Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Big fish, little fish......

A lot of people will say that the FA Cup has lost it's magic and while it may be true that we've not really had a decent final since arguably 1991 (an unbiased opinion), the early rounds have given us some memorable performances and results in recent years from the likes of Barnsley, Havant & Waterlooville, Cardiff & Portsmouth.
The Champions League may promise to pit Europe's elite against each other but where else would you have the Champions of the highest league in the country potentially play a team made up of part time footballers?
It's at the Third Round stage that the "Big Boys" enter the competition and it usually has it's fair share of upsets and drama, if the magic had gone and the big teams had distractions elsewhere nowadays then what were their excuses back in say, 1972 when non-league Hereford knocked top flight Newcastle out? Of Newcastle there would be more to come later.

This particular FA weekend for me was spent in the pub, not that an excuse is needed of course. But Soccer Saturday with Jeff and the Boys is the ideal accompaniment to a few pints of watered down lager and a packet of pork scratchings, they go hand in hand, there's even a Soccer Saturday drinking game!
Along with the best drink and bar snacks that McMullens can supply another essential is the filled out betting slip of course, more so during the FA Cup with a chance of a giant killing on offer! and my four pound accumulator promised me a return of nearly two grand if my seven predictions proved correct.

Now Soccer Saturday has had it's classic moments in the past, Merson's tooth falling out mid-report, Chris Kamara mistaking a sending off for a substitution, Jeff Stelling's James Brown doll to name but a few, but on this particular day we had a show without major incidents; presenter wise at least. But it's down to these presenters that make this show; which essentially boils down to us the viewer, watching people, watch football, a success.
So settling down on the bar stall that I would later be slouching on, three o'clock was here and the games kicked off. I had my money on upsets at Norwich, West Ham, Stoke, Blackburn & Southampton. Of course myself and my mate weren't the only one's aiming to prove our superior football knowledge and earn ourselves some extra pocket money, as the reports and scores started to trickle in, other blokes around the pub were checking their own grubby bits of paper.
An early goal for Leyton Orient (a second team of mine) started proceedings off nicely and the subject of second teams came up later when the Landlord was found to be cheering on Wigan, Everton and Arsenal! We've all got them, the minnows, the local team or maybe the first team we were taken to see as a lad. The FA Cup gives us a chance to focus of them a bit more.

Maybe it's the smaller away grounds, the crowd closer to the pitch, the more physical opponents or just complacency but there's always an upset or two and as the results came in; particularly for the likes of Brighton, Notts County, Southampton and the rest it was apparent that the FA Cup had done it again.
Yet as the beer flowed more was to come, Stevenage were drawn by Noel and Serge to face a rematch against Newcastle United. Back in '98 it had been a rather surprisingly unsporting affair; for a start Kenny Dalglish, Newcastle manager at the time didn't want to play at Stevenage (all those roundabouts can get a bit confusing eh Kenny!) and eventually it was agreed that with some new temporary seating the game at Broadway Hall could take place. Dalglish had been ungracious towards Stevenage in his dealings and it almost became a grudge game before a ball was kicked with Grazioli's equaliser taking the tie back to St James Park where King Kenny had wanted the game to start off with! But things were further sullied there when Newcastle won the replay with the help of an opening goal that hadn't even crossed the line. Stevenage though had done the Conference proud and there was an obvious hint of revenge in the air on Saturday evening as we tuned in to ESPN.

Living in Hertfordshire, Stevenage are about as local as I could get to a league team and I wasn't the only one in the pub wanting them to win. Newcastle could offer no excuses for what transgressed, they had an International defender in Coloccini who had appeared in the World Cup and with experience through Barton & Nolan you could hardly call it a weakened team. Still I couldn't see Stevenage winning the game before kick off, but just as my accumulator had proven I wasn't the best person at predicting football results and not only did the team 73 places lower than their Premiership counterparts win, but they did so convincingly and were the better team.
So a thoroughly enjoyable drunken day/evening had been had and football had provided the entertainment in the end. The magic was still there and long may it continue. Now if we could only transport that spirit, fight, pride and motivation into the Premiership we might just be onto something.......

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