1. Tim Cahill, Millwall to Everton (2004)
With eight years' service, 278 appearances and 68 goals to his name, Cahill became synonymous with Everton – but the Australian was a hugely popular figure at Millwall first.
Having joined the Lions as a teenager in 1997, the defining moment of Cahill's time at The Den came in the 2003/04 FA Cup, when Dennis Wise's second-tier side shocked the nation by making it all the way to the final (where they lost 3-0 to Manchester United).
Toffees manager David Moyes was impressed by the then-24-year-old, who scored three goals in the south Londoners' run – including the semi-final winner against Sunderland – and duly paid a bargain £1.5m for the midfielder that summer.
"I ran the length of the pitch like Forrest Gump! It was amazing to score that goal," Cahill told FFT in 2018. "I was so blessed to have that part of my career as a Millwall player, as who knew what was going to be next for me after that?"
2. Dudley Tyler, Hereford to West Ham (1972)
Think big FA Cup shocks and great goals, and there's a good chance that Ronnie Radford's stunning winner for non-league Hereford United against Newcastle in 1972 springs straight to mind. (Note: Ricky George actually scored the winner in extra-time, but no one ever remembers that. Poor bloke.)
It may have been Radford's thunderbolt that helped secure a fourth-round tie with West Ham, but it was winger Dudley Tyler who caught attention at the Boleyn Ground. The First Division side knocked Hereford out in a replay, but manager Ron Greenwood didn't forget about Tyler and a few months later paid £25,000 for the part-timer, who was working in the accounts department of electronic company Plessey in Swindon.
“At 26, I was probably a bit old to be turning pro for the first time but I didn’t take too much time over making the decision," Tyler told the Hereford Times in 2012. Understandable, really.
3. Steve Carney and Alan Shoulder, Blyth Spartans to Newcastle (1978)
One fine non-league run occurred in 1978, when Blyth Spartans of the Northern League also reached the fifth round by beating Stoke – who had recently been relegated from the top flight – 3-2 away from home.
Blyth exited after a replay against Wrexham, played in front of 42,000 fans at St James' Park in nearby Newcastle rather than their own Croft Park home. The Magpies' hierarchy clearly wanted some of Blyth's stardust and subsequently signed both Carney and Shoulder, who had been given £350 worth of furniture by a local business for their cup heroics.
4. Harry Maguire, Sheffield United to Hull (2014)
Sheffield United almost became the first third-tier team in the competition's history to reach the FA Cup final in 2014 (Tottenham are the only side to have achieved better, winning the whole thing when they were a non-league team back in 1901).
The Blades eventually lost 5-3 to Premier League Hull in the semi-finals after a run in which they knocked out four other higher-tier opponents in Aston Villa, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Charlton Athletic. Sheffield United may have ultimately fallen short, but it was a period Maguire remembers fondly – and rightly so, as a £2.5m move to Hull followed shortly afterwards.
"Getting to the semi-final that year was a great occasion for me," Maguire told the Hull Daily Mail in 2016. "It's up there with the best moments of my career."
5. Jermaine Beckford, Leeds to Everton (2010)
Everton were at it again in 2010, beating Aston Villa, Newcastle, West Ham and Parma (really) to sign Beckford on a free transfer when his contract at Elland Road expired. The striker had already gained admirers in League One with two Player of the Year awards in 2008 and 2010, plus 85 goals in 152 appearances for Leeds, but it was three particular strikes that made the Premier League take notice.
Reigning champions Manchester United hosted their third-tier opponents in the FA Cup third round, setting the stage for Beckford to sprint onto a Jonny Howson through-ball and seal an unlikely 1-0 victory at Old Trafford – a trick he would repeat twice in the next round against Tottenham.
The former RAC repair man, who hadn't become a professional footballer until the age of 22, completed his rise to the top. Unfortunately that was where the fairy tale ended: Beckford enjoyed a moderately successful debut season at Goodison Park before sliding down the Football League pyramid with Leicester, Huddersfield, Bolton, Preston and Bury.
6. Matt Smith, Oldham to Leeds (2013)
In 2012/13, Oldham Athletic were on a one-team mission to embarrass Merseyside: the Latics knocked out Liverpool in the fourth round, before forcing a replay against Everton after a 2-2 draw (they eventually lost 3-1 at Goodison Park).
Smith scored twice against the Reds and then netted a last-gasp equaliser to force that replay with the Toffees; two years prior, he'd been playing in non-league and considering a career in the city after graduating from Manchester University with a Business degree.
That all changed over the course of two FA Cup matches, and Leeds went on to sign Smith that summer. The striker, now at QPR, has played in the Championship ever since.
"The FA Cup catapulted my profile from obscurity to national headline, virtually overnight," he told the BBC. "Before the FA Cup I don't think I'd found my identity yet. The FA Cup got me on my path and changed my life completely."
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