FA Cup can be a minefield

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Sheffield Wednesday (+217 at Exeter) and Doncaster (+409 at Blackburn) won recent FA Cup matches as sizeable underdogs, but the big upset was provided by Crawley Town FC.

Inside their Broadfield Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 10, the Reds thrashed Premier League side Leeds, 3-0. Crawley resides in League Two, three rungs below England’s top flight, and was about +1227 to win on offshore three-way boards.

Roster uncertainty and motivation factors make domestic tournaments funky to gauge, as has been seen in Germany (Bayern Munich ousted in the DFB Pokal at Holstein Kiel) and Spain (Bilbao winning at Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Super Cup) in the past week. In the Coppa Italia, Serie B side Empoli delivered a scare in Napoli.

In England, though, the Football Association Cup is special because it reigns as the world’s oldest national soccer competition, first staged in 1871-72. Upsets are not unexpected in a nearly all-comers tournament that featured a record 763 clubs in 2011-12. In fact, the term “cupset” is common in England. Research Yeovil Town, Altrincham and Wrexham for some entertaining underdog FA Cup stories.

And since it’s our pleasure to furnish an occasional bar bet, ask your seatmate to name the lone non-English club to ever win the FA Cup (Answer below).

The tournament is open to eligible clubs down 10 levels of the English Football League system. There are 12 randomly drawn rounds, which higher-level sides enter in latter rounds. For a minnow, it’s the ultimate survive-and-advance challenge.

Lower-level squads that pull off at least two such shock victories within a few years are called “cup specialists,” their names alone inducing certain élite sides to shudder.

Many FA Cup matches are legend, and NBC studio host Rebecca Lowe referred to a notorious one on a recent broadcast — Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Leeds, in the title-match replay at Old Trafford in Manchester on April 29, 1970.

“The most brutal football game,” said Lowe, “in English history.”

Two minutes in, Chelsea defender David Webb punched Eddie Gray so hard both cleats of the Leeds winger left the pitch. The BBC wrote, “A meeting of pure malice … best avoided by the faint of heart.”

By today’s standards, the nickname of Man United’s home would have been altered to Theatre of Nightmares. Paddy wagons would have aligned outside to whisk the felons away to the chambers.

Referee Eric Jennings issued a sole yellow card in the final match of his professional career. Webb wasn’t even dismissed for his attack. In 1997, a referee reviewed the tape and concluded he would have shown six red cards. On its 50th anniversary, another determined he would have issued 11 reds.

In his autobiography, Leeds midfielder Johnny Giles noted “a special sort of animosity” between the two sides. Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti called Leeds “dirty,” mitigating his assessment by saying both clubs played a physical style.

“We hated them,” said Chelsea striker Ian Hutchinson, “and they hated us.”

In 1927, the Welsh club Cardiff City became the only non-English club to win the tournament. And on April 23, no less, St. George’s Day, which celebrates England’s patron saint. The Bluebirds beat Aston Villa, Darlington, Bolton, Chelsea and Reading to reach the Cup Final against Arsenal before 93,000 at Wembley. A devilish spinner caromed off Gunners ‘keeper Dan Lewis’ arm and into the net for the match’s lone goal.

Tough 5-foot-7 defender Fred Keenor, who had sustained injuries in the Battle of the Somme in World War I, was Cardiff’s captain. He cradled the FA Cup all the way back home on the train, the only time the silverware has traveled out of England.

Twelve days after Wembley, Cardiff defeated Rhyl, 2-0, in the Welsh Cup Final. Cardiff City is the only club to have won the domestic tournaments of two different countries in the same season.

With proper tact, there’s two bar bets.

Saturday

Atalanta at AC Milan, Total 3 Ov -117: Milan has tallied at least two goals in 18 of its previous 19 games. The visitors are third in Europe in shot-creating actions (27.69) and goal-creating actions (4.19 per match), where Milan is 11th (3.47). OVER

Sunday

Napoli -141 at Verona, Total 2.5 Ov -116: Napoli has scored 16 goals over its past five matches, in all competitions. It is No. 1 in Europe with 30 shot-creating actions per game, and it owns this series, winning the previous six games by a 15-1 total. NAPOLI and OVER

Last week: 2-2

Season: 32-35-3 

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners, which was published in 2019.

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