Maidstone United aren’t the only non-league side to keep the magic of the FA Cup alive with a giant-killing run in the competition.
Football’s oldest competition, the FA Cup was once loved for the genuine feeling that any team competing had a chance of going all the way and lifting the trophy, but with times changing and the biggest clubs only getting richer, clubs lower down the pyramid face a mountainous task if they’re to cause an upset – and that’s before they even reach round three.
Merely making it through to the rounds where Premier League and Championship sides enter the hat is achievement enough, but today we’re looking at the non-league clubs who have forced their way through the competition since 2000, achieving remarkable feats and making history in doing so.
Maidstone United (2023-24)
Playing their football in the National League South – the semi-pro sixth tier of English football – Maidstone have been a non-league club since they lost their spot in the football league in 1992 due to bankruptcy and subsequently reformed.
Entering the competition in the second qualifying round back in September 2023, Maidstone kicked off their cup run with a 4-1 victory away to ninth-tier Steyning Town. Since then, they’ve gone all the way to the fifth round of the competition, beating Stevenage in round three and Championship title contenders Ipswich in round four.
George Elokobi and his squad are now potentially a game away from the quarter-final of the competition. Incredible stuff.
Sure, it took some heavy investment from Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of Wrexham’s run to the fifth round in 2022-23, who were still minnows in comparison to their competition.
Alongside a gruelling battle to win the National League title, having struggled previously to get out of the league and return to League Two, Wrexham went on a tremendous run in the cup, entering in the fourth qualifying round and eventually beating Coventry – who made the Championship play-off final that season – in round three.
They then held Sheffield United to a draw in round four, forcing a replay away at Bramhall Lane, eventually losing 3-1.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 27, 2024
Marine AFC (2020-21)
Founded in 1894, Merseyside club Marine have never been higher than the Northern Premier League – a tier below the National League North and South – and were 161 places below Tottenham when they faced the Premier League side in round three in 2021.
The result was never going to be important when the fixture rolled around. Spurs – managed by Jose Mourinho – played away at Marine’s 2,250-capacity Rossett Park, albeit behind closed doors due to the impact of COVID-19.
Thankfully, Marine were able to sell a whopping 30,000 ‘virtual tickets’ – including one to Mourinho – which helped them receive the funding they would’ve received in a normal season.
To be precise, Marine’s monumental run to round three and the game against Spurs earned them over £300,000. An endlessly helpful amount of money for a club of their stature.
Chorley FC (2020-21)
In the same season, National League North side Chorley went one better than Marine in the division below them by making the fourth round of the FA Cup in a campaign that was ravaged by the impact of COVID-19.
They defeated League One side Wigan in round one, fellow League One side Peterborough in round two and then Championship side Derby County in round three, earning a fourth-round home tie with Premier League opposition Wolves.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t force a replay and lost 1-0, but they stole our hearts with their post-match renditions of Adele in the changing rooms.
Non-league Chorley celebrate knocking Wayne Rooney’s Derby out of the FA Cup by belting out a bit of Adele 😂👏
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 9, 2021
Sutton United (2016-17)
Sutton became only the ninth non-league team at the time to reach round five of the FA Cup in 2016-17, defeating Wimbledon in round three and Leeds United in round four to earn a home draw against eventual winners Arsenal in the fifth round.
Then in the National League South, Sutton gave a strong account of themselves and held the Gunners to just a 2-0 victory. In the time since, they’ve managed to climb back up the pyramid and now compete in League Two.
Lincoln City (2016-17)
Quite remarkably, fellow non-league outfit Lincoln City were also at it in 2016-17, going one better than Sutton and reaching the FA Cup quarter-final.
Again it was Arsenal who drew the non-league outfit, this time hosting the National League side at the Emirates and comprehensively beating them 5-0.
That doesn’t do justice to the incredible season Danny Cowley’s side put together, though, winning their league and returning to the Football League alongside an FA Cup run that saw them beat Championship sides Ipswich and Brighton on their way to the last eight.
Crawley Town (2010-11)
Announcing that they were finally debt-free at the beginning of the 2010-11 season was achievement enough for Crawley; nobody would’ve predicted that the club would’ve gone all the way to a game with Manchester United at Old Trafford in round five of the FA Cup.
Entering the competition in the fourth qualifying round, the aptly-nicknamed ‘Red Devils’ booked a date with United after making it all the way to round three and then dispatching of Derby County and Torquay United.
Crawley and their 9,000-strong support on the day left Manchester with their heads held high, Wes Brown’s header being the only goal to separate the two sides. They came agonisingly close to a last-gasp equaliser when Richard Brodie’s header hit the bar, but bounced into the hands of Anders Lindegaard.
They’ve managed to return to the Football League since, but almost dropped out of League Two in 2022-23 amid chaotic ownership.