Where to begin? Even before the first ball had been kicked in anger on Saturday November 17 the drama had begun. Aldershot's manager, and club legend Len Walker, was sacked on the Friday before Aldershot's first round match against Newport County, for refusing to work with the new general manager, Ron 'Chopper' Harris.
It didn't seem to do the fourth division club any harm however, as after a 1-1 draw at third division Newport County, the Shots hammered the Welsh side 4-0 to move into the next round. The Harris experiment would fail to pay dividends though; by June 1985 Walker had returned, eventually leading the club up into the third division in 1987. He would remain loyal to the club, still in their employment as a general manager until Aldershot went out of business in 1992.
Lou Macari was a man who knew a thing or two about the FA Cup. Three times a finalist as a player, the Swindon manager was, unfortunately for him, very prophetic when he summed up his feelings on the first round draw: "At least six non-league teams are capable of causing a major upset. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that Dagenham aren't one of them."
Dagenham (without the help of Redbridge Forest back then), looked to have blown their best chance of success over their fourth division opponents, when they drew 0-0 at home. Undeterred though, the Alliance Premier League team (now the Blue Square Bet Conference Premier), pulled off one of Macari's predicted upsets, winning 2-1 at the County Ground, electrician Les Whitton scoring the extra-time winner (cue the inevitable lines in the tabloids relating to Whitton sparking Dagenham). It wasn't the first shock of the first round.
Four other Alliance Premier League teams triumphed over league opposition: Altrincham beat Blackpool 1-0, some feat as come the end of the season Blackpool would gain promotion to the third division; Northwich Victoria beat Crewe 3-1 in a Cheshire derby; Enfield beat Exeter 3-0 after a 2-2 draw in Devon - their winning goals coming via a butcher and a school caretaker; and Telford knocked out Lincoln City 2-1 after a replay. We would get used to the exploits of Telford in the months to come, as they entertained the football romantics amongst us by reaching the fifth round, before bravely bowing out to Everton.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the round came when Swansea were knocked out by Isthmian League side Bognor Regis. Swansea, who just one year previously had been a top flight side, struggled to hold their non-league opponents 1-1 at Vetch Field. On the way back from Wales, Bognor club secretary Norman Nash was taken ill, and the team coach was given a police escort to the Princess Margaret hospital in Swindon.
Luckily Nash was released the day after, further boosted when Bognor easily progressed to the next round with a comfortable 3-1 victory in the replay. This was a victory bathed in the traditions of the FA Cup, as the Daily Mirror's Tony Stenson reported that "A team of builders, surveyors, salesmen and double glazers lifted the roof up of this jam packed Sussex ground...", with the Daily Express' Jim Hill informing us that Bognor's players were "£15 a week part-timers". Marvellous stuff, unless you were a Swans fan of course.
Another four non-league clubs did take their league opponents to replays, though all of them suffered the same fate: ten man Northampton scraped through 1-0 against VS Rugby, only after a last gasp Ray Train equaliser in the first match; Bournemouth, who had beaten holders Manchester United in the third round in January 1984, were almost embarrassed themselves, narrowly seeing off Kettering 3-2, coming back from 2-0 down; Scunthorpe edged out Nuneaton Borough 2-1 after extra time; Bangor were not so lucky, thrashed 7-0 by Tranmere after a 1-1 draw, Colin Clarke claiming a hat-trick. It wouldn't be the biggest shellacking of the first round though.
Burnley handed out a 9-0 stuffing to North-West Counties league side Penrith, a brief respite in a shocking season which would see the famous old club relegated to the fourth division. Tow Law Town, from County Durham, fared slightly better, only losing 7-2 to Bradford. Other non-league teams were knocked out by league opposition, although none of them were disgraced in the process.
Torquay beat giant killing experts Yeovil 2-0; Orient won 2-0 at Buckingham Town, the non-league side unfortunately stripped of the services of England test cricketer Wayne Larkins; Newcastle Blue Star took 1000 fans to York's Bootham Crescent, and lost 2-0 (only one goal worse than Arsenal in the fourth round); Bristol City squeaked past Fisher Athletic 1-0, requiring a police escort to get in and out of the London Docklands, requested after a torrid experience at Millwall the month before. Millwall for their part travelled to Weymouth, with only 300 supporters, refusing to sell tickets at the Den in an attempt to prevent the less desirable element of their support making the trip to Dorset. Chairman Alan Thorne also took a stand by agreeing to miss the game, which Millwall easily won 3-0.
