FA Cup Replay - Drama, Windows and Hairy Chests
This year we saw Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp refuse to field a first team or personally attend an FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury Town. The decision divided opinion, the fixture was scheduled in the middle of the new Premier League winter break and the manager of course has the right to field whatever team he chooses but critics of Klopps decision were of the opinion it devalued the competition and set a dangerous new precedent. The FA Cup is not what it once was, the big teams don’t field their strongest sides in the early rounds anymore and winning the competition is not priority of big clubs. It is very much treated with a “it’s nice if you win it” type of attitude.
Ultimately, it is clear that in the 21st century the FA Cup is seen as a nuisance and cup fixtures congest a top clubs already busy domestic and European schedule. This fixture congestion allowed top clubs to pressure the FA to massively scale back on replays. Today, replays only apply in the FA Cup up to and including the fourth round. The 2017-2018 season saw the last ever fifth round replay and the 2015-2016 campaign saw the last ever quarter-final replay meaning that all fixtures from the last 16 up to the final are decided on the day. A good thing? Again, it depends on your own persuasion but personally I believe the drama of a penalty shoot out will never match the drama of a high stakes 90 minute game of football. I understand that there are other competitions which offer more prize money and a high league finish is priority but as a fan do we not want to see more games where everything is on the line? Not just three points.
For proof that cup games are high stakes we need look back to the very last FA Cup semi final replay, played in 1999 at Villa Park, the fiercest rivalry in English football memory Arsenal versus Manchester United. Arsenal were the cup holders, Manchester United were chasing the treble, neutral venue, midweek floodlights and bobbly pitch, the stage was set. Disclosure, I am a Manchester United fan and I was eight years old when this game was played and my family didn’t have the channel the match was on, we did however have the fortune of living about 50 yards from a busy pub. Being “clever” I thought if I leaned out my window I could interoperable the cheers from the pub as to what was happening in the game and validate the cheers on teletext. OOOO”S were near chances, expletive abuse was a bad tackle or referee blunder and of course a roar was a goal.
Game kicked off, there was little noise from the pub for the first few minutes, the game was finding its feet, with two massive rivals going head to head neither team able to get an early foothold. The first real noise at about 16 minutes, collective shouts of f*cking prick and scumbag from what turned out to be a rash tackle from Teddy Sheringham on Patrick Vieira., then shortly after a roar! I was sure it was a United goal, the noise, it had to be, I didn’t celebrate just simply stared at the teletext screen. Then about a minute later, elation, Beckham 18 minutes, 1-0 United. Turned out to be a beautifully struck 25 yard screamer. Young fans today would not have a clue what it was like to see someone cheering at a black tv screen with some text on it but those were the times.
The game continued, I’m still leaning out my window, there’s plenty of OOOOs and even more swearing but no more roars, not for an hour anyways. Then a roar. It was not as loud as the one before, it meant one thing, 1-1. Teletext shortly after validated my fears. Denis Bergkamp hit a long range effort after 69 minutes which took a deflection off Jaap Stam which took the ball past a helpless Peter Schmeichel. Then three minutes later, confusion, another roar, the same as the one just a few moments before, my heart sank. Then, a new roar, a sarcastic roar, what the hell was happening at Villa Park? Bergkamp had hit a shot that was fumbled by Schmeichel, Anelka had picked up the scraps and placed the ball in the empty net, Arsenal celebrated for close to a minute before realizing the goal had been ruled out for offside. The teletext even briefly changed to Arsenal 2 - 1 Manchester United before correcting itself. Drama at Villa Park but there was more to come.
At 74 minutes the largest chants of “prick” and “ar*ehole” combined with ironic cheers as Roy Keane was sent off for bringing down an on rushing Mark Overmars. Arsenal had a stranglehold on the game, they were after all without doubt one of the greatest English teams ever assembled and they took the game to United. The game was nearing its close, extra time on the horizon then another cheer. Not a goal cheer but a celebratory cheer none the less, I checked the teletext, nothing. What was happening? The flaw in my clever plan. Then an even louder cheer a minute or so later. Butterflies in my stomach, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I check the teletext again, “90 minutes Bergkamp missed penalty”. We had extra time after all.
I can still feel the nerves eleven years later, this game was massive and to a young fan that night it meant everything. I took up my place hanging out the window again. There was very little noise for the first fifteen minutes, then shortly after the extra time restart there were mutterings, the inaudible shouts and cheers of “go on” reaching towards a boiling point. ROAR! United had scored and I knew it, celebrating in my bedroom pulling my United pajamas over my head in jubilation. Only the next day on the news did I see Ryan Giggs miraculous run from the halfway line and blast past David Seaman, still considered amongst the greatest goals ever scored and the image of Ryan Giggs hairy chest running in celebration, twirling his shirt in the air is ingrained in FA Cup folklore. I proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes staring at the teletext waiting to see the “FT” appear. Then I hear a relieved cheer from the pub, the game was over, United had won and I proceeded to kiss the United badge on my pajamas as if I was on the pitch at Villa Park myself.
The point of this story is this, I know that money has changed the game. Domestic cup competitions don’t offer the same reward as a 16th place Premier League finish so the cup replay had to be done away with, I know. But, to a football fan, there is no comparison to beating a team as good as you are in a high stakes game, in the late stages of a tournament, not on penalties but on the pitch proper. The cup replay as it was is a thing of the past, I just hope the cup itself does not follow suit.