The league tables are beginning to take shape as we progress through the season, so it will be interesting to see how the clubs of the football league perform this time around in the beautiful game’s oldest knock-out competition.
Recent seasons have seen a monopoly develop on the FA Cup. Between Everton lifting the trophy in 1995 and Portsmouth’s victory in 2008, only teams from our so-called ‘Big Four’ have lifted the coveted silverware. Of course, this is not entirely surprising – at present these are the most successful sides in English football. However, this does not mean that their continued dominance has hindered the image of the tournament. People always talk about ‘the magic of the cup’, and how this concept has died a horrible slow death. This writer would like to demonstrate that the magic and wonder of this competition is very much still alive.
There are too many fantastic moments in the history of the FA Cup to list here. Hereford’s Ronnie Radford sealing victory against Newcastle, Sutton United defeating cup holders Coventry City, teletext signing Roy Essandoh helping Wycombe to a late quarter-final victory over Leicester, the list truly is endless. But these sides never went on to win the cup themselves. Indeed, it is very rare that an unexpected side has actually won it. There is of course the famous example of Wimbledon defeating Liverpool in 1988, but you have to go back to 1980 to see a club outside of the top tier of English football lift the trophy, West Ham on that occasion.
So it is easy to see that the smaller sides have never really made an impact on the competition – if your definition of impact is actually winning the cup. The magic of the cup lies in the unexpected. On only eight occasions has a side in the equivalent of today’s League One or below made it to the semi-finals – the two most recent being Chesterfield and Wycombe. Both of these teams achieved feats of giant-killing on their way to the semis and captured the hearts of the nation in the process. Only their bitterest of rivals could honestly say that they weren’t supporting them on their biggest days.
It doesn’t matter who you support, the draw for the FA Cup third round is always compelling viewing for football fans across the nation. It is the day where potentially a giant in the mould of Liverpool or Chelsea could be drawn away to a footballing minnow. With so many big clubs having dropped down the football pyramid in recent seasons, the draw for the first round has taken on a similar position of sentimentality.
Sunday saw the first round draw made and undoubtedly one tie jumps out as the draw of the round. Paul Lambert’s Norwich City will have to be well prepared as they will be making a trip to Paulton Rovers. Now, first things first, where exactly is Paulton? Located close to Bristol and just to the north of the Mendip Hills, Paulton is a village of around 5000 people. The lowest ranked team left in the competition, Rovers ply their trade in the Southern League Division South and West. Now, of course, Paulton Rovers are not going to win the FA Cup. In fact they probably won’t even beat Norwich, but that is not the point. The magic of the competition lies merely in the fact that such a small side from a little village in the south west of England will be on the same footing as a team of Norwich’s stature – a side who less than 20 years ago were beating Bayern Munich in Europe. Victory would be unexpected to say the least, but there is no reason to believe that they can’t spring a surprise.
There is every chance that one of the ‘Big Four’ will win the cup again this season. It seems highly unlikely that a side outside of the Premier League will enjoy glory at Wembley anytime again soon, but the cup will continue to provide some fantastic stories. Win, lose or draw for Paulton, their fans will always remember and treasure the memories of the day they entertained Norwich City in the FA Cup.
News and views from the Football League
Keane for more time to prove himself – October 5
It’s a funny old game – October 8
A new owner does not guarantee success – October 12
Tied up in Notts – October 16
Climbing the Football League ladder – October 19
League structure in need of resuscitation – October 21
There is still magic in the cup – October 26