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The FA Cup has always been a glamorous cup competition in England, so just what is the reason for this?

Some say they adore the unwritten cup upsets which just shouldn’t happen – whilst others just watch the oldest cup competition for the love of the game.

Those who side with the former argument will probably associate Altrincham Football Club with a number of their memories when it comes to the FA Cup.

Birmingham City 2-1 Altrincham, FA Cup 14th January 1986

Birmingham City 2-1 Altrincham, FA Cup 14th January 1986

Perhaps the minnow club’s highest profile victory came at St Andrews over 27 years ago as they beat Birmingham City to become the second non-league team to beat top flight opposition away from home. Of course, Luton Town have now made it three after their 1-0 win at Carrow Road in February, but Altrincham were up there as possibly the most glamorous non-league side during their glory days.

Now the situation is rather different when compared to that famous day in 1986. Following a last minute winner from Jake Moult on Tuesday night, Altrincham took a big step in the hunt for promotion as they beat Brackley Town 2-1 in the first leg of the Play-Off semi-final.

Altrincham 2-1 Brackley Town: Jake Moult scores Alty's late winner

Altrincham 2-1 Brackley Town: Jake Moult scores Alty’s late winner

The Robins showed their resilience and character to overcome the Northamptonshire side who finished five points ahead of them in the league and in truth deserved the win. They now just need to avoid defeat at St James Park on Saturday afternoon and they will find themselves just one win away from the holy grail of non-league football.

But the question on everyone’s lips is simple; are we seeing a return of the Altrincham side that we all knew and loved? Arguably the 1970’s was the period during their history which helped gain them a reputation as a dominant force in non-league football. Results against the likes of Everton and Tottenham in the FA Cup will live long in the memory, forcing both of England’s top teams to a replay in 1975 and 1979 respectively.

Unfortunately for the Robins, both replays ended up in defeats in front of big crowds at Old Trafford and Maine Road, but there was a moral victory surrounding the small rural town in Cheshire as they produced emphatic performances throughout this era.

Osvaldo Ardiles famously described Alty’s performance against Spurs as “the finest non-league performance I have ever seen.” And you couldn’t argue with him, either.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Altrincham: FA Cup 3rd Round 10th Jan 1979

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Altrincham: FA Cup 3rd Round 10th Jan 1979

Their cup successes were mirrored with impressive league performances as they went on to win the inaugural Alliance Premier League. However, the re-election system in place denied them entry into the football league on two occasions. Since then, it has never been the same.

These past glories vanished a long time ago and the Robins have recently witnessed a period of decline. The last moment of real hope came in 1991 when they were favourites to win the Conference, falling at the final hurdle thanks to no win in their last five games. It was heart breaking for all those associated with the club – and they never really recovered.

Financial problems quickly followed and the club’s position in non-league football fluctuated since their relegation to the Northern Premier League in 1997 – a real low point being their 14th place finish in the Northern Premier League in 2003.

However, the appointment of former player Graham Heathcoate steadied the ship as they remained a Conference Premier side for five years before a further relegation in 2010.

Since then, former Port Vale manager Lee Sinnott has come in and has done a great job in helping to rebuild the team. He has inherited a core of key players such as veteran goalkeeper Stuart Coburn, captain Shaun Densmore and top scorer Damian Reeves who have all served him well – whilst new signing Gianluca Havern has been a particular highlight following his transfer from Hyde last summer.

And despite a slow start this season, Altrincham have well and truly found their feet in a level which is definitely beneath them. Only losing one in their last 16 – away at Champions Chester – it is fair to say that they are the team to back for play-off success this year.

But if they were to go up, can they push on and avoid mid table mediocrity like in their past few seasons in the Conference? Of course, the league is totally different now, with some saying it is even more difficult than League Two – and it is hard to contest that.

Teams like Luton Town, Grimsby Town, Wrexham and Macclesfield Town all ply their trade in the top tier of non-league football, and it is no easy task to escape back into the Football League.

But the infrastructure at Altrincham Football Club is there for all to see. The fan base has dwindled in recent years, but with Moss Lane holding 6,000 – it is a ground fit for League Two football. The key for the Robins if they are to go up is simple; hold onto their key players whilst also recruiting talent that would significantly improve the team.

The one person they will have to keep regardless would be Reeves; he has 36 league goals this season and has even been linked with the likes of Fulham recently – a statement of the talent he possesses.

So with a crowd of at least 400 passionate Robins’ fans (more than some Premier League teams would take) set to roar on their team tomorrow, there will be a number of non-league fanatics keeping their finger’s crossed to see the sleeping giant that is Altrincham take another big leap towards promotion.

Post written by Aaron Leggott
Blog: The Sky Blue View, Twitter: @aaron_leggott

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