John McGee previews the best weekend on the football calender – your Super-Smashing Great Bumper 3rd Round Weekend of Dreams.

It’s the third festival of the period. That heady Saturday between New Year and Epiphany, an annual festival of tin foil, antique rattles and oversize rosettes. That day of the year when shivering mongrels on string leashes, part-time plumbers and jerry-built, windswept and potholed terracing are pushed in our faces. It’s FA Cup 3rd Round Day! Or, as we’re duty bound to refer to it in this era of corporate sheen – Your Super-Smashing Great Bumper 3rd Round Weekend of Dreams (The Day Clem Came to Southport)!

Like all feast-days this should, before the merriment commences, begin on a note of piety. Heaven knows we’ve had enough of it in football lately with the macabre, month-long ‘moment’ for a football match which may or may not have taken place 100 years ago. This weekend, too, is one to remember the fallen – none of Folkestone Invicta, Thurnby Nirvana, Swindon Supermarine or Tow Law Town will illuminate the classified check this year. We will remember them.

The ‘action’ starts in earnest this evening as pretend football club MK Dons take on Chesterfield at Concrete:Shed – the Spireites versus the Asda-ites.

Whilst the fixture mightn’t whet the appetite of those seeking a Friday night football hit, it does at least give all the chance to make their own fun by pointing out the similarities between the visitors’ infamous church steeple and their parasitic hosts’ transition to existence. Feel free to pass that biting satire off as your own.

Wink, spin in your chair, wheel away Alan Shearer arms-aloft and watch the numbers roll in.

Saturday, for all its history as the archetypal centrepiece of the historic football calendar, has had its cache rather cheapened of late. This week is no different, as the collected glow of English football’s lesser lights compete to be the hors d’oeuvres for Sunday’s ‘Big Boys Banquet’.

That isn’t to say no tasty morsels lie here. Giant killing Blyth travel to St. Andrew’s for their self-admittedly underwhelming reward for vanquishing League 2 strugglers Hartlepool in the Second Round. One can feel their pain.

With managerial calamity and charisma void Lee Clark having departed the West Midlands for England’s Sunshine Coast a win for Gary Rowett’s hosts is almost an inevitability. Still, expect the Beeb to lay it on thick and for an underwhelming 4-1 (with classic 83rd minute consolation) to feature bafflingly high in the MOTD schedules thanks to a desperate editorial decision.

It’ll all have been worth it for the encouraging bons mots of Kevin Kilbane, on the sofa with Gabby for this less starry of days, afterwards. ‘Didn’t they do well, Kevin?’ she’ll pipe, aping Brucey after a grandma’s infernal struggle at the potter’s wheel.

‘Yeeeaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh’ we’ll pander, knowing all the while we’re kidding ourselves. They didn’t Bruce/Gabby/Kev. They were shite, but we know how this works.

The classic-in-the-making that is Bolton v Wigan.

Elsewhere Saturday’s fixtures are beiger than a 1970s interior. Who was picking the balls out for Bolton v Wigan and Huddersfield v Reading? Mrs Barnes from Uttoxeter? Hyacinth Bucket? So little attention will be paid to these games they may as well be played by some kids on FIFA as in front of the sparse crowds they’ll draw.

“Bolton Wanderers 8 Wigan Athletic 4”.

No-one would even care.

Depressingly, as with every other weekend in the football calendar, these days it’s Sunday and afterwards that provide the real sustenance for the adrenaline junkies in this 3rd Round. This is where you feast on narrative.

Want a newly-minted, bequiffed and universally loathed omni-berk cum returning hero siring his new charges through a testy South Coast knee-trembler? ‘Fifty Shades of Pards’ is for you!

Fancy tuning in to see an arrogant, egotistical former national coach watch a struggling defence creak around the Old Trafford carpet before sputtering baffling, self-indulgent rot to the assembled press corps? Good news! Gary Johnson’s Yeovil are in town to have a tilt at King Louis’s crippled back 8, or whatever he plays this week.

How about the ‘Derby De La Two Clubs With Best Knowledge of the International Loan Window Rules’ (working title)? Vitesse Arnhem ‘A’ taken on Udinese ‘B’ at Stamford Bridge.

Maybe you’re a slapstick fan? Roll up, roll up as the human cannonball Adebayo Akinfenwa smashes repeatedly into emotionally broken, footballing pea-hearts Dejan Lovren and Simon Mignolet at Kingsmeadow!

All the fun of the fair – it’s AFC Wimbledon v Liverpool. Brendan the Clown has bought a new flower and Ringmaster Stevie has announced it’s his final tour!

It’s the People’s Club versus the Artist Formerly Known as the People’s Club!

It’s England’s Ricky Lambert back in the Beetroot Factory!

It’s sponsored by Football Manager!

It’s footballing make-believe!

It’s 3-1 Liverpool but it was funny when Big Bayo fell over.

It’s the World’s Greatest Cup Competition™!

It’s Arsenal v Hull on primetime TV!

Hang on a minute… really?

It’s just another weekend guys.

But, but there’s a lurcher in a scarf…

So there is.

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