0 at Stafford Ranger on 21 December – and nearly fainted celebrating a goal.
“I was too keen to get back,” he added. “I was OK after the physio gave me some water.”
Teenager Scores Four
After receiving a text message to say he would be playing, 17-year-old Shane Temple made the most of his big moment on the FA Cup stage by scoring four goals for AFC Sudbury in the preliminary round.
The eighth-tier Suffolk club trailed Harborough Town 2-0 before Temple struck four times in the space of 22 minutes either side of half-time.
Temple is a part of the Isthmian League North Division club’s successful academy.
“It’s in our DNA to promote these younger players, Shane deserved his chance,” AFC Sudbury boss Mark Morsley said.
After the tie, Temple was presented with a bottle of wine for his man of the match performance.
“I think it was handed very quickly to his dad,” added Morsley, whose side have a trip to Lincolnshire to face Stamford on Tuesday.
‘Man Utd’s Goals Were Dodgy’
It is five years since Scott Laird threatened to cause a major FA Cup upset.
Lining up against Manchester United, he put League One Preston ahead in a fifth-round tie at Deepdale before Louis van Gaal’s side hit back to win 3-1.
Now player-assistant manager at Weston-super-Mare, Laird is hoping to inspire his team-mates to make it through the qualifying rounds.
“If there had been VAR back then I think Preston would have gone through,” said Laird, 32, about that night at Deepdale on 16 February 2015.
“All three of United goals were dodgy.”
A veteran of more than 350 English Football League appearances, Laird has been assistant to Scott Bartlett at seventh-tier Weston-super-Mare since June 2019.
“I could have stayed in League Two, I had two or three offers but they were all one-year deals,” added Laird, whose career also includes spells at Walsall, Forest Green Rovers, Scunthorpe and Torquay.
“I didn’t think it was right to keep moving my family around – we’d moved 11 times in 16 years during my career. I have a daughter now and I didn’t want to do that to her.
“My role at Weston-super-Mare allows me to carry on playing as well as coach. It’s a great opportunity to learn what I want to do in the future which is to go into management.”
Laird is the son of former Weston-super-Mare manager Craig Laird, and his brothers Jamie, Craig Jr and Callum have also appeared for the club, who play in the Southern League Premier Division South.
He also has a coaching role at a nearby school.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “I’m learning so much. It’s nice to be home – my wife and I have moved back to the area where we grew up.”
Weston-super-Mare begin their FA Cup campaign at Cowes Sports on Tuesday.
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