From the Halfway Line: Third Round Weekend Magic
Updated: Mar 1
The English FA Cup is the World's oldest knock out football competition, and in January the big boys come to the table. In an era where money talks and TV rules, has the FA Cup lost its shine?
Third Round weekend has always held a special place in the hearts of English football fans. It marks the moment in the season when the smaller fish in the footballing pond have a chance to pit their wits against the multi-millionaire superstars of the world stage. The moment that Biblical imagery is rolled out every year when the question is asked; Can David beat Goliath? Is there a Giant Killing to be had?
The Cup used to be a significant competition but as money and TV have come to dominate the game, meaning more money is at stake for finishing anywhere in the top league than winning the cup, the larger teams have played weakened sides or seen the competition as an inconvenience. Many cite the year 2000 when Manchester United opted out of the FA Cup to participate in the World Club Championship as the turning point in the fortunes of the FA Cup. Sir Alex Ferguson would later express regret over the decision which he insisted was forced upon them to help England's bid to host the World Cup.
The cup still means a great deal to ordinary football fans and can even ensure the existence of those smaller clubs that live off the potential payday from playing one of the giants of the game, but it is the shot at glory, the chance for immortality, that can come from defeating a larger opponent that keeps the sparkle in the eyes. We take a look at some of the great cup third round shocks of the past and look at where such moments of madness could happen again this weekend:
Sutton 2-1 Coventry, 1989
Sutton were not even in the football league, but a non-league side in what was then called "The Conference". Coventry had only lifted the cup a mere 18 months previously, having beaten Tottenham in a shock final themselves.
Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal 1992
George Graham described this defeat as his lowest moment in football. His side had looked comfortable, leading from just before the break, but a Mickey Thomas free-kick drew the Welsh side level in the 82nd minute and before anyone could comprehend what was happening, they scored a second and Arsenal tumbled out of the cup.
Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle Utd 2011
Newcastle Utd fans were in jubilant mood having seen the news from earlier that day that their bitter rivals Sunderland had been beaten by Notts County. Stevenage had met the North Eastern giants thirteen years previously in the cup, holding out for a replay before being beaten by a Shearer goal that did not cross the line. The drama all came in the second half and on the final whistle the minnows felt they had avenged the previous defeat. Boro had dominated the game with possession and shots on goal, it was a deserved victory
Shrewsbury 2-1 Everton 2003
The FA Cup threw together a clash of classic proportions. Kevin Radcliffe, had been Everton's most successful captain of all time, but on this cold January afternoon, he managed Shrewsbury to a defeat of his beloved Everton, a team that included a young Wayne Rooney. Nigel Jemson scored twice in the famous victory that saw Everton and not the Shrew tamed.
Hereford 2-1 Newcastle Utd 1972
This is often cited as the ultimate Giant Killing episode when Southern League Hereford scalped Newcastle Utd. Ronnie Radford scored an absolute belter of an equalizer which saw the fans invade the pitch in ecstatic celebrations. They then took the victory in extra time.
Bournemouth 2 0 Manchester Utd 1984
Harry Redknapp masterminded this shock against FA Cup holders, Ron Atkinson's United. The south coast side matched the giants for over an hour before scoring twice in the second half to seal a monumental win.
An entire web page is dedicated to the Giant Killers of the FA Cup that records all giant-killing exploits in the history of the competition. Explore their amazing archive.
There is a huge amount of buzz surrounding the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton in the third round draw and it would be considered an upset if Everton were to triumph, but that would not be considered a giant-killing!
So to this weekend and the third round draw has provided some potential upsets to look out for.. Kick-off times for Spain:
Rochdale v Newcastle Utd Saturday 04th Jan 13:31
Newcastle had avoided a potential non-league banana skin after Rochdale overcame Boston Utd in the previous round, but Rochdale have been playing some entertaining football under Irish coach Brian Barry-Murphy and will give Newcastle a stern test
Chelsea v Nottingham Forest Sunday 05th Jan 15:01
Chelsea have struggled at home recently and with their young guns still finding their feet, it is entirely plausible the men from the Trent valley could push them to the limit. Although Forest were recently crushed 4-0 at home by Sheffield Wednesday so anything goes at Stamford Bridge.
Middlesbrough v Tottenham Sunday 05th Jan 15:01
Tottenham have recently changed manager in one of the most globally followed news stories in the football world. José Mourinho has transformed the failing Pochettino Spurs but there is always an enthusiasm to attempt to scalp the Special One and so a professional and disciplined display will be key for Spurs to avoid humiliation.
Sheffield United v Fylde Sunday 05th Jan 15:01
Sheffield United have been one of the surprise success stories after promotion to the Premier League this year. They will be considering resting some of their players to preserve their form and their team sheet will be a clear indication of their season strategy. Their opposition will be appearing in the FA Cup third round for the first time in their history as they continue an impressive rise through the lower levels of the football pyramid. Triumph over the Blades could be one of the greatest moments in the history of the club.
Gillingham v West Ham Sunday 05th Jan 19:16
West Ham are having a torrid season and a defeat down in Kent could make the relatively short journey back to Stratford an interminably uncomfortable one. The game has been moved for live TV coverage as BT Sport can smell a story here. Gillingham beat Sunderland to reach this tie and West Ham have only won one in their last ten matches, albeit against Chelsea.
Arsenal v Leeds Utd Monday 06th Jan 20:56
Arsenal are another club having a rocky ride through the 19-20 season. They seem to be in all sorts of bother and cannot buy a win. Leeds will be licking their lips with anticipation. A home tie for the Gunners may not be of much help with a restless and disgruntled fan base. This could be a very painful experience indeed