In recent years, the FA Cup, football’s oldest cup competition, has lost some of its zest. The top English clubs do not hold it in as high regard as they once did: just last year, Louis Van Gaal was sacked by Manchester United only two days after he won the competition. Top teams often play weakened sides and see cup-ties as a burden on the already turbulent fixture list. Yet there is something about the FA Cup that ensures its longevity. Stories such as that of Lincoln City, which recently overcame Premier League side Burnley, are what keep the competition alive and kicking.
Thanks to a last minute Sean Raggett header, Lincoln became the first non-league club to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals since Queens Park Rangers achieved the feat in 1914. The team’s 1-0 victory at Burnley’s Turf Moor ground, which had been somewhat of a fortress this season, earned it the privilege to travel to North London and face Arsenal, which got the better of a valiant Sutton United and returned a sense of normality to the round’s fixtures. Whilst this win was the pinnacle of the Imps’ run so far, their victories over league sides Oldham, Ipswich, and Championship promotion hopefuls Brighton and Hove Albion are also worthy of incredible praise.
Speaking to the BBC, Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley described his side’s victory over Burnley as “a football miracle.” Sutton United, which hosted Arsenal two days after Lincoln City’s triumph, could not replicate the team’s achievement and fell bravely to the Gunners 2-0.
United’s efforts have been somewhat overshadowed by the actions of substitute goalkeeper Wayne Shaw. Shaw was spotted by the television cameras eating a pie during the 82nd minute: a seemingly innocent, if slightly unprofessional act. However, it later emerged that a bookmaker had offered 8/1 odds on Shaw being caught eating a pie on camera. Suspecting foul play, the Gambling Commission and Football Association launched an investigation to determine whether there was a violation of betting regulations. Shaw has subsequently resigned from his position at Sutton United.
It seems that Shaw did not act maliciously but rather has been caught out of his depth by the rigorous scrutiny high-profile matches like these can bring. Much of the football community feels a great sense of pity for Shaw, with Gary Lineker tweeting, “Day by day football is losing its heart and its sense of humour. #piegate.”
Likewise, there was uproar amongst some fans who were particularly critical of Sutton’s decision to take one-off sponsorship for the game from The Sun. The paper’s actions regarding the Hillsborough disaster are despicable and have led Liverpool to ban journalists from Anfield. Whilst no one would deny Sutton its moment in the sun (pardon the pun), taking on the sponsorship was perceived as “selling out” by some fans and therefore reduced some neutral support they may have accrued in the passage to the quarter-finals.
Nevertheless, in years to come, Sutton United’s efforts in this year’s FA Cup will not be remembered for these incidents, but rather for a great victory over Leeds and proud display against Arsenal.
Lincoln City’s FA Cup is still not over. Who knows what could happen when they play Arsenal on 11 March? The game is set to be a grand occasion and the most famous day in the club’s history no matter the result.
The other quarterfinals will see Tottenham hosting Millwall; Manchester United travelling to Chelsea; and Middlesbrough battling either Manchester City or Huddersfield Town (their replay takes place after The Saint has gone to print). The FA Cup is the one of the few competitions that can conjure up stories like Lincoln City’s.
Although the glitz and glamour of modern-day football is to be found in European ties, the FA Cup is a down-to-earth and “real” competition. Anyone can beat anyone, and on 11 March the eyes of the nation will be on Lincoln City in its bid for glory.