Standing Up For The Cup

The FA Cup is a competition that is constantly talked of as being devalue, but manages to survive season after season providing entertainment along the way.

In some ways, it mirrors the County Championship. What was once the blue riband of England’s sporting calendar is now marginalised to a point, often played in front of dwindling crowds and with the scores found out on the internet afterwards.

Premier League teams, we are told, are at the forefront of this devaluation. Bournemouth changed all eleven players from their previous leasubseq a breathless draw with Arsenal, for their third round cup tie at Millwall. They lost, handsomely.

Serve them right, come the cries, though one suspects that Cherries fans will lick their wounds for a short while then come to terms with the job in hand – the league.

Yet there is little incentive for Bournemouth to use the energy of their star players in the cup. In the last 20 years, only two winners of the competition have come from outside the group of the two Manchester sides, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Wigan were victorious in 2013, and Portsmouth in 2008. It would be disingenuous to suggest those sides subsequent struggles were as a result of their cup success, but the trips to the Europa League they earned would not have been beneficial to squad who were not bolstered by the extra Champions League funding.

You’ll note, I have not once mentioned the trophy in all of this. I support a traditionally second or third tier side. Aside from playoffs, the only competition I have seen them win is the Yorkshire Electricity Cup (1994/95, a 4-2 win against Hull, if memory serves). Every year we hope for a cup run, not expecting to win it, but at least make a splash – maybe if we got a big draw we could get on TV, because there’s no other reason we’d get picked – neither big enough to be giant killed, nor small enough to be minnows.

Even at Championship level, there is a disinterest in the cup, with rafts of changes being made. Again, there is no incentive not to do. The only way a Championship side can enjoy a successful cup run (realistically) is to progress to a point where one of those big five knocks them out.

The team changes themselves are not the cause of the devaluation of the competition, in other words, they are the effect.

The devaluation has come with the fact that, firstly, winning the competition is almost definitely a closed shop, and secondly, the money that a televised tie can bring in is generally given to those sides most likely to win it; money goes to money.

In some ways, that makes sense. The choice of Liverpool v Plymouth for television might seem natural over, say, Millwall v Bournemouth. Yet there was always likely to be more chance of an upset at the Den, something that perpetuates the story of the ‘magic of the cup’.

For all this complaining, nothing will change. The free-to-air broadcasters will continue to screen ersatz Premier League ties, or occasional victories for the big boys, starved as they are of such viewer-drawing fayre elsewhere.

Bournemouth, Swansea, Everton and the like, will continue to view the competition as an inconvenience, something they can’t win and few seem to care whether they progress or not.

To save the FA Cup, the competition itself needs to demonstrate a little integrity – perhaps to insist on one all non-Premier League tie to be screened, perhaps to insist on a maximum number of player changes. In other words, the FA must stand up to the Premier League.

We all know that won’t happen.

Congratulations to Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea or one of the Manchester clubs; FA Cup winners 2017, 2018, 2019….

On Dragons

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I was in the bath reading a book about the 1960 Olympics in Rome, but started thinking about dragons.

You don’t see dragons any more,

In deserts or on jungle floors,

In fact, I’m sure you never did,

While humans roamed the dragons hid.

And yet, you’d know one were it there,

They look the same most everywhere,

Green of skin and hard of scale,

A whip of triangle on its tail,

Truly scary, it transpires,

And that’s before the breathing fire,

The fact the pictures look the same,

And that the beasts do not remain,

Suggests to me one honest truth,

A theory of which I have no proof.

You don’t see dragons any more,

They’re legendary dinosaurs.

I was thinking of the mythical creatures like the kraken, and the fact that they were based on things that might have been present but we’re so horrible and so unfamiliar that they took on another more terrible identity (a bit like the Gruffalo) and it strikes me that dragons are a bit the same. Maybe a cave painting was exaggerated, maybe tales became taller.

A Chocolate Orange kind of a week.

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This is a story based on a true story; as true as I remember it. Maybe it’s a fabrication based on some small points that I recall. I’m sure some of the other players in the tale remember it better than I.

Some time ago I lived in the front bedroom of a student house. It sounds a strange arrangement now, but at the time it made sense. As I was the one least likely to be asleep at any time, I was the one least likely to be woken up by anything.

Although it was a living room initially, it was very much a bedroom for me. If I entertained, it would be there, though I didn’t. I had a 2 metre high poster of the sleeve of Let Robeson Sing by the Manic Street Preachers on the wall by the door, and later, the line “Love’s The Greatest Thing” in the style of blur’s Tender on the other side of the room.

I was downstairs, then, and two of my friends were upstairs. In truth, only one of them spent any significant time upstairs as the other had a girlfriend in a different house, and he spent a good deal of his time there. It made for a cushy time, and we were happy.

A lot of things happened during the few years I lived in that house – too many to mention in just one tale – though this is the story of just one.

It was, for example, where I definitively stopped wearing jeans. One day, after walking home in the rain in jeans, I found my legs had gone blue in the bath. Never again, I vowed. Never again.

That was in the downstairs bathroom, a place that was forever cold and the site of some of my more spectacular nosebleeds.

There was also an upstairs bathroom, though this was seldom used – with two and a bit people in the house, it was an element of luxury seldom afforded to the student populous.

Well, it was for a while. The bathroom was on a corridor that ran along the length of the ceiling of my bedroom and the room itself was entirely over my room. Lucky it was not regularly used.

One day one of my housemates answered a call of nature upstairs and the toilet in that room omitted a noise we were unfamiliar with. As language students we were ill prepared for the realities of emergency plumbing, so we hoped the noise would stop and the problem would go away.

It did not.

Before too long, it was obvious that the water level of the toilet was not what it was. The pressure dropped and we thought it would pass.

Things do not work out like that with water. Overnight, it became very apparent that something far more was happening. The first sign was that the big poster peeled down, creating a hell of a racket as it peeled off the wall.

There is a time in situations like this, that things race away from you. I remember bullet points from the week, and there is a logical order to them, but I don’t recall how it all came about.

We got a plumber in; he fixed the problem about three days after it started. In that time, I had spent one night in my room with sewage dripping down the wall, ruining the electrics and laying waste to the paper and posters.

By the following night, the odour of faecal matter had become so strong that I couldn’t stay in the room – even with the door shut it was difficult even in the living room across the corridor.

The next day was different; a mad rush to rescue anything that was salvageable and dispose of what wasn’t. I learnt a lot that day. Primarily, that was a lot about what was permeable, and a lot about what was not but also a great deal about how you could fit the contents of one room into another.

There were other lessons, about how quickly one’s nose adapts to a smell and, later, how easily it can return to it. It was quite a day.

The next day, when the brown liquid had stopped drip drip dripping, the clean up operation began. It was painted wallpaper, and it took a long time scrubbing, and a lot of disinfectant but eventually it was sorted, a more pristine powder blue than it had been for many years.

The electrics were a different matter. More lessons were learned, and over a longer time. Plastic plus cleaner equals the smell of chocolate orange. A piercing, irreplaceable chocolate orange that lingers for many weeks. The sockets still worked, but they took on the role of air fresheners too.

I have never been able to listen to Let Robeson Sing since that week without thinking of it, and never really eaten a chocolate orange again either.