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Minnows Making Moves: A Brief History Of Non-League Clubs To Reach The FA Cup Fifth Round

By knocking off Bournemouth, Boreham Wood became just the tenth non-league side in post-war England to reach the last 16 of the FA Cup.

After six rounds of qualifying and three rounds of the competition proper, just two non-league sides remained among the 32 clubs still alive in the FA Cup Fourth Round.

After Kidderminster Harriers carried a lead into second-half injury time but couldn't earn the result against West Ham, Boreham Wood was left as the only remaining non-league side in the competition.

With a difficult trip to Bournemouth in store, it appeared to be the demise for fans of the underdog. Then, the inexplicable happened.

Bournemouth couldn't seem to penetrate the Boreham Wood backline, and in the 38th minute, a side-footed shot from 37-year-old Boreham Wood captain Mark Ricketts slowly rolled toward the goal, avoiding the Bournemouth bodies and bouncing in off the inside of the post.

1-0 Boreham Wood.

The shot totals were even at halftime at two apiece, but in the second half, the Cherries laid siege to the Wood goal. The visitors completed just 20 passes in the second period while Bournemouth attempted 17 shots, yet every attack from the Cherries failed to bear fruit.

After 90 minutes plus five minutes of extra time, Taye Ashby-Hammond's goal was untouched and Boreham Wood had secured a place in the FA Cup Fifth Round.

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It was just the tenth time in modern history that a non-league side had reached the last 16 of England's most historic competition and the first since 2017. Here are the stories behind those 10 clubs.

Non-League Clubs to Reach the FA Cup Fifth Round (since 1945)


1947-48) Colchester United (Seventh Tier)

Notable Wins: vs. Huddersfield Town (First Division), vs. Bradford Park Avenue (Second Division)

Colchester is one of four non-league sides on this list to take down a top-tier foe, which the U's achieved when they knocked off Huddersfield Town in the third round. After sneaking past Bradford Park Avenue in the fourth round, the club hoped for another upset against a First Division side in the last 32 but instead fell 5-0 to Blackpool.

These showings were crucial though, as they helped Colchester get elected to the Football League in 1950 (things were different back then and promotion wasn't everything).

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1948-49) Yeovil Town (Seventh Tier)

Notable Wins: vs. Bury (Second Division), vs. Sunderland (First Division)

Sure, Yeovil bowed out of the cup in 1949 after an 8-0 defeat to Manchester United in the fifth round, but let's remember the Glovers for their fourth-round success against Sunderland, as a record crowd saw the non-league side defeat the first-tier club.

A long-time non-league side, Yeovil experienced an unexpected renaissance in recent years, reaching as high as the EFL Championship in 2013-14 before being relegated back to National League ignominy at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

1977-78) Blyth Spartans (Ninth Tier*)

Notable Wins: vs. Chesterfield (Third Division), at Stoke (Second Division)

I'm not sure I can fully substantiate this, but Blyth Spartans might be the only team in FA Cup history to start in the first qualifying round and reach the fifth round. It took five matches just for the Spartans to reach the first round and their fourth-round tie against Stoke was twice postponed because of inclement weather.

The club was the dominant member of the Northern League beginning in 1964, winning 10 titles and finishing runners-up five times in 29 years — achieving such a level of success because the division was not part of the English football pyramid until 1991. The Northern League is now the ninth tier of English football.

Interesting but only somewhat related: Blyth has been part of three FA Cup ties that required three replays to determine a winner, which also has to be a record.

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1984-85) Telford United (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: vs. Lincoln City (Third Division), at Preston North End (Third Division), vs. Bradford City (Third Division)

It took a few replays and a couple of favorable draws against third and fourth-tier sides, but the Bucks reached the FA Cup Fifth Round in 1984-85 after having reached the fourth round the previous year. The club was a founding member of the Alliance Premier League in 1872 but has never reached the promise land of the Football League.

1993-94) Kidderminster Harriers (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: at Birmingham (EFL First Division (second tier at the time))

28 years after reaching the last 16 as a non-league side, Kidderminster nearly repeated the feat this year, holding a one-goal lead before two stoppage-time goals from West Ham — one in normal time and one in extra time — denying Harriers a famous victory.

