Butler: FA Cup romance runneth over

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Noel Butler
2/15/2013 2:54:58 PM
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For a competition that's been on its knees these past few seasons as clubs and the public downgraded its significance in the overall scheme of things a very certain sheen and shine returned to the FA Cup following last month's fourth round.

Stand out moments included the five-goal thriller at a very wet and windy Boundary Park as Oldham swept away Liverpool.

A club who were certainly looking to an extended FA Cup run as ways to breathe real football life into a very disappointing Barclays Premier League season - where most ominously for the five-time European Champion they only have 12 matches left to record their first victory this season over a club in the top 10.

A four-goal romping MK Dons took splendid advantage of a QPR team that individually and collectively either wasn't capable or worse still couldn't be bothered to raise its game above a low lying water level known as ambivalence.

A highly embarrassing result that left no one in attendance at Loftus Road that particular Saturday afternoon in any doubt whatsoever of the club's ultimate destiny at season's end.

Still, at least solace can be found in the knowledge Harry Redknapp knows how to navigate his significant self around the ominous obstacles that await QPR in the Championship next season.

Leeds United's victory at Elland Road against a rampant Tottenham reminded everyone of the glory days of just a decade ago where it was the Yorkshire club that was mentioned in the same breath as Manchester United.

Until a most unhealthy cocktail of poor player and manager selections washed down by near financial ruin saw the club fall into the third tier of English football.

Having turned things round Leeds now sit amongst Championship promotion hopefuls and with it legitimate claim to restore top flight football for a club that set the standard in the early 1970's as they put fear into not just English football but the entire European continent too.

Then there was Brentford who came within five minutes or so of defeating the European Champions. Victim to one of world football's rarest moments, a well taken goal by Fernando Torres that knotted the clubs at two goals apiece.

Defeat for the SW6 aristocrats would likely have resigned Rafa to the ignominy of a trip back across west London walking behind the Chelsea FC team bus. Rotten eggs and flour not included.

Brentford will get another go at embarrassing one of Europe's elite when the teams square off in a fourth round replay at Stamford Bridge Sunday morning. Not known if like in the first match at Griffin Park Chelsea will be welcomed onto the pitch serenaded by a ball boy honour guard.

The outstanding achievement award of the fourth round though goes to a club that just a few short seasons ago came within hours of being wound up by court-appointed administrators.

Norwich's complete capitulation at Carrow Road against Luton Town has entered the annals of FA Cup folklore and ranks as one of the greatest shocks for a competition whose roots can be traced all the way back to the 1871-72 season.

Formed in 1885, over the years Luton have played many seasons in the top flight but today they are not part of the established four-tier professional ranks of English football. Then factor in their reliance in 2008 on the understanding ways of the football authorities and the court-appointed administrator that allowed them the mere oxygen of existence.

From that complete low sprang from the canvas a Carrow Road high.

A true testament of what can occur from a competition that allows for the possibility a team culled from full-time firemen, construction workers and the school teaching ranks can both compete and beat on any given day a team that week in, week out plays in the most popular league on the planet.

Now don't tell me all those people in Canada who lace up the skates as they play in night team leagues and arenas right across our land can't relate to the wonderment of Luton's achievement. Imagine for one moment the Bell Centre embarrassed into silence as the Canadiens shamefully exit the ice beaten by a team of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

This is the true testament of the FA Cup and the memorable moments which can and do occur. Ones that not only last a lifetime but over the years and decades are handed down to the next generation.

Some three weeks removed from a football match where the winner was scored by a player who in less than nine seasons has played for 13 different clubs, the crowd of 26,000+ who witnessed the events first hand has likely grown larger than the epic proportions of the close to 200,000 who attended the 1950 World Cup Final between Brazil and Uruguay.

With the FA Cup now whittled down to a very sweet 16 from the 1,000 plus clubs who began to participate last July in the pre-qualifying stages across the parks and football fields that make up England and Wales we can eagerly anticipate more heroics from the lesser leagues.

Only seven clubs remain in contention from the Barclays Premier league and such has been the big boys demise this season only in one fixture Monday afternoon's Manchester United and Reading tilt guarantees the BPL has a representative come the Quarter Final stage.

As the west coast's latest of Friday night stragglers finally hit the pillow and the early risers of the Toronto area get set to start work in the fire stations and constructions sites around town, Luton Town and their highly improbable fairytale will be set to kick off the next chapter.

Alas no BPL scalp awaits, nor a 50,000 plus crowd and all the desperately needed income that would result for Luton but the unimaginable.

Millwall and all their inglorious history travel up to Luton's Kenilworth Road for a fixture that was moved to lunch time as ways to avoid any of the hideous events that occurred when these two sides met in the FA Cup back in 1985.

Fuelled by alcohol, those purporting to be supporters of Millwall went on the rampage that night and when all the damage was added up over 30 police officers were in need of hospital treatment.

Saturday morning's encounter holds the guarantee that for one of these two teams the promise of a date at the spiritual birthplace of football, London's Wembley Stadium, will only be as little as 180 minutes away.

The real possibility that much more of the same that occurred in late January's fourth round exists in each and every fifth round tie. The last thing a highly delicate and vulnerable Manchester City likely wish for right now is the arrival of a Leeds team brimming with confidence.

As for Blackburn, a club whose managerial and monetary policy over recent seasons gives the appearances that even makes Chelsea's look rational and sane, will have 10,000 supporters screaming their every move at the Emirates.

The FA Cup holds Arsenal's only real opportunity for silverware this season. In doing so could well be the determinant on whether or not Professor Wenger continues at the helm.

Such is the heightened sense of alert that has invaded the red half of North London this season. I can detect from here the nervous energy and adrenaline that is currently coursing through the veins of players and supporters alike.

One that is sure to be decidedly palpable come kick off.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel
 
Arsenal v Blackburn live from the Emirates airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks this Saturday, with coverage kicking off at 9:30am et/6:30am pt.

Chelsea v Brentford live from Stamford Bridge airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks this Sunday, with coverage kicking off at 6:30am et/3:30am pt.

Paul Green Luke Varney (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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