The Football Association (FA) Cup is the world’s greatest club competition. It involves every team in England, although occasionally mid-ranking Premier League teams try to ruin it by fielding weakened sides and losing to Bury, in the mistaken belief that this will keep players fresh for their campaign to finish 14th, rather than just depressing the hell out of their fans and making themselves look like pricks.
The cup was first contested in 1872, and since 1875 experts have been remarking that it has ‘lost some of its magic nowadays’ (see below). Despite its shabby treatment by some in the game, however, the competition has provided English football with many of its most celebrated moments. It is particularly famous for producing giant-killings, when lowly teams on the football pyramid defeat more illustrious opponents after Peter Drury has spent the whole ninety minutes wittering on about how all their players are estate agents during the week. Events of this kind are put down to the ‘magic of the Cup’.
Great Moments In FA Cup History
1923 – The ‘White Horse Final’ could only be played after the pitch had been cleared of fans by mounted policemen, including one on the eponymous horse. There was enormous interest in the final – the first to be played at Wembley – and because it was the old days, people did not understand about things like tickets. 36 million people, the entire population of England at the time, turned up on the day, but the careful policing ensured that only around 1.5 million could get into the stadium. Bolton beat West Ham 2-0, the White Horse itself heading in the second goal from a corner after timing its canter to perfection.
1927 – Cardiff City took the Cup out of England for the only time in its history, other than when FA Chief Executive David Davies accidentally packed it in his suitcase for a holiday in Mauritius. The only goal came from a bad mistake by Arsenal goalkeeper Dan Lewis. The final was the first to be broadcast live on BBC radio, whose commentator described the winner thus: ‘Ferguson with a poor shot… oh, but Lewis has fucked it up and it’s in!’ Cardiff reached the Final again in 2008, but their ugly, hate-filled fans went home disappointed as the Bluebirds lost to a goal from Portsmouth’s Kanu, assisted by God.
1961 – Tottenham won the Cup, and went on to do the same in 1981 and 1991, giving fuel to the legend that it is ‘lucky for Spurs when the year ends in one’, immortalised in a song by ancient rockers Chas and Dave. One difficulty with this theory is that Spurs failed to win shit in 1911, 1931, 1951, 1971, 2001 and 2011 and are likely to miss out again in 2021. It is rumoured that Chas and Dave are working on an amended version of their song called ‘Even When It’s A Lucky Year, We’re Such A Thoroughly Ordinary Side That We Normally Win Jack-All’.
1972 – Non-leaguers Hereford United defeated popular clowns Newcastle United in a famous giant-killing, thanks to a spectacular goal known as Radford’s Rocket. Ronnie Radford was standing by the clock tower in Hereford town centre, 1.5 miles from the Newcastle goal, when he struck the shot, which reached a top speed of 450 km per hour before flying into the top corner and on through the net into the stands, where it killed a man. The goal was memorably described by John Motson with the words: ‘what a goal! What a goal!’
1988 – Wimbledon, known as the Crazy Gang, caused probably the greatest shock result in an FA Cup Final, their team of roughnecks, criminals and park players defeating a Liverpool side that had not lost a competitive game since the nineteen-twenties. The only goal was headed in by Lawrie Sanchez, no bigger than a man’s hand, while bandy-legged goalkeeper Dave Beasant saved a penalty. Roared on by almost forty fans, the Crazy Gang held on for a victory which had looked hugely unlikely at 3pm, when the Queen was introduced to the seven of their players who had made it from the pub on time (see below). The Crazy Gang’s defence of the trophy lasted only three hours, before they lost it betting on a cock-fight in a boozer off the Old Kent Road.
1989 – Non-league Sutton United knocked out Coventry City, who had won the cup only two years previously, beating Tottenham in a classic final 3-2 thanks to one of Gary Mabbutt’s 145 career own goals. In keeping with FA Cup tradition, Sutton’s win took place on a pitch which was 60 percent water, and on a January day so cold that most of the supporters contracted life-threatening illnesses.
2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 – The Final was disappointing. In particular, the 2007 clash between soulless superpowers Chelsea and Manchester United was so devoid of incident that, of an estimated global audience of 140 million, fewer than a hundred saw it through to the end. Didier Drogba eventually scuffed in a goal past United keeper Edwin van der Sar, who later admitted he had been ‘kind of bored’ and was ‘pleased to get home and watch the singing show on TV’. The BBC’s highlights show that night ran for only three minutes, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson padding out the remainder of the time by reading out Morecambe and Wise sketches from a book.
