The Magic of the Cup

MJR thinks of an explanation for the proliferation of cup upsets over the last week:

England’s football fans had the pleasure of random football scores last weekend: the FA Cup. Why is there so much expectation of upsets? I think it’s partly because the match is at an ideal time to help level things out, especially if it’s at a non-league ground:

League clubs
  • usually full-time
  • 4 or 5 games over the holidays
  • mostly still negotiating new players
  • some of their players seem to expect it to be easy
  • usually play on expensive, well-kept pitches
Non-league clubs
  • often part-time
  • 3 games over the holidays
  • often introduce new players in the cup match
  • many of their players relish playing a top club
  • probably have a pitch more damaged by winter

 And he is almost certainly right.

To add to it, though, I once read the autobiography of Frank Clark, an ex-Forest manager (and the last one who could genuinely be considered a success for any length of time) who now works in some capacity at the League Manager’s Association. He wrote extensively about cup upsets and how they come about, and one of the most convincing reasons he gave was simply that in terms of the standard squad player, there is little difference in ability between (say) a Conference side and a Premiership one, as long as everyone plays at the top of their game. The obvious star players, your Rooneys, Henrys and Alonsos, are clearly a cut above, but they can be taken out of the game with efficient marking.

 The difference between players in the higher divisions and the lower is usually one of attitude and mental stamina – something that can be surmounted in a one-off game.