'Bloody Burnley away son, that's what's up'
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we can find Harrison Ford’s most profound/cheesy/tediously predictable moment in film. Faced with choosing the sweet apple of the Holy Grail from a line-up mainly featuring gaudy onions festooned with jewels and bling, beckoning him with their shiny little cubic zirconia ring-adorned bastard fingers, Indy picks a small wooden cup. A symbol of humble hopes and dreams. A cup neither unblemished by symbols of the greed of man, nor blighted by the accessibility only great wealth can facilitate.
It should be obvious how the FA Cup is related to this little message. If it isn’t, let me explain. The FA Cup is also a bloody ludicrous metaphor. While the story peddled is that it offers romance and heroic deeds – the purer aspects of the sport – the wider reality in public consciousness is that no one takes much notice of those themes until the Third Round. By then, gaudy onions are everywhere, attracting everyone’s attention and generally ousting the humble non-leaguers in a flurry of spray tan and diamonte.
Precious little thought is given to the sheer amount of blood and sweat expended by those normally viewed as cannon fodder to have even got this far (though it isn’t as much as went on in that Indiana Jones nonsense, let me tell you). So this post is for them and their remarkable achievements.
Manchester United v Liverpool is the ‘tie of the round’? Is it buggery. The real ties of the round are Huddersfield v Dover Athletic and Bolton v York. The game at Old Trafford has arisen through luck and chance. Dover’s and York’s trips to the Galpharm and Reebok Stadiums have arisen through them winning matches. THEY are the plum ties. We’ve heard you can’t move in Dover and York city centre for all the plums.
Dover’s story is pretty remarkable. They’ve been covered by Football Focus this week and the BBC cameras saw them stick seven past Thurrock in the Blue Square Bet South on Monday. What I imagine you might hear this weekend is that Dover have ‘played more matches than any other side to get to the third round’. Which is true, they’ve played six: against Erith Town, Cambridge City, Farnborough (twice), Gillingham and Aldershot.
On the way, they’ve won five and drawn one. They’ve only conceded three goals – and none of them were to professional opposition (they’ve kept clean sheets away at Gillingham and at home to Aldershot). They’ve scored 15 times. Dover’s away tie at Huddersfield is not a ‘nice day out’ (although let’s not deny the financial boost from a significant attendance, should one materialise). It’s downright incredible work.
Meanwhile, 390 minutes of toil were needed just for York to make the third round draw. Following a 2-0 win away at Kidderminster, City followed a hard-fought goalless draw with Rotherham at the Don Valley Stadium with a hugely impressive 3-0 win back at Bootham Crescent. This was no mean feat considering Rotherham are currently second in League 2, having lost just three times all season (none by more than a goal). The Minstermen then travelled further north to seal an excellent 2-0 win away at Conference rivals Darlington. Four tricky games over three rounds just to earn the privilege of sharing the opportunity to have Noel Gallagher pluck your ball from an expensive plastic bucket – there’s no ‘luck of the draw’ involved as far as York are concerned.
Bushby will be there on Saturday at the Reebok, probably half-pissed, joining in with renditions of the Warburton’s bread theme tune from the City faithful. You certainly couldn’t persuade him or the 4,300 others that are making the trip across the Pennines that the magic of the FA Cup is dead.
Unfortunately, the third round draw offers few similar tales of lower-league dreams, and those that do look just as likely (On our nemesis – PAPER) to be snuffed out. Stevenage, at home to Newcastle, and Burton away at Middlesbrough have the more glamorous ties of the League Two sides remaining, which isn’t saying much, especially when you also consider Port Vale have landed a trip to Burnley. If there is any giant-killing to be had, mind you, no one can say the minnows haven’t earned it.