U`s cup romance alive and kicking
Cast your mind back to a day in early February 2006 - Saturday 19th, to be precise. You can still do it, go on …
6,292 brave souls rise from the flat lands of East Anglia, leaving this once-Romanic region on FA Cup fifth-round day, to take the Colchester charge all the way to the capital.
Prince versus pauper, David against Goliath. However you look back at that game between the league champions Chelsea and Colchester United, it is symbolic of one thing above all else: The magic of The Cup. The U`s didn`t win, but so what? The game was representative of more than the result - it was about sport`s capacity for capturing opportunity and dreams.
It was proof, also, that there is life in this old dog of a knock-out competition yet, and that the lovable pot with ears remains just as desirable as ever.
To suggest otherwise is almost an insult to English sporting heritage and culture. Assuming that the FA Cup will become outdated is like saying that the weather will stop becoming a frequent topic of conversation, or that everyone will suddenly give up tea. It just won`t happen.
There have, admittedly, been low points for the competition in recent times, such as the well-documented snub by Manchester United in 2000, as the treble-winners heralded the start of a New Millennium by turning their back on old values. Similarly, last season`s unceremonious shoving of re-plays to mid-week slots, represented what was a dark hour for the Cup that time almost forgot.
However, nobody in Colchester was complaining recently when Barnet were drawn from the old velvet bag as the third round opposition for 2006. Those in Essex have had great Cup runs branded upon their retina, now expecting them as part of a regular footballing diet. Think Lemmington (9-1), or Blackburn (0-3 loss), and even go back to the creaking video reels of that amazing 3-2 FA Cup victory over Leeds United, in 1971, if you must.
The point is that virtually nobody outside the top-flight ever takes this competition lightly - it means so much to fans, and clubs financially, (£1 million for the Colchester coffers in losing to Chelsea) that it would be a crime to entertain any sort of boycott.
Even most sides in Premiership give each round serious attention, despite the fact that they tend to field weakened line-ups. If those two points don`t seem to tally, just think about how the dynamic of a modern football season (in some cases comprising of 60 games) works; it requires calculated rotation for maximum success.
Thus, for the manager who rotates with a high win-ratio, plaudits abound. For the failing boss, accusations follow about a apparent lack of respect for the competition , as well as suggestions that the man in question is a bandit for undermining Corinthian values.
If you groaned, or cursed bad luck, when the draw that brought Barnet out of the hat was made, you have obviously forgotten what this competition is all about.
Fate eventually gave Colchester a big draw last year, and could just as easily do so again. Distraction from the league? Try telling that to anybody present at the game in London last spring. You can bet that they would not have swapped the experience for anything in the world.