Chris Lakey: Henderson and Co a credit as FA Cup prepares for a new kicking
Congratulations are in order, I’d suggest, for Rochdale and, belatedly, Newport County, who pushed Tottenham all the way in the FA Cup.
Rochdale took Spurs to a replay and having played so well for one and a half games, they finally lost their concentration and Spurs romped home. Newport had provided sterner stuff in the previous round, but the ‘minnows’ deserve huge credit for their attitude to the games, as do Spurs and their manager for not treating their opponents with anything proper respect.
What Rochdale and Newport did was a perfect reflection of what the FA Cup is all about. It is the world’s oldest knockout trophy, one of the most famous competitions in world football, indeed, in world sport. It is unique in that it can pit the princes against the paupers, it can save a club’s season, it can, in these days of whopping great TV sport budgets, save a club from financial ruin.
It is the perfect way for the big clubs to give something back to the smaller ones – a sporting story that warms the cockles. Until someone comes along and wants to spoil it all.
Just when you thought the big boys’ hearts couldn’t be any bigger, they go and give the little boys a kicking.
This week the FA, Premier League and Football League reached provisional agreement to play fifth round games in midweek, starting from the 2019-20 season. It means top-flight players would get the first two weeks of February off – perfect for them to sharpen themselves up for Euro 2020 – if they get there – and any other summer tournaments. Like the World Cup.
So it’s okay if you are an international footballer – and no doubt it will suit the 23 players England take to a tournament.
And if the EFL took part in the agreement, why didn’t it chirp up? if fact, why get involved at all because the break would not apply in the Championship and League One and League Two where the heavy 46-game schedule (heavy enough to actually warrant a break) means there is less flexibility.
The EFL did flex its muscles over the Carabao Cup, which it wants to stick to two-legged semi-finals. What a relief that is to world football.
The sticking point is the scrapping of FA Cup fifth-round replays – and if they scrap those, will they eventually scrap all replays?
The FA Cup has come a tainted competition over recent years, but there is no need to throw it on the pavement and jump all over it until it is disfigured beyond recognition
It just reeks of the big boys throwing their weight around and not giving a toss about the adverse effects.
As Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt tweeted: “Simple really. Lose windfall income so that they can have a nice holiday.”
That’s perhaps not quite what it is, and there are many of us who wish to see England do well in major tournaments. But we mustn’t forget that a winter break for the top-flight boys won’t harm Belgium’s chances either. Around 70pc of Premiership players are foreigners.... just saying.
For someone who has followed lower league football for a long time. I can tell you that the thrill of a cup tie against a big team is hard to beat. Fans look forward to the competition; they don’t take it for granted.
Look at what Rochdale – ably led by the boy from Thetford, Ian Henderson – did this week and then, if you can bear it and if you witnessed it, recall the events of 24 hours earlier when Swansea played Sheffield Wednesday. It was a dreadful, dire game. Frankly, neither team looked they wanted to win it and at the final whistle, with Swansea having won 2-0, I am sure there was disappointment on their faces - the Premier League strugglers have a bigger fish to fry and they looked about as unimpressed as I was at what had just happened.
Rochdale are struggling in League One and could easily end up relegated, but they put everything into the games against Spurs.
So, again, well done to them for upholding the traditions of the FA Cup - and shaming those who wish to take that pleasure away.
The least surprising news of the week came on Tuesday, when Mansfield announced they had accepted the resignation of manager Steve Evans – followed swiftly in second place by the naming of Evans as Peterborough manager the following day.
Evans left Mansfield less than 48 hours after Peterborough had sacked Grant McCann. Seems Evans had phoned Barry Fry to ask for tickets to Posh’s game against Walsall on Wednesday and five minutes later ending up speaking to the chairman and the job was, effectively, his. I rang Posh for tickets once and all I got was a pasty.
Frankly, Evans, who lives near Peterborough and, it would be fair to say, classes himself as a Posh fan, was bound to get the job some day, so why not now and get it over and done with?
I had a text yesterday which read: “Imagine having Steve Evans in charge of Posh... will feel the same as having Sam Allardyce in charge of Everton. Awful. Just awful.”
I have a bit of a soft spot for Evans. Many moons ago when I worked in King’s Lynn, Evans would occasionally call, hoping to get Boston United stories in the paper – he was boss there at the time, it’s where he made his name. I enjoyed chatting with him, and found him a decent bloke. If he said he’d call, he’d call.
I went over to Boston to watch a Wisbech team managed by Darren Bloodworth play the Pilgrims in a Dr Martens League Cup tie. Boston were overwhelming favourites and pre-game paraded their record signing, one Lee Power (£25,000 from Halifax). Wisbech won. Evans was fuming, but, as promised, he came out for a chat.
His assistant at Posh will be Paul Raynor, who had a spell at Lynn at the end of his playing career. A very fine player he was too, but you wouldn’t cross him. I recall a game at Folkestone: Raynor had been sent off and instead of going into the dressing room and getting changed, just spent the rest of the half, still in full kit, waiting outside so he could ‘speak’ to the referee.
I’d suggest he and Evans are “uncompromising”. How long it will last, who knows? But it is highly unlikely things will be dull at London Road as long as Evans and Raynor are in the building.
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