by Larry from Lancing
Ever since Charles Alcock (no jokes from us on that name, EFW is a family publication and remains strictly above the waist) suggested on 20 July 1871: ‘That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with The Association, for which all clubs belonging to The Association should be invited to compete’, the great and good of the footie world have been up for the cup.
As we end the first week of the New Year and the EFW de-tox diet goes out the window along comes the magic of the Cup for another bout of thrills, spills and fixture congestion bellyaches for managers. The Cup now carries a sponsors moniker and has become the E-on FA Cup, but don’t let that put you off. Here at EFW towers we’re powered by windmills and bunny rabbits on treadmills so need to doff our caps to this particular sponsor.
Third round weekend, or to give it its proper name “Third Round Proper” weekend, is often more fun than a barrel of monkeys as fans from across the land pop up to the loft, dust off their tin foil covered cardboard replica cups, and head off dreaming of a trip to Wemberleee in May.
There is one spanner in the works though, those tardy folk down at Lincoln are still embroiled in a Second Round Proper clash with Hereford, with the winners set to play their third round proper tie on Tuesday. Here’s a question for the Roy Castles out there, has any team ever gone from the 2nd to 4th round in three days? Answers on a postcode please, our new code of conduct means that unfortunately we can no longer offer £1,000 prizes but we will send you the name of a good Doctor to go and see.
FA Cup weekends are nothing if not a time for cliches and more recently the chance to air the annual debate of whether the Cup has lost its magic as Premiership managers field a sprinkling of the under 12 squad alongside has beens, never will beens and probably some Jelly Beans. Not one to wallow in nostalgia, oh go on then just this once, but it is a fact that it’s not what it was.
As we go under the name of European Football weekends we better keep our friends at Trading Standards happy and throw in some Euro chat to the debate. Our European cousins were not lucky enough to have a visionary such as Mr Alcock and have been known to treat their cups as a secret mistress. Once in a while they pop out for a liaison, hope no one is watching then shuffle off guiltily back to their loved one, the league.
This has long been the continental way, their style of football being more suited to the long game of a league rather than the blood and thunder of one-off cup football, and as with weights and measures, where Europe leads we often follow. Now, as our name suggests we’re all about Europe, even the most blinkered amongst us would admit our Euro chums are often ahead of the game when compared to Blighty. When in the 70’s we were happy to bend our knees in homage to Brotherhood of Man, Europe was swinging it’s stylish sparkly boots to ABBA. But, when it comes to Cups, it’s a British thing and like warm beer Europe doesn’t get it and as more European managers take top jobs with British clubs the culture of the cup has suffered.
There’s no one single reason why the Cup doesn’t quite sparkle as it once did and you can probably take your pick from three of the following TV, Sky, European comps, VAT, price of milk and Simon Cowell.
EFW is staying close to home for this week’s match and is off to the Theatre of Trees for a South Coast Derby. It’s neither clubs main local derby as Portsmouth have Southampton and Brighton have Palace, but as grade B derbys go it’s not a bad one. Some Albion fans regard Pompey as their main rivals, and up until the 70’s this was probably the case. Whilst the cities of Brighton & Hove combine to give the team it’s famous name, the support comes from all four corners of Sussex which means that for those in the West of the County Portsmouth is just a few miles down the road.
Both clubs in recent years have had the prefix “crisis club” cut and pasted by journos before their names, let’s face it there’s not that many clubs who haven’t, but Brighton and Pompey both decided to go the whole hog and see how close they could get to extinction. As both embark on their recoveries, the EFW stethoscope reports Brighton in the ruder health as Portsmouth shake off their debts and Fred Carno circus reputation of recent years.
Pompey’s plight tended to attract less sympathy from the football world, whilst you always feel for those who feared losing a club they loved, at least they had a good time whilst the club was going down the pan. Perhaps most shockingly off all though, players and officials (**cough Peter Storrie cough**) were picking up handsome salaries whilst St John’s Ambulance bills were going unpaid and loyal club staff were being given the old Spanish archer (El bow).
EFW popped down the local library this week to check out the manual on “How to run a football club” and funnily enough the words “Israeli arms dealer, dodgy deals, back street massage parlours or skint Hong Kong businessmen” didn’t feature too prominently.