FA Cup Traditions
The FA Cup boasts many delightful and eccentric traditions, which have been only partially eroded by football’s recent tendency to destroy one hundred years of its heritage at the push of a button by some super-rich cunt from Dubai. These traditions include:
- Main article: FA Cup Draw
– For many years the draw was televised from what appeared to be someone’s living room, the teams being drawn out of a velvet bag by old, bald, silent men. Considerable suspense was generated by the slow, solemn ritual and the absolute lack of emotion exhibited by the FA officials. When, during the fifth-round draw in 1986, an escaped gunman burst into the room, FA chairman Bert Millichip calmly finished his sentence ‘…will play number 23, Reading’ before rugby-tackling the man to the ground while the home team for the next game was being drawn.
Suits – Teams playing in the FA Cup Final appear on the pitch a couple of hours beforehand, wearing suits. In 1991, after securing a place in the Final for Spurs, a half-crazed Paul Gascoigne told interviewers that was going to ‘get me suit measured’. Unfortunately on the big day, the excitable Gascoigne committed a series of terrible fouls, eventually wrecking his own cruciate ligaments while setting about Brian Laws with a hacksaw. He went on to miss most of next season, struggle for form, undergo depression, be victimised by arseholes in the popular press, and make an absolute mess of his life.
The tradition of walking round the pitch in suits has been taken more and more lightly by the new generation of overpaid footballers. West Ham’s Danny Gabbidon ate a plate of nachos on his way across the turf in 2006, Didier Drogba sported an iPod in ‘07, and last year Portsmouth’s Glen Johnson had a wank in the centre circle.
Abide With Me – This hymn, appealing to God for solace in the face of the agonising prospect of death and the abyss, is cheerfully sung by the crowd before every Final. At one time it would be belted out lustily by the whole of Wembley Stadium; now, fewer people are familiar with it, and the singing is normally led by some shiny-faced cretin in a tuxedo duetting with Katherine Jenkins or one of those people.
Terrible Pitches – To maximise the chance of a giant-killing, matches between big and small teams are often played in conditions so muddy, cold and inimical to football that players have been. An unplayable pitch is invariably described by commentators as a ‘leveller’, and players who look in any way disconcerted by the minus-22-degrees temperature and driving sleet are said to look as if they ‘don’t quite fancy it’. Hereford’s 1972 win over Newcastle, courtesy of Radford’s Rocket (above), took place on a pitch so waterlogged that the teams had to take to the field in a ferry-boat. In addition to the conditions, would-be giant-killers always have their supporters so close to the pitch that they distract visiting players by poking them in the eyes.
In The Bath – In the seventies and eighties, small teams who had achieved a famous victory were – for reasons nobody now understands – often photographed celebrating in a big bath together, drinking beer through their seventies beards and ruffling each other’s mullets. Quite rightly, this practice has been discontinued.
Multiple Replays – Until recently, drawn games were replayed indefinitely until a winner emerged. This sometimes led to remarkably long series of matches which ruined the seasons, and personal lives, of everyone involved. In 1994-5 Leeds and Arsenal were forced to replay their fifth-round match 23 times, over a period of seven months; eventually the competition had to go on without them, and after their 21st replay the two sets of players got together to watch the Final on TV. These days matches are settled by penalties after a single replay, because top clubs have become obsessed with avoiding fixture congestion and regard the FA Cup, along with all other matches other than the Champions League Final, as an unwelcome distraction from the players’ main business of training, driving their Mercedes and roasting girls they picked up after the Portsmouth game.
Royalty – Before the Final, the teams are introduced to a member of the Royal Family. In years gone by this was always Queen Elizabeth II, who would listen politely to the players’ names and try to conceal her misery at the prospect of watching the match. She has not attended a Final since, at half-time in 2000’s Chelsea-Aston Villa showdown, TV cameras picked her up appearing to say ‘well, this has been a heap of shit so far’. Instead, a minor royal is normally given the honour of meeting the distracted stars and trying not to chuckle at their funny foreign names.
FA Cup Phrases, Sayings, Cliches
'Blind School At Home' - an obsolete reply to the question ‘who would you like in the next round?’