Even back in 1984 Barry Fry managed to get into the papers, though his profile wasn't exactly high as manager of Gola League side Barnet. His team were loaned a set of shorts from Tommy Docherty's Wolves due to a kit clash with 1984 semi-finalists Plymouth, not that it did them any good, as they lost 3-0.
It was a similar story for other non-league teams: Windsor & Eton lost 2-1 to Gillingham, as did Macclesfield to Port Vale, and King's Lynn to Bristol Rovers; Brentford easily dispatched of Bishop's Stortford 4-0; Hereford, who would later take Arsenal to a replay in the third round, defeated Farnborough Town 3-0; Halifax beat Goole Town 2-0; and Whitby Town lost 3-1 to Chesterfield, who would go on to win division four.
Reading prepared for their trip to Barry Town by visiting a coal mine in Wales. Manager Ian Branfoot wanted his players to visit the "Big Pit" in Blaeavon, so that they could appreciate how fortunate they were: "When you get into the lift-cage, you suddenly realise how hard miners have to graft. You feel privileged to be a pro-footballer."
The Welsh league champions gave Reading a scare, before losing 2-1 in the last minute. Maybe Branfoot's pre-match preparation had done the trick? Within the next year, miners would hog the front pages and dominate the news headlines, but for now this was a heart warming tale that the FA Cup often seemed to throw up during my childhood.
Derby's FA Cup woes continued. The previous year they had been dumped out by third division Plymouth, this season they went one better (or should that be worse?) in losing 2-1 to fourth division Hartlepool, the winner being scored by Kevin Dixon, who only three hours prior to the match had attended his grandmother's funeral.
Another fallen team of the past - Preston North End - crept past Bury, in a seven goal thriller. Preston may have won that particularly close battle, but Bury would eventually win this Lancashire war, gaining promotion to the third division come the end of the season, as Preston went the opposite way.
Another team also doomed for relegation to the league basement would not be so lucky however. Cambridge United lost 2-0 to their local rivals Peterborough, although this was not probably as surprising as it sounds. Cambridge had been relegated the previous season too, setting an unwanted record of 31 games without a league win, and then promptly gained another dubious accolade in 1984/85 by losing 33 games in a league season. The very definition of freefall.
Three non-league teams made it into the hat (or velvet bag) for the second round draw, at the expense of fellow part-timers. Dartford beat the Metropolitan Police 3-0, Burton defeated Staines 2-0, and Frickley saw off Stalybridge Celtic 2-1. Of the three, only Burton would make it through to the third round, defeating Harris' Aldershot in the second round, before bowing out 1-0 to Leicester in a match played behind closed doors after Burton's keeper had been struck by a bottle in the original match (which Leicester had won 6-1). In a season that would end in crowd violence at Heysel, it was clear from this incident that hooliganism was still a major problem in the English game.
Elsewhere it was generally a story of expect the expected. Third division clubs Doncaster, Wigan, and Walsall defeated fourth division Rochdale, Wrexham, and Stockport respectively. Two promoted sides - third division Hull and fourth division Darlington - beat teams from their own division in Bolton and Chester. Colchester won the Essex derby, beating Southend 3-2 after a replay, Perry Groves hitting the winner in extra-time. However, fourth division Mansfield did buck the trend, knocking out third division Rotherham 2-1.
It is interesting to note just how many column inches were given over to the FA Cup first round weekend back in 1984. Both the Daily Mirror and Express covered a lot of the games in FA Cup special sections, and these articles were not small or hidden away. I may well be wrong here, but pick up a paper this Saturday and I'd be surprised if a lot of media attention was focussed upon the first round proper of the famous old competition.
Alas this is a sign of the times, as the FA Cup fails to compete with the bigger fish in the domestic and European prize pool. But for supporters of a certain age, the FA Cup will always retain a special place in our hearts, and I for one am looking forward to the first round action this weekend. So good luck to the likes of Boreham Wood, Hendon and Yate, as they look to write another chapter in the history of this great competition, and add their names beside the heroes of Bognor, Dagenham and Altrincham in 1984.