Carson: FA Cup embodies essence of sports
Alex Carson | Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup) is one of my favorite things in sports.
It is the greatest cup competition in the world. Encompassing teams from 10 different tiers of the English soccer league system — 736 teams entered this season — the competition often pits the top teams in the Premier League with clubs from the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth tiers of the system. And sometimes those small clubs win; last year saw then-fifth-tier Luton Town knock out then-Premier League side Norwich City.
It’s fun. The speculation of who might do the “giant killing” in each year’s tournament draws great intrigue — and this year, we’ve seen it.
Maybe it’s my Indiana basketball roots that give way to my love of the FA Cup. My state’s tradition of an all-comers, single-class high school state basketball tournament encompassed much of the same spirit, and when little Milan took down Muncie Central in the 1954 title game, the tournament earned a charm that continues to this day. They made a movie about it, too.
Or maybe it’s the spirit of the Indianapolis 500, the idea that anyone can show up at the Brickyard with a car and have a shot to qualify for the field of 33 to take the green flag Memorial Day weekend.
The FA Cup provides a perfect chance for the Davids to have their days against the Goliaths of the world. And when they win? It’s a grand occasion.
Take last weekend for example. Third-tier Bradford City traveled to Chelsea to take on the Premier League’s table-toppers. The “Bantams” — as Bradford is affectionately known — fell behind, 2-0.
And then they scored four unanswered goals to slay Goliath.
It’s that magical moment many will remember forever. The tournament’s progressed to the Fifth Round Proper — we’d call it the “Sweet Sixteen” more than likely — and you won’t find Chelsea in the running for the crown. And they’re not the only high-profile team missing out. Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City were both knocked out last stage with Manchester United facing a replay with fourth-tier Cambridge United to just stay in the competition.
Instead, the FA Cup is littered with lower-tier sides. Third-tier Bradford City will be joined by another League One side — either Preston North End or Sheffield United — and be alongside a host of second-division teams. Each and every one of them — not to mention Cambridge — will be dreaming of getting to arguably the greatest stage in the sport, Wembley Stadium, with a chance to take home arguably the world’s most storied trophy.
I mean, think about it. We all remember that George Mason made a run to the Final Four in 2006 or how Butler made it to consecutive national championship games, but who else joined them on college basketball’s grandest stage?
I was at two of those Final Fours — 2006 and 2010 — and it took me forever to remember that LSU, yes, LSU, made it to the Final Four in 2006 with Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
But it’s these moments that make us fall in love with sports. Show someone a solid matchup between two top teams and, sure, they’ll probably find it interesting. But show them Appalachian State over Michigan or NC State over Houston, and you’ll have them hooked.
What makes sports great? That games aren’t played on paper. That on any day, any team has a chance of beating another, no matter the perceived strength of one over the other. It’s unscripted.
That’s why we love them.
So when Arsenal meets second-tier Middlesbrough on Feb. 15 in the fifth round, even if you aren’t a soccer fan, try to tune in and follow the match.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll see the next great FA Cup moment.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.