Both clubs also have a cup pedigree. Pompey famously held the cup through the war years and bought it (sorry won it) again under Harry Redknapp, and managed the Albion double last year of reaching a cup final and being relegated. Brighton of course were a Gary Bailey leg away from lifting the cup in 1983, just as Stanley Matthews gave his name to the 1953 final, 30 years on Gordon Smith became synonymous with the ’83 final thanks to the wonderful and still much missed Peter Jones.
As a Championship club Pompey enter the cup at this stage, that is the Third Round Proper, whilst Brighton have twice toyed with the idea of being knocked out by non-league oppo, only to think better of it in the replay.
After the on and off field dramas of the FC United tie, the last thing the Sussex constabulary would have wanted was a second consecutive Category C FA Cup fixture. Unlike FC United, Portsmouth do have a bit of a reputation in the trouble stakes, we at EFW should know having nearly been on the receiving end. Back in the late 80’s and following a game at Fratton Park, a collection of their finest were galloping towards us, as you know we’re more lovers than fighters and were not exactly relishing the prospect that awaited us, and there may even have been a Gary Lineker V Ireland World Cup moment going on. So, you can imagine the all round relief as they ran past and into another group 30 yards down the road!
The 6.57 Crew have been quieter of late. Perhaps since the privatisation of the trains there isn’t even a 6.57 anymore? It does make you wonder what they would be called if they were starting up today, “Train delayed due to driver being stuck at Southsea” probably.
Onto the match, at last you say, both sides apparently put out strong XI’s, I say apparently as after several pre-match Harveys and a few chasers in EFW’s Lord Nelson HQ Gully’s Girls could have been playing for all I knew, and in all probability would still have won.
Much has been said and written about the Withdean experience, it will never be the best, but given the right conditions and a full house you can just about squeeze an atmosphere out of the place. Approaching kick there was an air of anticipation and the cup seemed to be working its magic as songs rolled down from the South Stand and the Pompey fans, minus their bell, chimed away. It must be said though that the world’s best fans (self anointed) were quieter than expected. Just to put them properly in their place Woking and of course FC United were better visitors.
Brighton started the better, were better in the middle bit and in all honesty finished the better. So no surprise they ran out 3-1 winners. Despite fielding the likes of Kanu, ex-England forward Nugent, Ginger Kitson and Liam Lawrence, Portsmouth were no match for Brighton. That’s about as much as you need as a match report, I’m sure Brighton wouldn’t have expected such a straightforward journey into the 4th round but the result was rarely in doubt.
Portsmouth were disappointing and didn’t looked interested, Kitson got himself needlessly sent off for an off the ball elbow and the rest of the Pompey team seemed in a race to join the Ginger one in an early bath. Post-match their gaffer, Steve Cotterill, tried to blame the red card on their defeat but the truth is they were never at the races.
After a good string of results over the crimbo period the Gus Bus rolls on and at times today the passing and play was as good as its been this year. A work out against higher league oppo is always a good gauge of progress and based on this performance you would back them to hold their own should they gain promotion to Div 2 (in old money).
Her majesty’s constabulary did a better job post-match than they did of protecting the Heir to the throne against the students and all seemed to pass of peacefully. There were reports of various games of Mike Read says Run A Round in Lancing, Worthing and all stops to Portsmouth Harbour in the evening, but no real incidents of note to spoil what was a good day for the Albion.
The 4th round is not to be sneezed and after a gap of 17 years Brighton have now reached that stage for the 2nd consecutive season. The cash from a cup run is always welcome, but more importantly it’s a great opportunity for Gus’s young team to pit themselves against teams from a higher division and to show just what a good team they are becoming.
Pompey fans were gracious in defeat and we even enjoyed a chat with Mr Portsmouth himself on the train home. The word character doesn’t really do him justice, let’s be honest it takes some balls to go to footie in clown shoes and a big wig. In Pompey’s troubled times he showed himself to be an articulate defender of the genuine fan and spoke out against the excesses of the game.
The Albion are still very much up for the cup and far from being a diversion from promotion the cup run could give a big boost to their confidence....altogether now....