Morning all. Winter has arrived. It’s been here in the real world for a while but now, this is the confirmation. This week’s playlist will hopefully warm you through; The Gift is on Dad’s Jukebox in the right sidebar or here.
There was a time when this was one of the highlights of the football calendar. A month earlier, we huddled around the transistor in the playground until the static was pierced with words welcoming us to the “draw for the third round of the FA Cup”. A reverential hush dropped as velvet tones imparted the name of the teams drawn until the velvet bag was empty. The final act was to inform us the ties would take place on the first Saturday in January.
Only the weather or police intervened to change that; no waiting for broadcasters to pay no heed to the transport network as they chose their ties. It all contributed to the magic of the FA Cup. Those were the days when rotating the side for a cup match was unheard of and never entered our thoughts. The strongest XI would be fielded and no matter who the opponents were, expectations of victory were tinged with butterflies; this was an afternoon when the meek could inherit the footballing earth through perspiration and a little luck.
And they used to. We thrived on cup upsets, gloating in the playground but it heightened the love of the FA Cup. Anything was possible and we enjoyed it, unless it happened to us and then a week, month or year of torture ensued. It’s a time of year when tales of giant-killing were wrestled from the pages of the Brothers Grimm and played out on the green fields of England.
We knew the names of the famous underdogs. The likes Walsall and Yeovil found themselves joined every year by the likes of Altrincham, Wimbledon, Blyth Spartans, Harlow, Colchester and Hereford. Every professional club had a tale where they had been slain on a muddy pitch or undone by a moment of genius. For a season at least, non-league clubs lived in the sun, filling the back pages with their derring-do. Remember the ‘Leatherhead Lip’?
It was a time when we revelled in other clubs achievements and treated a draw with as much glee as victory; they might still do it. Arsenal weren’t immune. The name of Walsall is seared into your brain at birth. Rotherham United, Northampton Town. York City. Look, I know you’d travelled there to see a match but did you really have to help clear the pitch? Really? Steve Williams added another couple of hundred thousand pounds to his cost that afternoon. Not in transfer fee, we’d spent that already. This was lost cup revenues.
So near Bedford Town, so near. And don’t forget Wrexham. None of us there that day will. Defending champions against a team which had finished 91 places below them the previous season, grateful for re-election. Thankful that automatic relegation to the Conference was still a few years away yet.
It’s a bloody long way to Wrexham. Even longer on the way back after dubious refereeing lay at the root of defeat. Robbed? We wuz! It didn’t stop us loving the FA Cup though, did it? Twelve months later and the silverware adorned the Highbury trophy cabinet.
The cup still resides at Highbury; the House though, not the stadium. Not even Harry Potter can reintroduce the magic though; its flickering embers remain in the minds of an older generation overrun in the real world by rampant commercialism, willingly abandoned by the very guardians who bemoan their loss of status.
Three or four decades ago, the visit of Sunderland would have still brought with it a sense of anticipation. Not so much now, familiarity has brought contempt. It’s not helped by the recent meeting between the two sides at The Emirates. Did we feel the same back in the day? I can’t recall being uninspired by the cup back then. Maybe I was and have chosen to forget it down the years.
Today will see Arsène rotate the side as best he can. The visits to Liverpool and Stoke next week ensure that the strongest side he can field will be one that utilises the squad to its’ fullest extent; a mix of youth and experience hoping to avoid being remembered as ‘the hopeless and the hapless’ by future generations. Arsène will become ‘the Tinkerman’, wrestling the title from the depths of denigration in victory, becoming football’s arch-villain in defeat. The last thing he wants though, is a replay. No cavalry riding over brow of the hill to spare his beleaguered troops in that scenario; a quick, incisive victory today gentlemen.
Which gentlemen they are is open to conjecture. We’ve seen how the team of strangers plays this season and those defeats weren’t pretty. Hope comes, of course, from winning at White Hart Lane; it always does, doesn’t it? I expect the line-up to be something along the lines of:
Ospina; Debuchy, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs; Chambers, Ramsey, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Reine-Adelaide
You can’t go to Woolworth’s for your pick ‘n’ mix any more; the FA Cup is happy to oblige though. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.