FOX Soccer Exclusive
FA Cup magic on full display
The FA Cup sometimes gets a bad rap, even back in England where we should know better. That’s why this past weekend was so important: it served as a reminder that the magic of this tournament is not only still present, but burning strong.
With all due respect to the Liverpool, Norwich, Queens Park and Tottenham fans, it’s hard not to feel a swell of pride when you see teams like Luton, Oldham and MK Dons knock off the big boys.
That is the stuff dreams are made of in this sport, and I can tell you that playing in a game like that is a goal for children across our country. This tournament really gets to the heart of our culture. It’s about the underdogs having their day, it’s about gutting through the games on a cold, rainy field, and it’s about looking up and seeing the fans in the stands and knowing what it means to them. If anyone’s ever questioned the passion of the FA Cup – well, they got their answer this weekend.
Often times – and I’m guilty of it as well – we talk about millions of pounds spent on players as if it was pennies. For teams like Oldham, millions of pounds would be live-saving. That’s a team that is literally living paycheck to paycheck – they don’t even have a reserve-team coach! Manager Paul Dickov has had to lay off staff, and as you saw on our telecast, the club couldn’t even afford to paint over an old sponsor on their main stand. These games keep these small clubs alive.
I don’t think you can say that Oldham and Luton won against weakened sides either. For example, Liverpool left Steven Gerrard on the bench, but they weren’t bad top to bottom on paper – they lost that game because when Oldham came and hit them early, Liverpool acted shell-shocked.
I played in a lot of games like that with Wimbledon and Newcastle. We were always told to never discount the underdog. Teams in that situation play with such commitment and desire that if you slip up and get behind, it can be very hard to claw back.
I think we saw that at Loftus Road where MK Dons really embarrassed QPR this weekend. MK Dons are a good club, one I actually played for very briefly in the twilight of my career. They’ve got a stable foundation, a good stadium and I think this is a result that tells you how far they have been able to come. For QPR, it’s not make or break, but I think as Harry Redknapp said, it answered a lot of questions about the commitment of his squad.
Let’s also give real credit to Brentford, who came within four minutes of knocking out Chelsea. For them, that tie is a win because it gives them a lucrative replay, which I think is better for the club in some ways then a next-round berth. The payday they will get will be massive, and while of course they want to progress, from the chairman’s point of view, that’s a game to pay all their bills.
Lastly, great credit to Leeds United, who are anything but a small club. They got a deserved win over Tottenham and I don’t think Andre Villas-Boas can have too many complaints. I don’t think Clint Dempsey would want to play as a lone striker up top every week, but he got his goal and that’s how you judge a forward. I think if you asked him, he’d say he wants to play off the striker because it gives him channels to move into and poach. I think he’s shown fantastic attitude and maturity in any case, and it’s clear to me that he’s going to be a real asset for Spurs.
I will say I was a bit disappointed that the fifth round draw didn’t give home games to some of the smaller teams: you’ve got United, City and Arsenal all at home, and it would have been nice to see Milton Keynes or Luton host a giant. Oldham-Everton jumps right out at me as the match of the round as a result.
The soccer doesn’t stop this week as we have a big game Wednesday on the channel with Arsenal taking on Liverpool at 2:30 PM ET. Arsenal passed a couple big tests this week, while Liverpool obviously need to rebound. This game’s a critical one for them both: Liverpool needs to breach that top four while Arsenal needs to be putting the Liverpool clubs in their rear-view mirror. Both teams have the talent – I think it really will come down to character and how they react after the weekend.
That’s my take, anyway, and I’d love to hear yours. You can always follow me on Twitter at @WarrenBarton2 and chat away. We also answer as many questions as we can on @FOXSoccer. As always, thanks for reading and for watching, and I’ll see you right here next week!
More Stories From Warren Barton