I know that at this time of the year it’s traditional to be cutting back on it all after the Christmas binge but, in this of all weeks, Weight Watchers can wait. For this Saturday is the day in the football calendar which carries the highest calorific content, chock full of the stuff. For if, as we are regularly told, the business of league football is the proverbial bread and butter of our existence, when the FA Cup comes along on, we get to whack jam on it. Loads of it.
By Dave Bowler
Much as we might enjoy the Premier League, it genuinely is a marathon, not a sprint and, much as feats of endurance are genuinely awe inspiring, enjoying the odd blast of Usain Bolt never does any harm either.
For that’s what the FA Cup is, football’s sprint for the line where a six game dash for the tape can bestow immortality upon the winners and create enough visceral excitement in the supporter to last a lifetime.
In the final analysis, it is games, moments, goals, saves, tackles that live on in our minds, not seasons, not 38, 42, 46 fixtures as a block. Winning a league title is always the greatest measure of a team’s worth, for it is very rare that the best team does not carry off the divisional honours at season’s end.
That is what a league, by its very design, is supposed to do, giving the best team the opportunity to shrug off the occasional off day or stroke of bad luck to come out triumphant in the finish, having shown their class over the course of the year. But quite frankly, where’s the fun in that?
How much funnier it is to see Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland beating Leeds, Wimbledon snatching the double away from Liverpool , Bradford winning at Stamford Bridge, Wrexham defeating the Arsenal or, above all, Newcastle United bludgeoned into submission by Hereford on a quagmire, the worst parks pitch you’ve ever seen? That, my friend, is “Airplane!”, “Brief Encounter” and “Macbeth” all in one, comedy, romance and tragedy.
The FA Cup has got the lot, like Woody Allen at his peak or The Beatles’ “White Album”, a hotchpotch of perfection confection, like eating your way out of a bath of trifle. What’s not to like?
Even in this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, while it might be absorbing over the long haul like a great Russian novel, it can’t have the rat-a-tat punchlines of the FA Cup. As we stand on the brink of the competition, all of us that are still left in it can have our dreams.
For those in the top flight, perhaps in the Championship too, it will be a case of eyes on the prize, a couple of trips to Wembley, the opportunity to get your name engraved on the trophy, a gold medal, your photo on the walls of your stadium in perpetuity. History is there for the taking. If the thought of that doesn’t get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, organise a search party. Your soul has gone missing.
Lower division clubs will have more prosaic, but nonetheless beguiling ambitions. They’ll look to get through another round and then pull out that plum tie at Old Trafford or the Emirates that will pay the bills for the next 12 months.
And, who knows, a little known name from League Two might weave his name into the eternal tapestry of the greatest cup competition and achieve immortality by becoming the man who defeated Liverpool or Manchester City. Out there, theres a Ronnie Radford, an Ian Porterfield.
That is what the FA Cup can bestow upon its participants. Everlasting fame that will never lose its lustre. Who wouldn’t want some of that?
Photo: FA Cup Final 1973 – Sunderland v Leeds United Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe (top) celebrates with the FA Cup after his team’s shock 1-0 victory, as he is carried on the shoulders of coach Arthur Cox