FA Cup ‘Magic’?

This famous goal comes from a time when everyone agrees that the FA Cup had ‘magic’. Ronnie Radford’s late strike for Hereford United, which knocked Newcastle United out of the 1971-72 FA Cup, has become synonymous with the ‘giant killings’ which are the stuff of FA Cup magic.

This season the FA launched ‘The Ronnie Radford Award’, ‘recognising the team which achieves the most impressive giant-killing act in The FA Cup sponsored by E.ON’. According to Alex Horne (who is apparently the FA’s general secretary): ‘The giant-killing nature of The FA Cup is part of the competition’s unique magic.’ Maybe he’s right. ITV’s highlights schedule would suggest that they agree. Matt Smith, Andy Townsend and John Hartson led us through defeats for Newcastle (their vanquishers Stevenage will likely get my vote – that’s right you can vote – to appear on the Wembley pitch on Cup Final day), Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Blackpool and Middlesbrough as well as a lucky escape for Arsenal at home to Leeds Utd long before they showed us routine victories for the likes of Fulham, Everton and West Ham. The length of the list of Davids suggests that Mr. Horne may have got something wrong. By the time I’m watching League One Sheffield Wednesday knock three unanswered goals past David James’ Championship Bristol City (in Bristol) I’m starting to think that the ‘magic’ of the cup, like the ‘magic’ of Paul Daniels, is not for me.

Stevenage: on their way to Wembley?

But this is not a tired lament for ‘the lost magic’ of the Cup.

The thing is, I genuinely don’t know how much magic the Cup had in the first place. The first FA Cup Final I remember watching was Everton’s 1-0 defeat of Manchester United in 1995. I’m pretty sure that ever since that time there have been noises made about how the Cup just hasn’t got any magic anymore. This may be true, like I said I wouldn’t know, but even if it is it shows that the magic wasn’t in giant killings in the first place. These still happen, in fact they happen all the time, as the above list shows.

The FA, in a classic piece of (the magician’s stock in trade) misdirection have shown this up. By creating an award for the single best giant-killing moment, they establish a singular monument to ‘magic’ that can be listed alongside the winners and the runners-up on their website. They also, inadvertently, acknowledge the nonsense of their claims. Giant-killings are so common now that we need to choose one from the multitude. That’s not magic. Ronnie Radford himself didn’t need an online poll to establish his place in the tournament’s history.

If there is any magic left in the cup, then it resides where it always has: in the tournament’s uniquely democratic ideology. This is an elite sporting competition which contains milkmen and multi-millionaires. That is unique, and it is brilliant. You or I could (possibly) go and sign up for a club who, in July or August of this year, will enter the exact same competition that Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Cesc Fabregas (fingers crossed) will enter in January. Magic.

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