Give a toast to the Glassboys

I know who I'll be rooting for when the English FA Cup moves into the third round on the first weekend of the New Year. Stourbridge Football Club, the pride of the Evo-Stik League, representing the seventh-tier of English soccer, is the lowest-ranked team left in the FA Cup and has a decent shot of advancing in its first trip to the Big Dance in 141 years.

For most fans, their attention turns to the English FA Cup with the third round in January. But to call it the "third round" is a misnomer. By the time the 44 Premier League and EFL Championship clubs enter in the third round, eight rounds will have already been played.

A total of 736 clubs, representing 10 levels of English soccer, were entered in the 2016-17 FA Cup, which began in August with the extra preliminary round. It took an additional preliminary round and four qualifying rounds to determine the 32 non-league teams that joined 48 teams from League One and League Two in the first round proper in November.

Of the 20 survivors from second round, five are non-league teams: four from the fifth-level National League, plus Stourbridge Football Club from the Evo-Stik League. Such is the massive structure of non-league soccer in England that the Evo-Stik League (better known as the Northern Premier League) encompasses 68 teams playing in three tiers. To get an idea of what Stourbridge's U.S. equivalent is, think of the best amateur league in your area, drop down to the third division and pick a team.

Stourbridge, a town of 55,000 located in the West Midlands, near Birmingham, qualified for the third round for the first time with a 1-0 victory over League One Northampton Town. But it wasn't like the Glassboys haven't tried before. They were playing in the second round of the FA Cup for the fourth time in the last seven years. And they are no Johnny-come-latelies. Stourbridge FC was founded in 1876.

That's right, Stourbridge has been around 141 years and will get its shot at glory when it faces Wycombe Wanderers in the third round. A victory would not be out of the realm of possibility. Wycombe Wanderers plays in League Two, the same as did Plymouth Argyle when Stourbridge beat it in a first-round replay in 2011, and one level below Northampton Town.

"We certainly didn't get lucky," Gary Hackett, who has been the Stourbridge manager for 11 years, said after the win over Northampton. "We were the better team. This is what the FA Cup is about, it's one of those special nights and it's a great occasion for everybody connected with the football club.”
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