Football’s fabled cup competition, the FA Cup, this weekend will once again have men, women and children right across these shores queuing for the next page-turning chapter in its 150-year history.
For the dyed-in-the-wool football fan, it is like spinach to Popeye. Or oxygen to a deep-sea diver.
Its noise and colours are unfathomable to many, yet it continues to conjure the biggest of days for the tiniest of clubs.
And if, like many say, the magic of the FA Cup has vanished, its spark is waning, or that its pursuit is no longer a priority for the elite, then the beautiful game doesn’t just need an A to Z – it has truly lost its way.
The ＧＲＥＡＴＥＳＴcupset of them all? 🏆
Reigning champions @LUFC were tipped for the win in the 1973 𝙁𝘼 𝘾𝙪𝙥 𝙛𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙡. @SunderlandAFC goalkeeper Jim Montgomery’s double save sealed the victory for the Black Cats along with a 30th minute goal from Ian Porterfield 🙌 pic.twitter.com/tPdeiTwBPx
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 6, 2022
And while the dust settles on festive celebrations, the start of the new year means one thing; the hotly-anticipated Emirates FA Cup third-round weekend is upon us.
Football is littered with dramatic moments from the oldest, most fabled and storied cup competition in world football.
From Roberto Di Matteo’s lightning-quick start in 1997, to the Michael Owen Final and Roy Essandoh’s late show, both in 2001, Ray Parlour’s screamer in 2002, and Steven Gerrard’s comeback rocket in 2006, these footballing moments ensure thousands are swept along by the FA Cup’s history and intrigue.
Players of all ages and varying abilities may have thought their chances of a box-office fixture, at a coliseum-like stadium, under the floodlights, on terrestrial TV, had gone. But no, cue the driving wind, pouring rain, port-a-cabins, muddy, bobbly pitches, all presided over by a stronghold of football’s most loyal and passionate servants.
It’s almost a level playing field, where everybody gets the same chance. Binmen take on household names, international players talk tactics over garden fences; hopes are dashed, dreams are made.
This weekend, the juggernaut that is Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering, record-breaking Manchester City side rolls into Swindon Town, themselves once a Premier League side some 27 years ago.
Under the film-set sheen of the County Ground’s Friday night lights, Swindon manager Ben Garner, whose coaching philosophy is centred around intelligence, technique and the tactical elements of the game, gets to pit his wits, by proxy, against the best of the modern era – Guardiola. And in what other walks of life would this spell-binding mismatch be afforded the opportunity to unfold?
Garner, whose side are fifth in League Two following well-documented financial troubles which took the club to the brink of bankruptcy, are now looking up as opposed to down but come up against the reigning champions of England and European runners-up.
And that is but just one yarn in the cup’s rich tapestry.
Take non-league Chesterfield, who will load up 6,000 fans and head to the nation’s capital, to take on football’s European Champions – Chelsea. They do so with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The CHE v CHE scoreboard should see to that.
Tired legs is the buzzword du jour in the Derbyshire market town. Brighton, Liverpool, Tottenham and then the mighty Spireites, the National League leaders, all in a week-and-a-half…
If Carlsberg did FA Cup draws… 😍🤩
— Chesterfield FC (@ChesterfieldFC) December 6, 2021
And after a couple of tough years, the excitement is palpable in Kidderminster, with the lowest ranked club left in the competition, currently fifth in National League One, taking on Championship side Reading. 78 places currently separate the two sides, and it promises to be a fascinating tussle at a sold out Aggborough.
Shrewsbury travel to fortress Anfield to tackle a COVID-hit Liverpool squad, which is also minus box-office African duo Mohammad Salah and Sadio Mane. A chance? A glimmer of hope?
Steve Cotterill, who will take up his seat in the visiting dugout, underwent a life-or-death ordeal just last year because of the virus, and is still battling its ongoing effects.
And Stephen Robinson, in charge of Morecambe, currently 19th in League One, faces the daunting prospect of selecting a side to face Antonio Conte’s Premier League heavyweights, Tottenham – and his former employers.
Just 12 months ago Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham side changed under a glitter-ball in the makeshift away changing rooms at Marine FC, with 161 places and seven tiers separating the pair.
The task? Virtually insurmountable! Yet their stoic performance in a 5-0 defeat was the subject of game-wide appreciation. A rare sporting encounter with two winners.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) December 14, 2021
So although only one club can lift the trophy, all those taking part are lifted by the idea. And while everything around the FA Cup has evolved, its idea – conceived 150 years ago – remains modern football’s one constant.
Champagne, ticker tape and pyrotechnics greeted eventual 2021 winners Leicester City with Thai businessman-turned-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha completing the set of domestic trophies – but more importantly, realising his late fathers’ dream. Another chapter.
And that’s the way it is. Hereford in 1972. Wimbledon in 1988. Wrexham in 1992. Bradford in 2015. And Wigan in 2013. Football days that clamp onto the respective life events of fans like limpets.
So, even if the big clubs do consider it a brief pause among more urgent matters at the top and bottom of the Premier League, there will always be magic.
Please visit our betting tips page for the best bets of the day.