If this article isn’t up to scratch, it is because I am multi-tasking. In between writing this article, I am frantically dialling, re-dialling, waiting and hoping. I have joined a community wide scramble for tickets to possibly Brentford Football Club’s biggest game since 1950, the last time the Bees met their West London neighbours Chelsea in the FA Cup.
The English cup competitions this year have been particularly resplendent with throwback ties, minnows taking on and occasionally conquering giants and generally feel-good stories that can hopefully silence those who say that the romance of the cup is dead, once and for all.
It seems to me a remarkably arrogant line to take and that those who take it are invariably fair weather supporters of trophy-laden Premier League clubs. Perhaps the spark has gone out for them. The riches that the Premier League has brought has led to a growing prioritisation of the league and perhaps some fans and players simply couldn’t care less if they got knocked out in the third round or went all the way to Wembley. The increasing disparity between the top tier and the lower leagues perhaps means there is no longer that connection between the two that is required for a romance to blossom.
None of this matters however, to the fans of Macclesfield, Mansfield, Hastings, Oldham, Luton, Cheltenham, Bradford or Brentford. For those who suffer from high blood pressure and gammy hearts, Oldham is probably the ideal club to support. They have been perennial mid-table finishers in the third tier of English football for 15 years and currently sit 16th with little prospect of that run changing. But for those Oldham fans who hope for a flicker of excitement from time to time, this match will probably be all they get for another year at least.
On an individual level, the Cup makes heroes out of nobodies, as happened when Havant and Waterlooville and their motley crew of postmen and bricklayers visited Anfield in 2008, taking the lead twice before losing 5-2. Roy Essandoh may not have had a glittering career, but he’ll be able to tell his grandchildren about the time his last-minute winner against Premier League Leicester sent Wycombe Wanderers into the FA Cup semi-finals.
The cup competitions are what makes the English game unique and what makes it the best. It feeds our desire to play the role of the underdog; in our heads we’d like to think that Hastings took a while to adjust to the use of goalposts rather than jumpers at the Riverside. And unless you’re a misery-stricken Villa fan, who isn’t going to be rooting for penniless Bradford to reach the League Cup final or see non-leaguers Macclesfield and Luton beat their respective Premier League opponents Norwich and Wigan?
The idea that the cup is no longer loved is frankly ridiculous. It may not receive the same media attention as it used to, but the buzz that it creates for those smaller clubs has in no way diminished.
In fact the bigger the Premier League clubs get, the bigger these games become.
The Premier League fans don’t have to turn up and neither do their star players. Play a weaker side, it’ll just give us a greater chance of humiliating you, and then you’ll care.
In fact I have a sneaking suspicion that Chelsea, being out of the Champions League, Premier League and perhaps very soon the League Cup as well, will not play a weakened side. I also have a hunch they may absolutely wipe the floor with us.
But come what may the atmosphere up until and including the 27th of January will be electric and, come kick off, Griffin Park will be absolutely rocking.