Football desires a fairytale specially if it involves an underdog and the FA Cup. But the reality is rather murkier
In an ever-changing game in an ever-changing world, there is something wonderfully reassuring about the FA Cup. Even its language has a quasi-liturgical immortality. Every year the football columnists tell us about the romance and occult of the goblet, which is a great leveller. Accomplishments of giant-killing are played against goliaths by minnows, a word firstly identified by The Guardian as a cliche in 1961.( Quite how minnows are meant to do this is unclear; food poisoning, probably .)
And these ritual incantations have had a fine old workout these past few weeks, even before minnows Lincoln beat goliaths Burnley to became the first non-league team since 1914 to reach the tournaments last-place eight. Whatever is going to happen, the 9,000 Lincoln adherents allotted tickets for the next competition at Arsenal on 11 March will have a splendid era out. Overpowering Arsenal? That would be a fairytale.
But these lower-division achievers, like once-a-century cyclones and floods, are now getting more frequent. Already this decade, Bradford City have reached the final of the League Cup and the last eight of the FA Cup. Four years ago, Luton, then likewise outside the league, knocked Norwich out of the Premier League.
It would be good simply to celebrate the rejoice of all this. But just as unusually early daffodils can be simultaneously delicious while portending unpleasant facts about climate change issues, these unexpected results also say something far less fairytale-ish about football.
This seasons other over-achievers, Sutton United, whose own FA Cup running was dissolved by Arsenal last-place Monday, immediately find themselves immersed in a scandalette when their reservation goalkeeper 20 -stone Wayne Shaw, AKA the roly-poly goalie, ostentatiously feed a pie on the subs bench during the Arsenal match.
Shaw had previously been in line for elevation to temporary status as a national treasure, or at least a listed construct. However, the pie-eating appeared to be connected to a wager offered by a conglomerate announced Sun Stakes a company itself connected to a well-known newspaper “thats really not” averse to stunts. These novelty stakes are not part of mainstream bookmaking, but are funded by the marketing departments. Shaw has now left Sutton, and multiple investigations are under way. Fifteen minutes of prestige should ever be handled with care.
When analysing the shock ensues themselves, one also has to follow the money. Sutton got to the last 16 by thumping Leeds, who put out their second team. Leedss priority this season is to climb back on to the Premier League gravy train after 13 times absence; the FA Cup was a much less profitable distraction. The departs of Liverpool, Newcastle and Brighton all have similar explanations.