On 5 January 2014, the second day of FA Cup third-round fixtures, former Liverpool captain-turned football pundit Alan Hansen wrote this article for The Telegraph explaining why The FA Cup needs a major revamp to reignite the romance of the competition.
There are a number of points that I agree with on the topic, but Hansen’s whole argument is based from the viewpoint of Premier League clubs. So here’s the flip side to his argument from the basis of the little clubs in England and why FA Cup romance is still well and truly alive.
Hansen says: “The old feeling, that magic and excitement of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, is not there any more.”
I’ve been watching Kidderminster for 18 years, and I can honestly say I’ve never been so excited to go and watch a football match in my life. There are a number of fixtures that have come close but not quite the same as this.
So far around 3,700 people have confirmed they will be supporting Kidderminster, according to the latest figures announced by the Kidderminster ticket office. To put that into perspective, Harriers’ highest home attendance in the league this season is 3,420 in the recent Boxing Day derby with Hereford United. Around 800 of those spectators were away fans.
Kidderminster has been buzzing for the last 10 days as well. The club has had numerous news reports about its success and actually had to call a press conference ahead of the game this week!
During the third-round replay against Peterborough there were a number of stories which The FA Cup made somewhat magical: Michael Gash equalised for Kidderminster against his hometown club and new manager Andy Thorn, an FA Cup winner with Wimbledon, lost to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in an FA Cup Final replay in 1990. Beating Peterborough knocked out Sir Alex’s son, Darren, and Joe Lolley scored the winner for Kidderminster in what proved to be his swan song before moving to Championship side Huddersfield.
After the game, one friend of mine wrote on Facebook: “this is the best evening of my life” whilst another rang me up during the goal celebrations when Kidderminster went up 2-1, screaming down the phone before later losing his voice. If that’s not FA Cup romance, then I don’t know what is!
Hansen wrote: “The romance was not really anywhere to be seen and you could probably count the number of big shocks on the fingers of one hand.”
So let’s do a quick comparison: In 1986, the year Hansen speaks about in his article, and the year he first won The FA Cup, there were 10 FA Cup third-round upsets (upsets are being defined as a team from a lower division beating a team from a higher division), of which two were won in a replay. There were also three matches in which a lower division team drew but then lost in the replay.
In 2014, there were eight third-round cup upsets overall, of which two were won in the replay. There were also six games that were drawn, but the lower division side lost—and let’s not forget Conference side Grimsby who had led Championship side Huddersfield Town 2-1 with five minutes to go before conceding two late goals.
So really, there’s not been too much change in the number of upsets, or near upsets.
The reactions of people involved in these giant-killing games shows just how much they mean. Here are a couple of examples:
After Rochdale's 2-0 defeat of Leeds United, Dale’s Peter Vincenti told Dale Player (subscription only): “There is a magic about the FA Cup still for lower league sides.
“The place was packed, and they’ve brought a massive following—it was a great day.”
Kidderminster’s Jack Byrne was left almost speechless after the victory against Peterborough. He told BBC Hereford & Worcester, via Harriers Player: “As a player when you’re lower down, these are ties that you dream of.
“I can’t think of a better tie to be fair, all the lads are absolutely buzzing and can’t wait for [Sunderland].”
Hansen says: “The decline of the FA Cup was clearly reflected in the number of punters who turned up to watch the games.”
Now it’s hard to disagree with this observation, however there were a few exceptions to this rule.
Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Rochdale and Derby all saw their highest home attendances of the season in The FA Cup third round, whilst Blackburn, Grimsby and Southend saw their second highest. It should be noted as well that Southend’s fourth-round tie against Hull is set to be their first sell-out crowd of the season.
Admittedly, these are just seven fixtures out of 32, but to a number of those teams the enlarged crowds they receive on cup day can make a huge difference to the clubs' finances. Crawley Town, for example, received over a million pounds as a result of their fifth-round tie with Manchester United in 2011.
It’s a shame that Hansen fails to acknowledge the part that smaller teams play in The FA Cup, other than mentioning Liverpool would never play a weakened team even if they had non-league opposition.
But really, how often is it that the so-called romantic FA Cup stories even involve the big clubs anyway, other than when they’re on the wrong end of a cup upset?
It’s the fact that this is the ONLY competition where a select few non-league sides get the chance to try their hand against superior opposition, and sometimes they win, which makes The FA Cup so special.
And whether it be Phil Brown taking on his former Premier League club at his sold-out new home, or Oldham taking the lead twice to knock out Liverpool, The FA Cup will never stop giving us fairy tale stories.
I, along with thousands of others fans, will enjoy my club’s moment in the spotlight this weekend and will well and truly embrace the romance of The FA Cup.