by Daisy Cutter
There is a Charles Bukowski poem about a seven year old boy who is travelling on a train along the Pacific ocean.
After staring out of the window for a period of time the boy looks up to the nearest adult and says ‘It’s not beautiful’.
The man is startled to his core. For the first time in his life he too notices that the mass of blue sea is in fact not very beautiful and he’s merely been conditioned to believe that it is.
That is exactly how I view the FA Cup 3rd round: all my life I’ve been railroaded into a sentimental gloop of sheepskin coats, nostalgia, and giant-killing possibilities to the point where it felt sacrilegious to hold anything but warm glowy love for the occasion.
Or rather that’s how it used to be; now it’s become almost cliché to write derogatively about the clichés of a day embedded in British football folklore. There’s the Ronnie Radford screamer of course, arrowed into the net before he is engulfed by parka-clad future squaddies. Then there’s the gasfitter lining up against the multi-millionaire and the postman goalie who wasn’t expected to play after having his hand recently severed by a poodle on his rounds who saves a pen through Cup kismet. Lastly, comes the phrase so-often wittered through a commentator’s microphone that never fails to send a shiver of repulsion through the veins – ‘the magic of the cup’.
Except now there is no magic. The alchemy of an underdog’s famous victory has become as archaic a notion as a pools winner holding aloft an over-sized cheque for the papers. Two years ago we were expected to root for little old Crawley Town as their ragtag team ran their little old hearts out at the Theatre of Dreams. These plucky band of brothers dared to rub shoulders with the superstars of the famous Man United and eke out a highly credible 1-0 reverse. Except the Crawley players are as far removed from the 15-minutes-of-fame mulleted part-timers from the past as it’s possible to be with the players each earning fantastical sums for a club very professionally run with high ambition.
This time out things bordered on the surreal as Prem-chasing Brighton were portrayed as the romantic giant-slayers despite their side being arguably the equal of a weakened Newcastle line-up.
So with one of its major attractions now consigned to the past what lure does the third round hold? In my opinion precisely none because everything else about it dwells in the negative. Arranged for the second week in January money is always tight so a faraway trip is a wallet-troubler whilst the occasional mismatched draw pales to the stream of straightforward passages for Premier League sides against Division 2 opponents.
Give me the 4th round any day; that’s where it’s really at. It’s the connoisseurs choice: Lennon’s Double Fantasy to the over-familiar Sgt Pepper.
Third round success merely ensures you remain ‘in the hat’ whereas a victory this weekend and you’re on a cup run and the blood can start pumping and the head can start dreaming.
More-over, at the risk of being elitist, the pairings are just…better. After edging past Southend in an encounter that entirely passed me by Brentford now take on their neighbouring behemoths Chelsea in what should be a cracking clash.
Manchester City head to the Britannia to be bombarded with high balls and snowballs whilst Leeds v Spurs fizzes with incendiary promise.
With a biting chill in the air and shovelled snow by the touchline these are proper cup games in every sense from their importance to aesthetics and I cannot f***ing wait.
The media continue to look upon the third round as a beatific child with hair to be ruffled, and they’re so besotted they’ve failed to notice it’s grown into an indifferent, surly teen. But now the forced sentimentality and patronage is over for another year we can rub our hands together to get some warmth and look forward to the start of the show. The magic of the cup begins here.