Let’s not beat around the bush. The FA Cup Third Round fixtures of last weekend should have been postponed at the very least owing to the genuine national health emergency facing the UK at this very moment. As the overwhelmed NHS works around the clock to save lives, the FA’s approach as per usual has been to place its head in the sand and put financial implications above all others. Play out to help out being the overriding message.
On the other hand, sport is something exactly what the country may need at this very moment. And no English sporting competition may capture the true essence of sport better than the FA Cup, the world’s oldest association football competition. You need only look to 17-year-old Louie Barry’s reaction to scoring his first senior goal against Liverpool on Friday night for boyhood club Aston Villa.
It has been widely remarked in recent years that the FA Cup has lost its magic, with top Premier League teams fielding weakened sides when squaring up against the lesser lights of English football. However, if the past weekend proved anything, the magic of the FA Cup is still alive and well. On any given day, it’s 11 v 11 on the pitch and on Third Round weekend anything is possible, even for a side as low as the sixth tier of the English football ladder.
National League North Chorley down Derby County
Having downed League One side Peterborough United in the previous round, Chorley, for the first time in their 138-year history, reached the FA Cup fourth round. This, at the expense of Championship side Derby County who were decimated by a Covid-19 outbreak and forced to field a side with an average age of 19.
Nothing could take away though from the remarkable achievement of Jamie Vermiglio’s side though, the first team from England’s sixth tier to reach the last 32 since Harvant & Waterlooville in 2008. Goals from former Sheffield United youth player Connor Hall and Mike Claveley sealing a famous win.
“I’m ecstatic. It’s a really proud moment for me and the club…Chorley are on the map,” Vermiglio told BBC after the game. His players were also on the map as they became viral sensations with their wholesome rendition of Adele’s Someone Like You in the changing room after the game.
— Chorley FC (@chorleyfc) January 9, 2021
None of that would have been even possible without the Trojan work of Chorley’s groundsmen at Victory Park. With a cold snap that brought temperatures to near freezing around the UK throughout the week and without the luxury of underground heating, the groundsmen led by Ben Kay took extreme measures on Friday night. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday, Kay said:
“Everything had to be done to get the game on…we ended up having to throw some matts down on the grass and we just spelled each other every other hour. One of us maybe having an hour’s sleep and then waking up, and then one of us would again go back to sleep.
“We had a bit of nightmare through the night, the generator packed in…Believe it or not, the guy who fixes the generator had to come from Derby.”
Their work paid off and next up for the Sussex side in Round 4 will be Premier League side Wolves at home, a club who just seven years ago were as low as League One.
Mighty Crawley Town batter Bielsa’s Leeds
Crawley Town three, Leeds United nil. Yes, you heard it right. Ten years on from Sergio Torres’ late injury time strike in 2011 to knock out none other than Derby County, Crawley Town were back in the big time Sunday afternoon. John Yem’s rampant hosts embarrassing mid-table Premier League side Leeds United with brilliant second half goals from Nick Tsaroulla, Ashley Nadesan and Jordan Tunnicliffe.
The illustrious Yorkshire side are no stranger to humiliating cup exits having been eliminated by Histon, Newport, Sutton and Rochdale in recent years. Crawley even had the luxury of bringing on the former The Only Way is Essex star Mark Wright in stoppage time, who had a youth career at the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. With a team worth a mere £2.2 million and ranking 91st in gate receipts among the football league, they became the first fourth-tier team in 34 years to beat a top-flight side by three or more.
The FA Cup still delivers moments of magic and Nick Tsaroulla getting emotional on live TV after the game was just that. Tsaroulla, who scored his first ever senior goal, had been released by Tottenham Hotspur at age 18 after a car crash. Following an arduous rehabilitation process, he joined Brentford reserves in 2019 and then signed for Crawley last October. The Bristol born Cyrpus u-21 international’s joyous moment was a reminder of the inspirational stories behind these lower-league players.
“It’s been a long, hard road for me.”
And what a day it is for Nick Tsaroulla and Crawley 🙌
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 10, 2021
FA Cup still has place in our footballing hearts
It was a joyous day for the lower league sides of Lancashire as Blackpool followed in Chorley’s footsteps by downing top-tier relegation battlers West Brom. While at Goodison Park, Everton needed extra time to scrape past Rotherham United and fellow Premier League side Burnley went to penalties to stave off League One’s MK Dons.
Speaking of Merseyside, non-league Marine were yet another heartwarming story. Despite losing five nil to Jose Mourinho’s Spurs, the football family facilitated the purchase of £30,697 worth of virtual tickets for the game. With the tickets selling at £10 each, the club made over £300,000, a sizeable sum for a Northern Premier League side.
Marine striker by weekend and school teacher by day, Nick Cummins, told talkSPORT of how invaluable that money would be to his club,
“I can see it setting up the club for the next decade…probably even two decades. When the FA Cup announced it was going to reduce all prize money, it hit Marine quite hard…
When we were told we only had 500 tickets, and that’s basically £5000 the club could have. So the virtual tickets basically saved the club.”
However, the scenes of Marine fans lining the streets before the game left a bad taste in the mouth during a global pandemic. There is an overwhelming sense the FA got away with it this weekend, but the consequences down the line could be catastrophic, inside football and out.
On a lighter note though, National League Chorley stunning Derby, a non-league Merseyside club saved from possible extinction and a previously rejected League Two player overcoming personal trauma to score a first senior goal. Who said the magic of the FA Cup is dead?