The FA Cup; there’s nothing like it in world football. Every season all teams from around the country from all levels of the game have their own little dream.
For some clubs, the dreams are whether they can make it through the preliminary stages to play a conference team or get into the first round proper. For others, getting as far as the coveted third round and a chance to rub shoulders with the big clubs is their goal. Right in the upper echelons of the English football hierarchy, there’s two-thirds of the Premier League teams who consider that they have a realistic chance of winning it, and when you look right at the very top, there are probably four of those teams who only see it as the third most important trophy of the season.
That leaves the Championship. Apart from a handful of clubs who would relish a tie against one of the ‘big boys’, most in this league would only see this competition as a hindrance. I watched the cup draw the other night with my usual wish of one of the traditional ‘top six’ (ie. not Leicester) teams away from home. The chance to go and visit a club and maybe a stadium dripping with history would make a nice change to league football, if you get beaten you can move on to more pressing matters. But then we drew Man United at home.
On the surface this should seem like a fantastic tie to any Derby fan – who wouldn’t want the great “United” on their own patch? And the general consensus at the moment is that there has never been a better time to play the red half of Manchester. Of course there is still an abundance of quality at United – one doesn’t spend £200 million and end up with donkeys, but they certainly are not the team of old and with a manager who is finding life at Old Trafford very tricky at the moment, they could really see the trip to the iPro as a potential banana skin.
However, for me this is too much of a distraction from our main objective this season, which is obviously promotion. With the tie comes the usual media circus; within hours of the draw the press and radio’s questions were all aimed at the upcoming game against the team who have won the cup 11 times. As much as I did not want us to lose to Hartlepool in the third round, would it really have been that much of a disaster? Boro were knocked out, albeit by another Championship team, but their path is now clear to concentrate solely on the league, and after recent seasons, it would be ideal for that to be the only thing we should be focusing on.
Personally, I am a traditionalist, and the magic of the FA Cup is still there for me. I grew up watching the great finals of the 70s and I get that this could be a massive game for the Rams and a chance to test ourselves against a team full of stars. I just think this season is all about the bigger picture.