When the clocks go back and any hope of a late heatwave fades, the beginning of November can be a time of gloom and despondency, writes columnist Graham Bartlett.

However, probably more by accident than design, that is exactly when the Football Association injects a dose of romance and hope to brighten up many a fan’s heart.

I’m talking about the first round of the FA Cup. At 152 years old, it is the world’s oldest national football competition and the only tournament in England and Wales where your local part-timers can theoretically beat that year’s Premier League champions in the Wembley showpiece final.

Despite 645 non-league clubs being eligible, only one non-league team has ever gone all the way –Tottenham Hotspur who, in a 1901 replay, beat Sheffield United 3-1.

The “magic of the cup” therefore tends to happen in the early rounds when 32 non-league teams enter the first round proper having

battled through up to six preliminary and qualifying rounds since mid-August.

It is in this round, traditionally held on the first weekend of November, that community clubs come up against the relative big guns.

The prospect of a televised fixture between what are sometimes financially stricken, volunteer-led clubs and former Premier League outfits provides a desperately needed boost to their profile and bank balance.

This year, three Sussex teams featured in the first round: Crawley, Worthing and Horsham, all of whom were eliminated.

That, though, is not the point. Crawley and Worthing were both beaten by teams from their own league at the first time of playing, but it was Horsham who epitomised what this competition is all about.

Having held League 1 promotion play-off contenders, Barnsley (who are a hundred league places above them) to a draw, the Sussex side earned a home replay which was televised live on ITV4 last week.

Aside from attracting a capacity crowd of 3,000, the TV fee of £25,000 must have been a much-needed cash injection.

I have been to the Camping World Community Stadium on many a cold Tuesday night watching my son refereeing, but seeing it bask in the spotlight on TV and the “maybe” spirit shown by the Horsham players, coaches and fans reminded me of what football is all about.

The game was all but over in the first half but still, it was heart-warming to see a club that until recently ground shared with its lower league neighbour Lancing shine.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be a Ramsgate resident right now.

Playing in a league lower than Horsham, having beaten National League Woking, they are within touching distance of facing Premier League or Championship opposition.

There is the small matter of overcoming League 2 AFC Wimbledon first.

However, I can’t imagine anyone, other than diehard Dons fans, not willing this small Kent team of players who have day jobs, to prevail.

Those heady early rounds of the FA cup never last long but for me it strips away all the glitz, eye-watering salaries and transfer fees, and the over inflated egos for a few months.

Anything can happen.

The players and match officials, many also getting a first taste of the big stage, will relish their big day, win, lose or draw.

Whether or not it marks the springboard or swansong of their career it will remain etched in their memory and be their legacy.

Which one of the Horsham players, management, staff and volunteers won’t repeat to their grandchildren at every opportunity that they were part of Horsham’s magnificent 2023/2024 cup run?

Who won’t remember, whatever the club’s future holds, that chilly night on an artificial pitch just off the Worthing Road when the country’s eyes were on them seeing first hand that whatever the gulf between the two clubs, the passion and will to win was at least equal?

I’m always a neutral where non-league clubs are concerned but I sincerely hope Horsham, and all those non-glamorous clubs who had their chance this year, are proud of themselves and they use it to spark greater fortunes.

Now all the local teams who played in the first round are eliminated though, we just need the Albion to do their thing until we can all dream again next November.

Former Brighton and Hove police chief Graham Bartlett’s Jo Howe crime novels, Bad for Good and Force of Hate, are now published in paperback