The glory and Mike Ashley set to leave if unthinkable happens? Magic of the FA Cup still remains
“I think our fans would prefer us to win the FA Cup than the Premier League, and I might be wrong about that but I don’t think I am. So we know what the cup means to the people of Newcastle.”
That was Alan Shearer speaking being interviewed at the end of the 2001-02 season.
A season in which Newcastle United, under Bobby Robson, had finished 4th in the league after mounting a genuine title challenge and also reached the last eight of the FA Cup, only to go down 3-0 to a brilliant Arsenal in a Highbury replay.
I don’t think he is all that far off the mark. You may argue that in the 18 years that have passed, much has changed in regards to the status of the competition within the pantheon of English club football.
Anyone saying that for a side finishing in the top four this season would probably be dismissed or ridiculed, certainly if they were club captain.
The supporter may have changed in that time but most in the mainstream media seem to point the finger at the tournament itself.
The old argument that the FA Cup has lost its way. Nonsense.
For me, it still has the brilliant random magic. Not only that, it often produces games that are far more dramatic and entertaining that what you find in league football.
The game last week against Oxford United proved it. Yes they are two divisions below us, but that didn’t stop me punching the air in delight when Allan Saint-Maximin cut inside to crash home a spectacular winner, to send us into the last 16 for the first time since 2006.
We need to take this seriously, what else have we got left if not this?
The conversation Shearer was opening up is certainly less pressing these days. We are light years away from competing for a European spot, never mind a title challenge, like we were back then. Even the FA Cup seems a pipedream when you consider our wretched recent record. And yet I feel more optimistic on third round day than on the opening day of the season in August. At least until I see the makeshift team we normally select.
What I have discovered in the last few years is the cup only seems to be what you make of it.
It is both easy and in vogue to sit back and moan about how it is not the same. How it is no longer a top priority. It sounds right to football bores.
Is there any logic to it though?
Clubs with little to no hope of winning the Premier League, struggle to keep fans on side as it is at the moment.
They have slowly started to realise they need to give supporters moments of glory to maintain the enjoyment levels modern football can provide.
We need this competition and maybe this competition could do with a club truly desperate to win it having a good run.
When United won the FA Cup three times in five years during the 1950s, the team was known and renowned all over the country.
Back then the Cup was THE competition to win.
It’s not even just the glory times, after the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in 1974 the streets were lined with supporters welcoming the team back to Newcastle. For the record, that season we also went to West Brom in Round 5.
This feeling still surrounds the club for me. Its tradition derived partly from lack of any silverware but the FA Cup is still the one to win.
We have had luck with the draw but that was long overdue and is all part of the cup experience.
Yes we almost certainly won’t win it this year. Yes it is far too soon to be dreaming of Wembley. And yes we probably will get knocked out by the Baggies in Round 5.
Not everyone has to have it as a priority but we should enjoy our season having some meaning as we head into the business end.
Fans who can’t enjoy this I don’t understand, not just Newcastle fans but fans of all clubs.
If you aren’t in it for moments of pure glory the cup can provide, what is the point.
But you know what, that doesn’t matter. I am merely happy that we will be seeing the back end of winter and still have some football to play that doesn’t relate merely to scraping forty points and ensuring survival.
I feel one of the major gut-punches of the ownership and direction of the club over the past decade has been the appalling attitude and subsequent record in the FA cup.
Finally, a reminder from that rare Mike Ashley interview from May 2015, just before our victory over West Ham to ensure survival.
Five years on it still holds significance.
“We are now definitely going to win something and by the way I shan’t be selling until we do. Not at any price.”
A trophy, any trophy, could transform this club in such a way we may not even realise yet. Dare to dream.
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