The Cup that cheers; to quote a very old advertising slogan. It related, if I remember rightly to cups of tea; but you might say that while the venerable FA Cup has by no means been every major club’s cup of tea for some embattled years, it provided huge drama and supreme surprise in the 4th round matches.
In the case of Queens Park Rangers, whom I saw come pitifully apart at home to Milton Keynes Dons of League 1, it was a kind of suicide. All very well for their enraged manager Harry Redknapp to excoriate the players, most of them usually reserves, he put in, admitting in the match programme that survival in the Premiership was his priority. By doing what he did was plainly giving hostages to fortune. And two of the Dons four goals were the result of dreadful mistakes by defenders of first team rank, in the shape of Anton Ferdinand, hopelessly missing a long ball kicked out of opposing defence, and left back Traore, a vigorous overlapper who left horrible holes behind him when he surged upfield.
QPR virtually snubbed the FA Cup by fielding so many choices and the fact is that the competition has been under pressure for so many years. This despite the fact that from its innovation in 1872 it proved the driving force in the development of English football. At first dominated by ex public school amateurs, it radically change din the 1880s when the two Blackburn clubs, Olympic, then Rovers, reigned supreme with thinly disguised professionals.
By 1886 it was plain that the Cup simply could not provide sufficient fixtures for clubs with paid players, and the foundation of the Football League was the natural consequence.
But ‘giant killing’ has always remained one of the greatest attractions of the Cup and it was fascinating to see Luton Town, a club which once reached and lost an FA Cup final, but in recent disastrous years had been forced out of the Football League into non-league football, sensationally knocked out Premiership’s Norwich City on their own Carrow Road ground.
Not to mention the powerful endorsement given the competition by the long-serving Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who said after the 4-1 crushing of Fulham that he took the competition very seriously and wanted to win it. United having failed to do so for the best part of a decade. True he didn’t use the prolific Robin Van Persie in attack but there as no denying his insistence that he had put out a very strong team.
Perhaps with unhappy memories of how, back in 1999, the FA had betrayed their own trust and their own great tournament by bowing to government pressure and decreeing that United, holders of the trophy, should withdraw from the competition to contest the irrelevance of the so-called Club World Cup in Brazil. This because the government hoped to secure the ensuing World Cup for England and feared it would not do so if it snubbed the new superfluous competition. In the event, England did not get the World Cup anyway.
Days before that dramatic 4th round the Football League Cup, originally founded as a hoped-for rival to the FA Cup by the bitterly hostile secretary of the Football League, the late Alan Hardaker, had produced its own sensation when Bradford City of the lowest league division knocked out famous Aston Villa on goals aggregate. But though Hardaker transformed his competition when he took its final to Wembley, it has never attained the prestige of the FA Cup which he wanted to destroy.