Six reasons why giant killing sucks
We should celebrate Premier League Goliaths crushing lower-league Davids.
Chelsea’s shock FA Cup defeat to Bradford has been described as the greatest FA Cup shock of all time. Really? Greater than Fourth Division Colchester beating Leeds 3-2 in 1971? Or non-league Sutton United beating Coventry in 1989? Or even Crystal Palace, then in the old Southern League Division Two, knocking out First Division Newcastle back in 1907? Clearly, the first casualty of an FA Cup upset is all sense of historical perspective. But regardless of where Chelsea’s defeat ranks, last weekend’s spate of cup upsets has provoked a flurry of excitement across the land. Of course, it’s always good fun to see big clubs humbled, but I don’t think the cull of so many Premier League giants is necessarily a good thing. Sure, the English love a plucky underdog. And of course there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a spot of schadenfreude at Chelsea’s expense. But sometimes I think we need to side with football’s Goliaths. Yes, that’s right. There are times when it’s right to celebrate the ruthless crushing of the underdog. Here are six good reasons why:
When your own team is cast as Goliath
It’s a no-brainer. When Crystal Palace were drawn away to Dover Athletic of the Vanarama Conference in the FA Cup Third Round this year, I feared the worst. For a team struggling in the Premier League this could have been the mother of all banana skins. And, naturally, the TV cameras were there to feed the rubberneckers’ craving for hardcore giant-killing porn. But, for once, Palace tore up the romantic script. We passed the ball, won the aerial battles, scored four goals and didn’t allow Dover a sniff of goal. It was music to my ears to hear the shrill strains of Robbie Savage ranting that, so toothless were Dover in attack, Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey didn’t have a spot of mud on his shorts. The rightful order of things had not been disturbed. Move along rubberneckers, nothing to see here.
Let them eat clichés
The prospect of giant killing is usually accompanied by a procession of tired old FA Cup clichés. The ‘romance of the cup’; ‘banana skins’; ‘David and Goliath’; ‘form book goes out of the window’; ‘it’s their cup final’; ‘boy’s own story’ – the FA Cup has become an exercise in the lazy recycling of every hoary old cliché under the sun (and yes I know this column is littered with many of those clichés). Surely it’s time for a moratorium on those hackneyed FA Cup tropes? Every time I see a replay of Ronnie Radford’s piledriver for Hereford against Newcastle, I reach for the sick bag. It’s a great goal but, here’s the thing, I don’t want to see it again. And spare me the sentimental hogwash about an outfit of hod-carriers and widget fitters pitted against the Premier League’s millionaires. Change the sodding record! If the underdog wins then the commentators will go into cliché overdrive. That’s reason enough to side with Goliath.
Choreographed goal celebrations
If there’s one thing worse than Motty trotting out FA Cup clichés, it’s the choreographed goal celebration. For some reason, non-league clubs seem to specialise in this wretched practice. You know the sort of thing; all the players waddle along on their knees like ducks or cock their legs like dogs have a pee. It’s hilarious isn’t it? Well, actually, no it isn’t. It’s just plain boring now. The synchronised celebrations might have had novelty value once. But the novelty wore off a long time ago. Not big. Not clever.
Small-town glory hunters
There’s a popular misconception that Premier League stadiums are full of ‘day trippers’ and glory-hunting ‘plastics’, and that lower-league football is where you’ll find ‘proper’ fans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Who are all these supporters who cram into a rickety non-league stadium when a Premier League club comes to town? Do they usually spend their Saturdays watching non-league football? Don’t be daft. Most of them couldn’t give a monkey’s about Shit Ground No Fans United, except when they draw a big club in the cup. Then the normal attendance – three men and a dog – is swelled by hordes of small-town glory hunters, crawling out of the woodwork, singing ‘We support our local team’. They’re only there to gawp at Sergio Aguero or Eden Hazard. And that’s why we should applaud when the minnows are mercilessly dispatched.
We should celebrate professionalism
There’s a reason why most of us wouldn’t pay to watch non-league football. It might be dripping with authenticity, but it’s not very good, is it? No, we want to watch football of a higher standard than non-league hoofball. There’s an assumption that the pampered millionaires of the Premier League will struggle to cope with a physical battle or an aerial barrage, and that a muddy, uneven pitch will be a ‘great leveller’. That’s why it’s a joy to watch a Premier League team adapt well to a cabbage patch of a pitch and outclass lower league opponents. It’s a vindication of professionalism. A testament to their superior technique, athleticism and fitness. We should celebrate the slaying of an underdog in the same way that Spanish bullfighting aficionados applaud the grace and skill of a matador who executes a quick, clean kill. As with bullfighting, a cup tie can be an uneven contest, but there’s a certain beauty to be found in watching a big team ‘doing a professional job’ on lower-league cloggers.
Too many upsets devalue the FA Cup
Look, I won’t lie to you. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Chelsea crash out of the cup. You might think that last weekend’s spate of cup upsets can only serve to rekindle the nation’s waning love for the FA Cup. But, counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s just not true. If too many giants are slain, the value of the cup depreciates. Pretty soon, the dewy-eyed ‘magic of the cup’ narrative gives way to cynicism. The elite clubs weren’t taking the cup tie seriously. They weren’t ‘up for it’. If a manager rested key players – as Mourinho did against Bradford – he’s accused of ‘disrespecting’ the tournament. And if there are no titanic head-to-heads in the latter stages of the tournament, we feel short-changed. We cheer when the big boys go tumbling out only to find ourselves trying to get excited over Aston Villa v Leicester or Blackburn v Stoke in the fifth round. A cup shock is fine and dandy, but only in moderation. An overdose of giant killing will snuff out public interest in the competition.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @DuleepOffside