THE magic of the FA Cup – that well-trodden cliché we all know and love. But, for a club like Swindon Town, any wizardry will have to wait until January.
This evening Town will discover who they’ll face in the first round of the competition and, speaking to fans, the majority seem to fancy a day out at a non-league minnow or a crunch local derby in favour of home advantage.
I don’t see it the same way.
While trips to the likes of East Thurrock, Concord Rangers or Norton might provide a heart-warming novelty factor – a new venue to watch football, the possibility of being on telly – Swindon can ill-afford a slip-up in a competition they know can generate welcome cash if they reach round three and land a monster tie against Premier League opposition.
On first-round day – November 8 – Swindon will be the heavyweight in the red corner. Small-town sides who have already fulfilled their objectives by getting in amongst the professionals will see the Robins as a major scalp. After all, Town boast two full internationals amongst their ranks, one of the top rated goalkeepers in the Football League and a strikeforce of Jon Obika and Michael Smith which cost nigh on half a million to assemble.
Swindon are the prized coconut on the shy. Well, perhaps sixth or seventh in line behind some of the larger League One sides, but certainly among the biggest names in the draw. And they have everything to lose.
With crowds still not reaching required levels, despite the recent ticket initiative, Town’s budget cannot fulfil its self-sustaining ambitions and, sadly, there are precious few indicators to suggest the uptake is going to increase any time soon.
January could be make or break for the club if they remain in the promotion picture during a tricky November and, without the necessary income, chairman Lee Power, as he has candidly admitted, may have to sell.
Therefore, any which way Swindon can drag in revenue without inflicting on themselves a season-defining injury – like the sale of Massimo Luongo, perhaps – must be welcomed. Sure, it’s looking at football in a very dull, grey business sense but, right now, with the longer term in mind, it’s just plain old common sense.
Two home games against non-league teams ought to pave the way to the third round. Yes, that’s being presumptuous and, yes, it’s exhibiting some fairly unattractive shades of arrogance but we all know how good this Town team is when it plays to the best of its ability.
Equally, though the idea of a revenge mission against Oxford United is borne out of immense frustration at the last three results against that lot down the A420, it brings with it all kinds of uncertainties.
Again, it’s a “magic” draw, a capture-your-imagination draw but, at this stage of the competition, at this stage of the season and at this stage of the Robins’ evolution, magic and imagination are unaffordable luxuries.
And while ifs, buts and maybes will always exist in any football match – if they didn’t the spot-fixers will have won – surely the probability of Swindon progressing to round three is at its highest with home advantage and weaker opposition on their side. Of course, there’s a comeback about Oxford and the County Ground there, but I’ll leave that one to you.
This is why the club can’t afford to indulge in “magic” just yet. Get the job done and then hope for an all-expenses paid weekend away at Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield or the Etihad. Because all-expenses paid is exactly what it will be.
Reach that stage and pull out a big’un and Town will be well set financially at the start of the new year, or at least the deficit caused by relatively low attendance figures will be plugged. And then, maybe, the shot at promotion remains viable.
Or don’t. Slip out of the competition at Blyth Spartans and see if it actually makes a difference or find out that this writer has a melancholic case of the Monday blues.
The whole debate’s redundant, anyway. It’ll be Macclesfield away.