By Dermot Clarke
The most romantic of all football competitions in the world has always been the F.A. Cup. It is a competition that has seen the minnows conquer the mighty time and time again. Many non-league teams have survived just by virtue of a big name draw in the Cup. Cup finals at Wembley have seen dramatic creations of the sort that even the most imaginative of playwrights would deem a little too farfetched for London’s West End stage.
Indeed, players have stayed on the Wembley pitch with broken arms (Gerry Byrne, Liverpool) and broken necks (Bert Trautmann, Manchester City), such was there reluctance to leave the Wembley pitch because it was the F.A. Cup final. OK, in fairness, poor old Bert didn’t know his neck was broken, but I’m sure he had a fair idea something was amiss.
Many highlights come to mind. The dramatic finish to United-Arsenal in 1979, Ricardo Villa’s searing run and score in ’81 for Spurs versus Manchester City. Then there was the Norman Whiteside winner for 10-man United in extra time against Everton, the upset of the ’70s when Jim Montgomery’s heroics helped Sunderland to victory over Leeds. The great Liverpool-Everton finals and John Aldridge’s penalty miss, which led to the shock Wimbledon victory in ’88. I could go on forever, the competition is full of history and drama, but it could be about to change.
In 1945-46, Hull City pulled out of the Cup because their ground was unfit, due to war damage. In 1992-93, Maidstone United had to pull out, because the club went into liquidation — fair enough. Next year, the name Manchester United won’t be going into the hat for the third round draw. The reason being that FIFA have come up with another master idea for a competition and they intend to hold it in January, in Brazil, of all places.
The FIFA World Club championships has its inauguration next year. Money, money, money. The F.A. thought it would be a good idea for United to travel because it might swing the 2006 World Cup hosting pendulum in England’s favor, should United take part. They allowed United to opt out of the Cup. So next year’s F.A. Cup loses its appeal and becomes a virtual non-event. The F.A. Cup without the holders will be like Wimbledon without Robinson’s barley water.
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The bread-and-butter United supporter will be left to twiddle his thumbs on third-round day, while his heroes prepare to have their limbs torn off by Vasco da Gama because of the ruling body’s genius. If you don’t believe me, ask any United player who took the field against Estudiantes de la Plata in the World Club Championship of ’68. United are the best club team in the world at present. They don’t need to go to Brazil to prove it and they don’t need to tug the forelock to FIFA. Certainly not if it means harming the great competition that is the F.A. Cup.
What is it about the French? I remember thinking when Didier Six became the first Frenchman to cross the Channel and play in the English league — "Oh no, not a Frenchman!"
Cantona, Ginola, Petit and Anelka, all great talents, but all problematic in their own ways. Cantona had the Football League looking at re-erecting fences around grounds, in order that the fans be protected from the players. Petit whined about victimization all through last term, vowing on several occasions never to play in England again. Anelka wants away from Arsenal, can’t stay at the club that has helped gain him world recognition. And he’s gotten his wish; he’s off to Lazio.
No better sight than David Ginola speeding down the left wing, his many forays and individual goals helped win him the player’s Player of the Year award. David had the stage twice last season. In the League Cup Final he was marked out of it by Robert Ullathorne of Leicester, then when the whole of North London was united — for once — in hoping that he could work the oracle against United in the final league game of the season, David limped off after only a few minutes "injured."
And now we look forward to Didier Deschamps, who has just signed for Chelsea. Didier, once described as "nothing but a water carrier" by Cantona, says he will see out his career at Chelsea. He also said that he would only play for a London club, that he would rather discover London than Manchester. So he’s got his wish. Maybe if you pamper them they’re OK, but as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to football, give me a stout-hearted Paddy any day.
Euro club draws
The draws were made last week for the European Club competitions. And we could see Rangers getting by the qualifying rounds. This potential rarity came about when the Gers were seeded to the second round, where they will meet the winners of Haka Valkeakoski of Finland and HB Torshavn of the Faroe Islands. It’s possible, but let’s not get too excited. The Scottish people could tell Rangers a thing or two about the Faroes, if they could speak Italian, or German, or Russian.
It’s Wales versus Scotland in the UEFA Cup when Celtic take on Cwmbran Town. What more needs to be said about that one? St. Pat’s travel to Moldova to play Zimbru Chisinau and are off, should they win to Tiblisi, to play Dinamo. Make’s you cold just thinking about it. Bray Wanderers have been drawn against Grasshoppers of Zurich and Cork City have a potential crowd-puller against IFK Gothenburg of Sweden. But the question has to be, "Can Rangers do it?"
Check out the women
Well I’m off on vacation now and by the time you read this the U.S. women’s team will, hopefully, have reached the World Cup final. On Thursday they displayed yet another aspect of their make-up: character. The women came back from a one-goal halftime deficit to defeat Germany 3-2. They now meet Brazil in the semifinal on the Fourth of July. Brazil went three up against Nigeria but were clawed back to parity, only to clinch it in extra time with another dead-ball goal from Sissi. If you hadn’t been converted, and you watched on Thursday, well, you’ve got to be now.