I love early January. That’s when the F.A Cup begins to get interesting when the Premier League and Championship clubs join in. Perhaps due to being a supporter of a club that never seriously was ever going to take the league by storm, the Cup holds more appeal, mystique and grandeur me. I find the tails of giant killing over the seasons fascinating and enthralling. All my better half has to purchase for my Christmas present is a copy of A to Z of cup upsets, and I'm in heaven. The F.A Cup is also the first proper, bona fide football trophy I held in my hands. It was late spring 1987, and the Cup had sky blue ribbons affixed to the handles. My, what I sight.
Sadly, in the ensuing years since I held the trophy as a teenager, to the man in his early forties who is typing this into his laptop, the F.A Cup has been ‘devalued’ and somewhat soiled in my opinion. Through not just various players, managers and clubs, but the F.A itself as well, none take the competition as seriously or hold it in the regard as it was once. Look at it this way, most football supporters can rattle off the top of their head won has won the Cup, going back some years (my own knowledge only gets a bit patchy when I recite from present day backwards, and get to the mid ‘60s). Could I tell you who won the league over the same time frame? I doubt it.
The comments made by Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert the other week are quite distasteful, and rather insulting to the oldest knock-out Association Football competition in the world. Considering he was fortunate enough to have a highly successful playing career, which included winning the Scottish F.A Cup as a spotty seventeen year old with St. Mirren, and also the Champion’s League while he was at Borussia Dortmund, you’d expect he’d be as excited as myself at the thought of cup football. Lambert comes across as another coach who sees the F.A Cup as a necessary inconvenience, he made it clear he’d rather concentrate on the league. Karma came to bite him on the bottom well and truly, as Sheffield United duly turned Villa over, and knocked them out. Now he can channel all his and Villa’s efforts into the league, but being only a few paltry points off the relegation places does not say they are trying that hard on the domestic front, either.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce also did not give the Cup full respect, by fielding a weakened team against Nottingham Forest. As we all know, the Hammers were walloped 5-0. And then to rub salt further into the open wound, he did similar in the League Cup against Manchester City, and got walloped again – this time 6-0. I'm amazed he still has a job.
The Cup is renown for the legendary upsets and giant killing it causes, as small, lower league – and sometimes non-league semi-professional / amateur clubs – beat the long established, top professional sides. Memories of Ronnie Radford scoring that thirty yard blockbuster for Hereford United against Newcastle United in the mid seventies. Mickey Thomas netting that free-kick for Wrexham against Arsenal in the early nineties. The list is endless. As a Coventry fan, I am fully aware my club has been both David and Goliath in differing circumstances at different times. Back in the mid sixties, the Sky Blues occupied a similar league position to what they do currently. They were drawn against Manchester United, managed by Matt Busby, whose team included George best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. No-one gave them a prayer. Coventry won 3-1. Over thirty years later, Coventry were still basking in the glory of winning the Cup a couple of seasons earlier. They were drawn against non-league outfit Sutton United from south London. The Vauxhall Conference side raised their game, along with some of the Sky Blues players being a little complacent, led to Sutton winning the encounter 2-1.
My Coventry now face the colossus in footballing terms of Arsenal in the next round, at the end of the month. The North London side are the Premier League leaders, look a good bet for the title. Coventry will be lucky to make the play off's in League One – the third tier of English football – due to their ten point deduction. The Gunners play slick, delightful football, have a team full of internationals and should wipe the floor with the Sky Blues. They also beat City 5-1 in the League Cup last season, however came unstuck against the unfancied Bradford City a few rounds later. This encounter though, has ‘Arsenal win’ written all over it. Only a fool would say otherwise. But at the back of your mind, is that little nagging doubt – this is a cup tie – anything could happen. The Sky Blues beating Arsenal at their own stadium? Now, that is a delicious thought. The romance of the Cup is a joy to behold, like, going on holiday, buying a new car or venturing upon that ultimate magical meeting - a first date.