The third round of the English FA Cup is a time in the knockout competition renowned for shocks and ‘giantkilling’ exploits.
But the advent of the January transfer window and the pressing financial need for Premier League clubs to avoid relegation have dulled some of the lustre from the world’s oldest senior knockout football competition.
This time last year then Reading striker Dave Kitson summed up a growing, if not so bluntly voiced, mood by saying: “We are not going to win the FA Cup and I do not give two shits about it, to be honest.”
However, to the delight of some traditionalists, not only did Reading fail to win the Cup, they were also relegated last season from the Premier League.
Instead Portsmouth became the first club from outside the “Big Four” of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal since 1995 to lift the trophy, defeating Cardiff in a Wembley final that defied all predictions.
Pompey’s success ought to have encouraged Premier League clubs in a similar position that there’s more to life than ‘survival’; whether it has remains to be seen.
As for the “Big Four,” they are all in action against lower league opposition with tomorrow seeing Arsenal at home to Plymouth, Chelsea welcoming Southend to Stamford Bridge and Liverpool away to Preston.
Meanwhile Manchester United start their Cup campaign on Sunday away to Southampton, a repeat of the 1976 final where the south coast club, then of the old Second Division, defeated their First Division opponents 1-0 in one of the great Wembley upsets.
A similar scoreline at St Mary’s would be an even greater surprise.
But Bristol City of the second-tier Championship will fancy their chances “down the road” at Southampton’s arch-rivals Portsmouth, who’ve lost their last five matches.
Harry Redknapp, the man who managed Portsmouth to their first FA Cup final victory in 69 years, will be in the Tottenham dug-out when the Londoners start the third round against Wigan at White Hart Lane today, in one of several all Premier League encounters.
High-flyers Aston Villa and Everton face awkward trips to Gillingham and Macclesfield respectively.
However, the tie which best encapsulates the spirit of the third round takes place on Monday when non-league Blyth Spartans are at home to Premier League Blackburn Rovers.
Back in 1978, the north-east side’s fifth round replay against Wrexham was witnessed by a crowd of more than 42,000 at Newcastle’s St James’ Park and the Spartans have high hopes of giving their supporters another set of memories to last a lifetime.
“We’re absolutely buzzing for it. I’ve had all my mates on the phone telling us to stick it to them,” Blyth captain Gareth Williams told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. “We always get a great atmosphere at the ground and it’s great for the club.”
And it seems you can put a price on the “Romance of the Cup.”
“Win, lose or draw we will be talking about £160,000 just for the televised rights,” club chairman Tony Platten said to the Daily Telegraph. “Like the FA, we’re loving it because we’ve had a lot of financial problems in the past.”