It’s FA Cup time again and even though finding enthusiasm the competition each year gets a little harder it retains a special place in the hearts and minds of many supporters. I have had the good fortune to attend three FA Cup finals (and one League Cup final) and the experience of a day out of Wembley is difficult to beat – although one of mine was in Cardiff. It would be a great shame if the current generation of Hammer’s supporters never got to enjoy one – even if it means watching it an empty stadium.
Once it was the greatest event on the domestic sporting calendar, that left the streets eerily quiet as 20 million or more settled down to seven hours of coverage with Frank or Des on Grandstand. A time when you crowded around a transistor radio on Monday afternoon just to be among the first to hear the draw for the next round. Much of that excitement is lost forever.
For clubs like West Ham, though, the Cup is surely one of the best chances of bagging some silverware. With a favourable draw, winning six games in a row is not an impossible dream. Why then do managers not give the competition the same respect that the fans demand? Is it better to have ‘Finished 9th’ on the managerial CV than ‘FA Cup Winners 2020/21’?
The irony is that it was the big clubs with European obligations who started the trend of fielding weakened teams in the Cup. For reasons unknown, everyone else followed suit as if your managerial standing was diminished by fielding your strongest side. That the top sides had far better reserves to call on seems not to have registered, but the records show that five of the big six (not you, Tottenham) have won 25 of the 28 finals since the start of the Premier League.
If there is any romance left in the Cup it is generally to be found in the 3rd round, where non-league clubs, like today’s opponents, Stockport County, get the opportunity to go toe to toe with the big boys. It is their day and they really have nothing to lose. Jim ‘The Giant Killer’ Gannon will have no problems in motivating his players for a game that might be the highlight of their careers. The question is, will the new found spirit and determination in David Moyes side survive the expected onslaught on a cold winter’s night in Greater Manchester?
As far as I know, despite being on the receiving end of many giant-killing shocks, the Hammers have never lost to a non-league side in the FA Cup – although, it has been a close call on several occasions as I discussed in this post from a few years ago.
Although Stockport are now plying their trade in the National League they have a long history within the Football League pyramid. Originally elected to the league in 1900 they experienced their first ever relegation to non-league in 2011, from which they are now striving to return. Off the top of my head I wasn’t aware of their Hatters nickname – a reference to the town’s hat-making industry.
Since West Ham’s victory at Everton, the already thin squad has become even thinner with the departures of Sebastien Haller and Robert Snodgrass. Haller made his debut from the bench for Ajax last night, while Snodgrass has gone off to face certain relegation under Fat Sam at the Hawthorns. Good luck to them both.
The internet is once again awash with transfer speculation, from the fanciful to the farcical. I doubt whether many of those linked so far would actually qualify under the new visa regulations, which will make picking up bargains from minor European leagues far more difficult in the future. If there is any activity it will typically be a last minute cliff-hanger as Sullivan makes a desperate dive through the closing window with a bunch of IOUs. This leaves our slender hopes of progression even more in the hands of Michail Antonio’s hamstrings. West Ham: the original one-horse club – as already extravagant noises are being made about the possibility of deploying Andriy Yarmolenko or Said Benrahma as a false nine.
Moyes has stated it will be a strong side that he puts out tonight although there are reportedly potential Covid absentees. I’m sure he will also prefer to give some bench-time to a few of his over-worked regulars, including Antonio, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Angelo Ogbonna. A similar approach worked well enough in the early League Cup rounds (against Charlton and Hull City) and should be good enough, technically, to ease past Stockport.
As ever, though, these games rely as much on attitude as they do on footballing ability. Respect the opposition and ensure there is no room for complacency and it should be ok. The 3rd round has already had one shock with Crawley defeating Leeds. Hopefully, that is enough to appease the banana-skin deities leaving passage through to the next round assured. I will go for a 2-0 and the satisfaction of the owners banking the £82,000 winner’s cheque – should be enough to pay for a squad player for a couple of weeks.
Fred Perry, Tess Daly, Norman Foster, Joan Bakewell, Ricky Hatton, Tina From Coronation Street, John Mayall, Captain Darling, Mike Yarwood … your boys are gonna take a hell of a beating!