WHAT a glorious way for the grand old lady to kick off her 150th birthday celebrations – with the finest FA Cup third-round weekend in years.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund given a damned-good Ronnie Radfording.
Pretentious European Super League breakaway bandits defeated by a club who’ve actually won the European Cup twice.
Sixth-tier Kidderminster scoring a beautifully ugly winner which VAR would have found at least six different reasons to disallow.
This is what the people wanted. This is what they needed.
A retro third-round to cherish, with fans restored to stadiums, the wealthy and pompous cut down to size.
A chance to savour the essence of English football at the first opportunity since its six biggest clubs attempted to strip it of sporting integrity.
A trip down Memory Lane with all potholes removed.
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When Saudi human-rights abusers transformed Newcastle into the wealthiest club on Earth, they thought they were buying a club of rich tradition — and how right they were.
Nobody does FA Cup humiliations quite like the Geordies – Hereford, Stevenage and now Cambridge, who did the dirty deed at St James’ Park with Newcastle fielding a strongest-available team, including the Saudis’ first signing Kieran Trippier, while Amanda Staveley and her blood-money men watched from the posh seats.
Arsenal deluded themselves that they were too big for English football, despite having never won a European Cup, without having qualified for the Champions League in four years or winning a title in 18.
Yet they were dumped out by Nottingham Forest, who retained Old Big Ears under Old Big ’Ead, and are threatening to rise again under the impressive Steve Cooper.
There were magnificent full-on tantrums from Arsenal’s Nuno Tavares and Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin.
As well as Tanguy Ndombele, when Tottenham trailed League One Morecambe midway through the second half, all allowing us to enjoy the authentic third-round soundtrack of mocking laughter. Everywhere you looked there were sights to rejoice in.
Kidderminster, the lowliest club in the competition, staged a comeback to defeat Championship Reading with two gloriously scrappy goals.
Boreham Wood also advanced with an absolute belter from Tyrone Marsh — defeating Wimbledon and proving that even famous giant-killers are susceptible to getting it in the neck themselves.
Non-league Chesterfield visited European champions Chelsea with 6,000 travelling fans packing out The Shed — exemplifying the unique depth of support for English football, a phenomenon never to be witnessed in any other nation.
And Barnsley 5 Barrow 4, which felt like a scoreline cut out of a 1950s newspaper, and which should have been attended entirely by men in flat caps, smoking Woodbines. So now let’s keep the FA Cup real with a bold ten-point plan.
- Scrap replays for good, not just during Covid. One-off ties increase the chance of shocks and ease the fixture congestion which gives top-flight bosses carte blanche to toss the whole thing off.
- Ditch VAR for all ties. It’s ridiculous to have it at some grounds and not others, so make the Cup unashamedly old school. And while we’re at it, openly encourage refs to go back to 1970s interpretations of what constitutes a foul, a booking or sending-off (especially as many seem to do this in Cup ties on an ad hoc basis anyway).
- Get rid of weird staggered kick-off times for games not televised live. There must be an absolute glut of games at 3pm on third-round Saturday.
- Ties between clubs with the largest differential between league positions must be live on TV. Who gave a stuff about West Ham v Leeds, when we could have watched Kidderminster v Reading?
- Cup draws moved back to Monday lunchtimes, with school children huddled round transistor radios, and carried out by crusty old FA councillors with velvety ballbags, rather than former players. This isn’t showbiz, it’s tradition. Oh and don’t televise it, so that they can make it more interesting. Only three of the 16 fourth-round ties feature a club drawn at home to a side from a higher division. Just fix it a bit instead.
- Terrible playing surfaces to be openly encouraged. And to be referred to, at all times, as ‘great levellers’.
- Insist, by legally-enforceable local byelaws, that every shop in Kidderminster, Borehamwood and Cambridge is bedecked with bunting in hometown colours for at least a week before the fourth round. It’s your civic duty.
- Children attending matches must be ordered to replace placards begging for players’ shirts with shoddily home-made tinfoil FA Cups. You spoilt, entitled brats. Some of us can remember advent calendars without chocolates in them.
- Reduced admission prices for fans carrying wooden rattles.
- A 3pm kick-off time for the Cup Final – AFTER the end of the league season. Team suit fittings to be televised, flowers in lapels, and finalists mandated to record s**t Cup Final songs, sung by the players themselves. Full TV access to team hotels and buses on Final day. Follow them into the toilet if you like. It’s the Cup Final. It’s our birthright.
WHEN Tottenham were continually blowing leads last season, Jose Mourinho passed the buck with the comment ‘same coach, different players’.
On Sunday, Mourinho — a once-great defensive manager — saw his Roma side toss away a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 to Juventus.
Different players, same coach.
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THERE may have been groans among Derby fans at the news hated former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is eyeing up buying the crisis-ridden club.
But right now the model Ashley used — running a football club frugally, not going completely skint, and eventually selling on to the super-rich — does not seem as bad as all that.
AS England’s cricketers celebrate avoiding an Ashes whitewash by the narrowest of margins, it’s time to shake up the culture of chumminess which has left them bottom of the ICC World Test Championship table.
When they descended to the foot of the Test rankings in 1999, Nasser Hussain — our finest captain of the past 40 years — transformed fortunes with a stubborn refusal to tolerate England resembling, in his own words, ‘Raggy-Arsed Rangers’.
Hussain is the man to manage England out of this current mess.
The ECB must put all that bonus money from their bish-bosh ‘Hundred’ competition to good use, by making him an offer he can’t refuse.
IF YOU have never been to Australia — and certainly if you’ve never worked there — you may imagine it is a laid-back, ‘no worries mate’, Summer Bay in Home and Away, kind of a place.
The truth is that there is no more officious, nanny-state, jobsworth-ridden nation on Earth.
And while anti-vaxxers like Novak Djokovic may be dangerously selfish, it is sadly typical the Aussies should have duped the 20-time Slam champ into flying Down Under, then revoked his visa, detained and humiliated him.
There are no good guys in this row.
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