The seven biggest FA Cup first round upsets as Charlton Athletic prepare for Cray Valley Paper Mills test

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The first round proper of the FA Cup gets underway this weekend, with plenty of potential upsets on the cards.

The FA Cup returns this weekend with the first round proper - a time for thrilling and giant-killing throughout the land. As clubs from the lower reaches of the Football League stride into the fray, several of their non-league counterparts will have one eye firmly fixed on carving their names into the annals of the world’s most famous, and historic, cup competition.

Take, for instance, minnows Cray Valley Paper Mills, a club with a name like an Animal Crossing hamlet who reside in the Isthmian League South East Division, and who will play their first ever competitive fixture against a professional side on Sunday evening when they travel to the capital to face former Premier League outfit Charlton Athletic. Or Whitby Town, doing it for the goths by bidding to reach the second round for the first time since 1985 when they come up against Bristol Rovers in a tricky clash on Saturday.

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And lord knows that there are precedents for upsets such as these. With that in mind, we’ve taken a look back at some of the most shocking first round results in recent memory in the hope that it can perhaps inspire just a little bit of unlikely optimism...

A fan holds up a homemade FA Cup trophy. The first round proper of the competition gets underway this weekend, with plenty of potential for upsetsA fan holds up a homemade FA Cup trophy. The first round proper of the competition gets underway this weekend, with plenty of potential for upsets
A fan holds up a homemade FA Cup trophy. The first round proper of the competition gets underway this weekend, with plenty of potential for upsets | Getty Images

Colchester United 1-1 Marine (Marine won 5-3 on penalties)

Back in 2020, eighth-tier Marine put in a stunning effort to oust League Two Colchester United, made all the more dramatic by the added tension of a penalty shoot-out. With the scores at 1-1 after extra time, both sides were subjected to the lottery of spot-kicks, with the Merseyside minnows holding their nerve to keep their FA Cup dream alive. They would eventually be beaten 5-0 in the third round by Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur.

Cheltenham Town 1-2 Alvechurch

Ninety-six places separated these two sides when they met in November of last year, but it was seventh-tier Alvechurch who came away with the spoils thanks to a brace of strikes from Danny Waldron. It may have been the early knockings of the tournament proper, and they may have come crashing back down to earth when they lost to 10-man Forest Green Rovers later in the month, but this still counts as one of the biggest shocks in recent FA Cup history.

Salford City 2-0 Notts County

There was a time, not too long ago, when Salford City weren’t the relatively well-established Football League outfit that they are in the present day. Back in 2015, a then seventh-tier side, still very much in the fledgling stages of their Class of ‘92 ownership, delivered quite the bloody nose to Notts County. To this day, they are still yet to make it beyond the second round of the FA Cup.

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Warrington Town 1-0 Exeter City

Upsets don’t come much bigger than this. A massive 100 league places separated Warrington from their League Two opponents back in 2014, but that mattered for little as defender (and plasterer) Craig Robinson headed home a crucial winner after just seven minutes. Cue an improbable defensive display that brought to mind the Spartans at Thermopylae, and a historic spot in the second round.

Staines Town 1-1 Stockport County 1-1 (Staines won 4-3 on penalties)

Ryman league outfit Staines Town went toe-to-toe with Stockport County for two whole cup ties in 2007 before finally edging out their lofty opposition in a tense penalty shoot-out. Swans goalkeeper Shaun Allaway was the man of the hour, saving two spot-kicks, but things would unravel drastically against Peterborough United in the next round. Sir Alex Ferguson was in attendance as Posh ran out 5-0 winners.

Rochdale 2-3 FC United of Manchester

A North West clash for the ages, lowly FC United of Manchester left it very, very late to steal a place in the second round from Football League outfit Rochdale. A stoppage time winner from Mike Norton was enough to take the Evo-Stik Premier Division side into the second round back in 2010, and to prove that they could be more than just a protest group against the mishandling of matters at Old Trafford.

Southport 4-2 Notts County

An unfortunate second appearance on this list for Notts County, this time from 2002. Having raced into a commanding two-goal lead against non-league opponents Southport, it looked all but certain the oldest club in the Football League would waltz into the second round. But carpet fitter Steve Pickford had other ideas, and a superb individual display from the midfielder helped to inspire an unexpected comeback that helped to secure a revered victory for the part-timers.

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