The’ giant-killing’ FA Cup is no longer such a football fairytale | Matthew Engel

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.

Wayne
Wayne Shaw eats a pie on the touchline. Photo: BBC

The football historian David Goldblatt remembers Billy Bremner, the largest Leeds terrier of the 60 s and 70 s, said today if he had not won the FA Cup his busines would have been incomplete. You couldnt reckon anyone saying that now with a certain degree of earnestness. The top musicians think of it as a bit of an afterthought. The financial gaps are so stark in comparison with the League, theres no comparison.

This can also be seen as a product of English footballs globalisation. Whereas every homegrown, jumpers-for-goalposts kid used to fantasise above all about climbing the steps and lifting the Cup, this has far less resonance abroad, where the Premier League is everything. The cup has never entailed anything like just as much in other footballing countries, announces Goldblatt. In Italy, its scarcely taken seriously at all.

Foreign participates and devotees are not immersed in the mystique, and cup final date no longer clears the shopping centre the path it once did. Simply the BBC, grasping urgently to one of the last baubles in its denuded sporting treasury, still hypes it all up as though it was 1973.

English football is also more mobile than it once was. Clubs can now rise and, above all, autumn, like attributes in a Dickens novel. Goliaths are was transformed into minnows, and sometimes vice versa, depending primarily on the ownership. It matters not whether the self-appointed rescuer, jetting in to exclaim undying devotion to a team he has only just been told about, is a money-launderer, a property plunger or an egomaniac. The theme, which exclusively gets answered with experience, is whether he plans to inject fund or obtain it. Disaster is a continued threat ask any Leeds supporter.

Luton were once above Norwich in the pecking order. In 1960, Burnley were champions of England. In 1987, they were not just languishing in the penetrations of the old-time fourth division, but had to prevail their final competition be left in the tournament at all. They did acquire, and the team they communicated down instead was Lincoln. Now the objective is big-time again. So the whole notion of giant-killing has become muddied.

Burnley were trying harder than most last week. Apparently safe from relegation, but with no higher ambitions, the FA Cup might have been up their street. But even if Lincoln do go on and prevail the final an outcome more improbable even than Leicester becoming endorses there will still be an underlying sense that fairytales are not what they were.( And on the coming week sign, their director, Danny Cowley, will have to watch his back .).

The greatest of them all has been the case in 1972: Hereford United of the southern tournament v Newcastle , not with their funds but at full power, ended with Malcolm Macdonald, the Wayne Rooney of his daytime. It was Hereford 2, Newcastle 1, after much drama( the accord even has its own Wikipedia sheet ). Journalist and Hereford fan Tom Knight was on the terraces as a 16 -year-old that day. Nothing truly ever happened in Hereford, he echoes now. Then we thought we were abruptly regions of the world, the world where happenings happen.

Four decades later, Hereford extended bust after falling into the mitts of carbohydrate fathers who transformed sour. Last season, the successor association were in a conference so low they were playing villages: not just minnows, but plankton. They are gradually climbing again. Well-intentioned helpers welcome.

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