The 1993-94 season is a prominent year in Kidderminster history not only because of the club's FA Cup performance but also because of the controversy that came at the end of it. The club won the Football Conference but was denied promotion because of the deteriorating state of their Aggborough Stadium — the ground the club had called home since its founding in 1886. 

This year's FA Cup showing cements the club as one of England's most prominent non-league clubs.

2010-11) Crawley Town (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: at Swindon Town (League One), vs. Derby County (EFL Championship)

Led by 40 goals from striker Matt Tubbs, Crawley Town experienced one of the most successful seasons in club history in 2010-11. The club went 30 matches unbeaten en route to the Conference Premier title while also advancing to the FA Cup fifth round for the first time.

The Red Devils went toe-to-toe with Premier League namesake (and eventual EPL champions) Manchester United and nearly earned a draw, but Richard Brodie's stoppage-time header hit the crossbar and bounced away, leaving the visitors with only a moral victory.

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2012-13) Luton Town (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (EFL Championship), at Norwich (Premier League)

Nine years ago, Luton Town defeated Premier League side Norwich to reach the last 16 of the FA Cup — becoming the first non-league side to defeat top-flight opposition since 1989. This season, the Hatters have once again advanced to the fifth round, albeit now as an EFL Championship club. 

That 2012-13 squad featured future striker Andre Gray, who would eventually be sold from Burnley to Watford for $23 million in 2017.

2016-17) Lincoln City (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: vs. Ipswich Town (EFL Championship), vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (EFL Championship), at Burnley (Premier League)

Not only does Lincoln City's 2017 win over Premier League Burnley rank among one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history, but it is also one of the greatest cupsets in all of European football. 

A fascinating tie all around, both sides played an archaic style of football centered around direct and physical play. Add in a little mud and some dangerously over-crowded terraces and this easily could have been a cup tie from the 1970s.

Lincoln City boasted 6-4, 234-pound striker Matt Rhead, who, as I previously wrote: "went to war with the Burnley backline, committing five fouls and winning 17 aerial duels."

The Imps earned the win thanks to an 88th-minute header from defender Sean Raggett that was confirmed via goalline technology, as Lincoln became the first non-league side in more than a century to reach the quarterfinals of England's historic competition (where they fell to eventual champions Arsenal).

2016-17) Sutton United (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: at Wimbledon (League One), vs. Leeds United (EFL Championship)

2016-17 was a banner year for non-league sides in the cup, as two National League clubs reached the last 16 for the first time in the history of the competition. Sutton's historic run was most well-known for the antics of the "Roly Poly Goalie" — backup goalkeeper Wayne Shaw.

One of the great characters of English football, the 45-year-old was in the twilight of his career when the National League side hosted Premier League giants Arsenal in Feb. 2017, but that didn't stop him from stealing the spotlight. 

The long-time non-league keeper was spotted grabbing a beer at halftime and the cameras captured him eating a meat pie on the sidelines late in his side's 2-0 defeat.

The incident prompted a Football Association investigation regarding betting breaches (bookies gave 8-1 odds of Shaw eating a pie during the match), and Shaw resigned from the club and eventually received a fine and suspension. 

2021-22) Boreham Wood (Fifth Tier)

Notable Wins: vs. Wimbledon (League One), at Bournemouth (EFL Championship)

A solid non-league side, Boreham Wood has been on the precipice of FA Cup success in recent years, reaching the third round in 20-21 and making it to the first round proper seven times in the last 10 seasons.

This year has been nothing short of special. Draws against non-league sides paved an easy path to an FA Cup Third Round matchup against League One side Wimbledon, but the Wood responded with a 2-0 victory against the Dons.

Then came Bournemouth — a promotion favorite in the EFL Championship. The Cherries held Boreham Wood to 17 percent possession and just one shot on target, usually a recipe for victory. That one shot from Boreham's 37-year-old captain Mark Ricketts found the back of the net via the post — something none of Bournemouth's 18 shots managed to do. 

All of the stats favored the Championship side, but after 90 minutes the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of the non-league visitors, who earned a fifth-round match against Everton and a shoutout from the band Wheatus.

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