This weekend is the third round of the FA Cup, the knockout tournament that runs alongside the league season and is open to many levels of non-
league teams as well as the 92 league clubs. It is at this stage that the clubs from the top two divisions of English football enter the competition and the excitement builds. Although the overall significance of the FA Cup has become lessened in recent years with the focus on the Premiership and Champions League, and the financial rewards that go along with just competing in either one, it is still a major trophy and one every team would want to win. On FA Cup third round day, the upsets and giant-killing stories from years past will be retold across the British media. Ronnie Radford’s famous goal for Hereford against Newcastle will be shown. Wrexham’s unlikely slaying of the reigning league champions, Arsenal, in 1992 will be rehashed. Wimbledon’s shock win over the great Liverpool side in 1988 will be brought up, Lawrie Sanchez’s winning goal and Dave Beasant’s penalty save televised once again.
While these retrospectives are communal to all football fans in Britain, what makes the FA Cup magical is that every fan will have their own personal memories of their club’s exploits in the tournament. I remember being 9 years old and watching the Spurs vs Arsenal semi-final in 1991, when Gary Lineker scored twice and Gascoigne hit that free-kick – which I rewatched so many times I could repeat Barry Davies’ commentary without looking…”Gascoigne…is he going to have a crack? He is you know! OH I SAY! BRILLIANT! THAT IS SCHOOLBOY’S OWN STUFF!”. For the final, we were in Greece on a family holiday, but my Dad and I sought out a place showing the game so we could watch us win the Cup. 21 years later, that is still the last time Tottenham won the trophy.
The games that really stick out in the memory are the ones I went to, especially the defeats: the 4-3 loss to Manchester City in 2004, a game Spurs had led 3-0 in at half-time; driving more than 600 miles round-trip to Newcastle with my sister in 2005, only to see us slump to a tepid 1-0 defeat; then the following year we travelled to Leicester and saw Tottenham lose 3-2 (again throwing away a lead, having been 2-0 up) to lower league opposition. But there was also a replay away to Nottingham Forest that my sister and I got stuck in a ridiculously long traffic jam before and ended up having to run over the Trent Bridge (in the snow) to get into the stadium just after kick-off, and into our places in time to see Spurs win 3-0. I enjoyed the FA Cup so much I would even go to non-Tottenham games – I went to watch Cheltenham vs Chester in the third round of the 2006 competition, which ended up being a dramatic 2-2 draw with Chester earning a replay having been two goals down.
A lot of the attention this weekend might go to the glamour tie between Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday – but they get to play each other week in, week out. The David vs Goliath stories, the upsets, the romance of the FA Cup will be found elsewhere. You never know where a shock result will happen on third round day – all the pundits try to predict, but the nature of the surprise is you do not see it coming. I just hope it’s not Cheltenham winning at White Hart Lane.