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Wycombe Wanderers Matt Palmer

 

There are few football fans who do not love a great FA cup upset, there have been many since this great competition begun in 1871, to name a few; Wimbledon beating the mighty Liverpool in 1988 and of course last year’s winners Wigan toppling the free spending Man City. But there are a few truly great stories that do not receive as much press and attention as I believe they deserve. So I thought I would get nostalgic and take a trip down FA cup memory lane. FA cup fever is real and great cup runs can re-galvanize teams, embarrass the big guns, bring towns together and most of all have fans jumping up and down on the sofas, hoping the underdogs can keep going. These are three events that I remember very well and encapsulate what the FA Cup is about.

Laurie Sanchez’s Wycombe Wanderers were in the old division two and no one could have predicted the events of Wanderers cup run. They certainly had some scares on their way, they nearly crashed out in round two and three but won both ties via replies. Pundits and reporters alike started to take notice when they survived a reply against Wimbledon to win on penalties and to make it through to the Quarter finals. The road looked bleak for the team 60th in the league rankings, as Sanchez only had 16 fit players out of squad of 26 and they were away from home against a premiership team who had a good defensive record but their luck was about to change.

Once Muzzy Izzet equalised for City, everyone was waiting for the Premiership team to take control of the game and expecting Wycombe to tire but the underdogs upped their work rate and refused to let the opportunity slip. Then as a last throw of the dice, Sanchez decided to throw on his latest signing Roy Essandoh. The player who was only there because his agent contacted Wycombe after he saw the SOS advertisement posted by Wycombe on Teletext! FA cup folklore was about to have its newest addition, with a towering leap Essandoh headed the ball home! The travelling fans were in dreamland and after a few nerve wrenching minutes the referee but all the fans out of their misery. The lower league team were one match away from the final! In all the drama of the game, Sanchez was sent off and had to watch the end of the game via a monitor in the tunnel, this game represented everything the FA cup is about and a game which I will always remember.

The next memory on my list, sadly doesn’t have such a great ending and that’s why I feel it gets overlooked as a great FA cup shock. Non-league outfit Burton Albion had the chance to host Man Utd in 05-06 season, the team then managed by the up and coming Nigel Clough were ecstatic to have the chance to play such an illustrious club. With the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo on show, United were expected to ease pass Burton but the spirit shown proved that resilience and a bit of luck can even the playing field! Even for just 90 minutes. Burton Albion did not play traditional non-league style football, they liked to pass the ball around and retain possession. Many thought this would be their undoing against the powerful United but actually it through Man United off their game and for the first 45 minutes it was all Burton. Man United got their act together and started to dominant the game but the stubbornness of Burton Albion paid off and they earned a reply at Old Trafford. Figures dotted around at the time state that the reply earned the club around £500,000! Sadly the fairy-tale ended at Old Trafford as the reds ran out 5-0 winners but the non-league side left with their heads held high and it was a fantastic experience for the fans.

Now for one of the memorable cup runs in my life time, Chesterfield had an epic first leg semi-final against Middlesbrough in 96-97 which went to extra time and ended 3-3, the game swung back and forth between the two sides and had to be settled with another 90 minutes. A star studded Middlesbrough team with the likes of Ravanalli and Juninho were stunned by Chesterfield who led 2-0 before the Borough knew what had hit them. The main talking point was when Chesterfield had a goal ruled out for offside, there was controversy surrounding the decision as the Chesterfield player was clearing onside and many Chesterfield fans will never forgive David Ellery for that decision. History could have been very different if that goal had been allowed as Chesterfield would have been 3-0 to the good and surely would have had one foot in the final. It was not meant to be, the momentum swung in favour of Middlesbrough straight after and they were awarded a penalty and suddenly the game was back on.

The Premier league outfit then recovered and got themselves into a winning position at 3-2, and thought they were heading into the final but the FA cup fairy was not finished yet. In the 119th minute of extra time, a long looping ball found its way into the box and an astounding header by Hewitt, sent the Chesterfield fans into raptures. In one of the most of topsy-turvy games of football, a reply had to be played to separate the teams, this time around there was no shocks or dramas, Middlesbrough cruised to a 3-0 win and proceeded to the final. As hard done by as Chesterfield may have felt after the disallowed goal, they have secured a great stories for all the fans and players who were present that day and once again proved the FA Cup is a magical competition.

With this year’s FA Cup underway and the 4th round draw already done both Southend and Stevenage will be looking to add to the history books and knockout Premier League opposition, will there be more great FA cup runs to come this season?

Matt Palmer

Follow on Twitter @mattpalmersport

This article first appeared on Opinion Football http://opinionfootball.com/fairy-tale-fa-cup/

 

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