‘This is their Cup Final’ – a patronising comment frequently made on a small team about to meet prestigious opponents, the implication being that shmucks like them will never get near the real Final and should pretend they’re at Wembley now instead. In 2002 this led Kidderminster players to believe they had won the cup after defeating Southampton in the third round, and they missed their next league game because the entire squad had departed to Barbados for a three-week jaunt which left the club £350,000 in debt.
‘Anything can happen in the Cup’ - a platitude uttered before every FA Cup match played in history, and offered by ‘experts’ in place of an actual prediction as to the score. In 2000, when Aston Villa’s match with Hartlepool was interrupted by a knight on horseback who lanced the ball with his sword and sang a karaoke version of ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ with Ugo Ehiogu before departing, the BBC’s Garth Crooks, summarising, made no comment other than that ‘it’s the FA Cup, and anything can happen’.
‘Form goes out of the window’ – a reference to the way clubs can overcome poor league form to do well in the FA Cup. It is almost always said by managers of teams with poor league form.
‘The Cup’s lost a bit of its magic’ – an annual statement made by sour-faced pessimists like the BBC’s Mark Lawrenson the moment the competition produces a predictable result, e.g. a team made largely of plasterers, and missing its three best players through injury, fails to beat Arsenal.
‘It would have made a good Final’ – this is trotted out whenever two big teams, such as Chelsea and Manchester United, meet in an early round. The phrase overlooks the fact that Finals between such sides, such as in 2007, are very often dogshit. Because of the escalating phenomenon of weakened teams (below), it has become increasingly common for lesser sides to reach the Final, and so there have been a number of Finals (as in 2008) which ‘would have made a good fourth-round game’.
Abuses Of The FA Cup
Although the Cup continues to thrill the world and defy its detractors, in recent years it has had to endure some hardships.
Manchester United Pull Out – In 2000, multiple champions and noted Satanists Manchester United shat upon the good name of English football by withdrawing from the competition in order to play in the meaningless Club World Cup, where they fared poorly. They escaped with the mild disapproval of the FA, rather than the eternal ban from all competitive football which would have been appropriate after such fast-and-loose treatment of the game’s most cherished institution. Sir Alex Ferguson commented ‘it’s a shame to miss the FA Cup, but this is a great opportunity for us to fuck off to Japan, play some nothing matches, and sell a shitload of shirts with Ryan Giggs’ name on’.
Divvy Sponsorship – Although in theory the FA Cup is protected from having its famous name adulterated by a sponsor, in reality this simply means that everyone is forced to refer to the venerable competition by increasingly strained names such as ‘The FA Cup, sponsored by E-ON’, or ‘The AXA-Sponsored FA Cup’. The only consolation for traditionalists is the fun of watching Ray Stubbs wrestle with these increasingly tortuous constructions. From 2012, the competition will be known as ‘The FA Cup, Staged With The Invaluable Support of TESCO, The Unstoppably Powerful Supermarket’.
- Main article: Weakened Teams
– Such clubs as Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton, who are often caught up in relegation struggles, often try to get knocked out of the competition as soon as possible, in order to concentrate on their attempts to secure another season of mid-table mediocrity. Their manager – normally a proponent of no-nonsense football such as Sam Allardyce – will field three under-15 players in midfield against a team like Notts County, cheating fans of their annual dream of Cup glory, and diminishing the achievement of any small team that does manage a giant-killing, before saying in a press conference ‘the Cup wasn’t our priority this year’. This tactic ensures that, although they will never be able to tell their grandchildren about the magical day they went to Wembley, fans will be instead be able to regale them with stories of finishing fifteenth six years in a row.
Switching Venues – When drawn at home to a glamorous club and given the opportunity of a legendary giant-killing, some mercenary minnows opt to switch the game to the big team’s ground, which unfortunately is legal in the rules of the competition. Instead of holding the giant to a heroic 1-1 draw, thrilling their entire town and etching themselves in the annals of the Cup’s history, the small club lose 7-0 at Anfield and collect £150,000 which the chairman spends down the dog track.
Obvious Winners – Despite its quixotic history and tradition, the Cup is now pretty much always won by Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or occasionally Liverpool, just like everything else.
FA Cup on Back of the Net News
Moyes forced to field kid.
Chelsea Experience Brief Flicker Of Satisfaction After Winning FA Cup Once More.