The Magic of the FA Cup

If you follow English Football you’ve probably heard someone say something about “the magic of the FA Cup”.  Over the years this magic seems to have faded. With the money and subsequent superstar talent now in the Premier League and the popularity and level of competition and talent in the Champions League, cup competitions have taken a back seat.  My faith has been restored and I’m here to tell you that the magic is real. Don’t believe me?  Just ask Wigan Athletic and Rochdale AFC supporters.  They certainly believe.

Let’s start with Wigan Athletic.  For half a decade the club has been on a downward roller-coaster-like spiral that has found them currently fighting at the top of the English League 1.  They actually won the FA Cup and were relegated from the Premier League in the same season in 2013.  Well, they’re making some noise this year. The bandwagon is loaded up, and I’m driving!  Their FA Cup campaign this season saw them beat Premier League sides Bournemouth and West Ham United in the 3rd and 4th rounds.  How do they get rewarded for these brave victories?  With a 5th round fixture against the club who has been dominating the Premier League this season, Manchester City.  The Citizens are currently winning the Premier League by an unbelievable 16 points.  They broke the record for most consecutive wins in a Premier League season, and are in line to break the records for most points and most goals scored in a single campaign.  This team is an absolute juggernaut!  Surely a lowly League 1 club has no chance!  To put it into perspective, if you made one list and ranked all of the teams in English football, Manchester City would currently be #1 and Wigan Athletic would be #47.  Long story a little less long, Wigan Athletic beat mighty Manchester City 1-0 to advance in the FA Cup.  Twitter went crazy, fans stormed the pitch, and widespread pandemonium was achieved.  I don’t know what will happen in the coming round when Wigan face off against Southampton (Another Premier League club) on March 17th.  They might win or they might get beaten 6-0.  But beating the best team in England, possibly in the world, is an amazing accomplishment for a plucky little club in the 3rd tier of English football.  Manchester City doesn’t need the income from another round in the FA Cup, that money will go a long way at a smaller club.  I love the financial impact that a club of this size will feel from going deep into this competition.  I love the delirium experienced by the Wigan supporters who stormed the pitch to celebrate this win.  And most of all, I love experiencing the magic of the FA Cup.

Rochdale AFC is a different story, but with some magic of it’s own.  They are in a much worse situation than Wigan in League 1.  Wigan look to gain promotion and move up into The Championship at the end of this season.  Rochdale on the other hand are in last place and could get relegated to League 2 if they don’t turn things around in a hurry.  They set up to play Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday in a match replay.  The Spurs have finished 3rd and 2nd in the last 2 Premier League seasons.  Rochdale were behind 2-1 going into stoppage time in the first match.  They pushed even harder and scored in the 93rd minute to end the match in a 2-2 draw and force a replay away at Wembley Stadium.  This might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things within the FA Cup.  Let’s be honest, they’re facing almost certain relegation this year.  Going down to League 2 will only make things more difficult for the club financially, and this dream FA Cup run will most likely come to an end when they play Tottenham on the road.  I know, it all sounds bleak right?  Here’s the magical part.  Tottenham play at Wembley Stadium, one of the most famous football stadiums in the world (Certainly the most famous in England).  Every English footballer grows up dreaming of big matches at Wembley, and now, Rochdale AFC have earned their big match.  They fought hard against one of the best teams in the Premier League and they earned it.  Nobody can ever take that away from them.  They can tell their children and grandchildren (and everyone else they come across if it were me) that they played at Wembley.  Also, they will split the revenue from tickets purchased for the match and will get a good paycheck from the television broadcast.  Just like I said about Manchester City, Tottenham don’t need this money, but to Rochdale.  It could offset any losses they might have had this year and probably next year too!  It’s unbelievably important for a club like that to earn this replay.  They were about to lose and nobody would’ve thought twice because they were supposed to lose.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these players and their supporters.  The FA Cup is making dreams come true, and if that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!

John Gonsalves