For those of us over a certain age, the romance of Cup football back in the twentieth century is hard to beat.
In 1970, I remember watching a televised FA Cup Final in colour for the first time when Chelsea and Leeds fought out an epic 2-2 draw at Wembley. Seven years later I was at the famous twin towers in the flesh as underdogs Manchester United beat all-conquering Liverpool 2-1 . . . 12 months after the Red Devils were humbled 1-0 in the final by minnows Southampton.
For me it was always the epic occasions when David beat Goliath in the earlier rounds that made the FA Cup special.
Who that watched the drama unfold will ever forget Ronnie Radford’s spectacular strike for Hereford that took Newcastle to extra time in 1972, before Ricky George delivered the knockout blow for the minnows? Or Sutton United’s famous 2-1 triumph over Coventry City in 1989, just two years after the Sky Blues lifted the trophy? And what about Wrexham’s famous triumph by the same score over Arsenal in 1992? The list of famous cup upsets is endless – and happily those days are not over.
Events this week, especially Bradford City’s historic semi-final win over Aston Villa in the League Cup, are evidence that the magic of the cup will never die.
With the financial resources of the elite so much greater than it has ever been, smaller clubs in the modern era could easily accept that a fairytale triumph against opposition from the top flight is now an impossible dream. While cynics will argue that winning one of the domestic Cups has been devalued by the big clubs focusing on an obsession with the Premier League and qualification for the Champions League.
But that is so far wide of the mark that it is an insult to the millions who dream of watching their heroes pull off an upset. Do not tell me that Liverpool, Spurs or FA Cup holders Chelsea lacked the desire to reach Wembley as they stumbled against Oldham, Leeds and Brentford this afternoon. Or that Norwich City believed they would perish at the hands of non-league Luton Town on Saturday.
There is certainly no lack of desire at Manchester United where Javier Hernandez talked of his dream of winning the treble after the Reds brushed aside Fulham 4-1.
It is remarkable that the likes of Bradford, Luton, Leeds and Oldham have restored the romance of cup football in one extraordinary week that is just as priceless for the game as a whole as it is for the clubs revelling in the glory of their spectacular giant-killing acts.
What makes football in England and Wales special is the possibility that any club on its day can pull off the impossible dream. And that is why this week’s cup shocks and fairytale triumphs are such a great boost for the game.