Can you see the sparkling pixie dust wafting over the country? Is your spine quivering in pent-up expectation? Can you barely contain your imminent explosion of pure ecstasy? If you’re a sentient human being then your answer must be yes, because The Magic of the FA Cup© is back! Before we get Fifty Shades of Bollocks over giant killings galore and cupsets aplenty, remember there’s an elephant turd-sized helping of nauseating hyperbolic shite to wade through first..
I’m a soulless cynic, you say? Well if mind-numbingly repetitive nonsense is your thing, help yourself, but let’s get some things straight before we begin. The oldest knockout tournament in the world (as we are incessantly reminded every year, as if we have never been told before) is an institution. Whether your side have a rich history in it or not, there is a tangible thrill of the unknown.
I come from a town with a particularly vivid relationship with the old tin pot; Altrincham. Back in the 1970s, Alty would stand toe to toe with the biggest names in the country, and more often than not would win. Now they’re slumming it in the seventh-tier EvoStik Premier League, but let’s gloss over that. The point is, were it not for the prestige of the cup runs of the last century, Moss Lane would be just another largely forgotten ground. Instead, it is the theatre of some magnificent dramas, and gives pride to the mighty Robins.
Do I like the FA Cup then? Yes, of course. I remember going in to bat for my school under-13 cricket team just as Teddy Sheringham swept in a lovely team move to give Manchester United the lead in the second leg of the 1999 treble like it was yesterday. That year’s semi-final saw one the greatest individual goals of modern times as Patrick Vieira gave Giggs the ball, and Arsenal won… you know the rest.
I myself have in fact won the world’s second-oldest continuously run football tournament on a pitch once graced by Quinton Fortune. What do you mean you haven’t heard of the Shrewsbury First House Cup? Uneducated heathens… I digress. Walking up to collect my winners medal 15 seasons ago drenched in sweat was an unparalleled exhilaration. Not because of the result or the revolutionary 1-3-2-3-1 formation we employed, but because of what it meant.
My gripe is not with the competition itself then; it is the ceaseless barrage of regurgitated window dressing the competition is given. Clichés like the Magic of the Cup irritate me for the sole reason that they shouldn’t. There IS magic, but it is magic precisely because it is a distinctly personal experience despite being shared by millions. I don’t want the story crafted for me; I want to craft it myself thank you very much.
If I read one more amazing tale of how some lad from a war-torn country grew up with the FA Cup as his only inspiration only to make his debut in it this weekend, I swear I’ll start a war myself. I hate it because it’s not remotely the fault of the subjects of these ‘heart-warming’ stories; they had a dream, and lived it. Those that cram it down our throats practically demanding that our jaws drop, though – they can piss off.
I could have focussed on Cup moments like Lincoln, Chesterfield, Wayne Shaw, Wimbledon etc., but that would be hypocritical. They deserve the limelight, but of far greater importance to them surely is the inner satisfaction, not the nationwide adulation. I mean I love a bit of back-slapping – who doesn’t – if I have earned it. Once the praise dies away and another flavour of the month comes along, what is left? That is what should be measured, and I know one thing – it is the players, clubs and fans themselves that can measure this, not a journalist.
To be fair to the perpetrators of this twaddle for a moment, their glorification of esoteria and the least-mystical mystique is to be expected. That’s what makes headlines in our world instant gratification. Instead of boycotting the hype altogether though, I suggest we demand something else: something better.
Let’s keep the magic by actually living through the FA Cup in person. Put away your gadgets (that you’re probably reading this on) and walk down the road in your local town this weekend, hand over a some much-needed income to support the club, and watch. Watch with your eyes – you know, those round things in your head – not your screens, and make your own headlines. Don’t read about an incredible story; be part of it.