When I was growing up I was bouncing off the walls when the FA Cup came around. I’d always keep an eye out for the fixtures, loved watching it on Match of the Day when the famous old music came on and not to mention the big upsets that happen every year. It gets going at just after Christmas, which gives you a lovely feeling inside and it really does have a touch of magic.
To be able to play in the competition as an adult was something else…
When I was playing in League One with Peterborough we pulled Newcastle out of the hat at London Road. Because it’s the FA Cup, even as the underdog, you think to yourself “hold on a minute, we can beat these”. It was almost surreal at times. I know it’s a cliché, but the FA Cup really is magical.
As a small club, if you go on a little FA Cup run, it really is like playing in a Cup Final every time, because if you’re a non-league club, you can often find yourself at a ground which could hold 10-20k when you’re only used to 1500 people turning up every week!
Many years ago, I was at Gravesend and Northfleet, playing two divisions lower than the conference and we’d gone on a cup run ourselves. We got a home draw against Dover Athletic who were playing in the conference – a very decent side, relatively speaking.
All of a sudden, we’ve got 2,500 turning up to our ground. Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re used to playing in front of 250, as an eighteen-year-old kid that is half a dream in itself – suddenly you start thinking to yourself: “I could make my claim here, you never know who’s watching – produce against these and this could be your ticket to the conference”.
I had an awesome game and on a personal level it gave me so much confidence in my own ability and it made me realise that I was capable of moving up the leagues.
That’s the magic and reality of the competition. It gives you the belief, especially as a young player, that you can hold your own against players playing at a much higher level.
Punching above your weight in the FA Cup does work both ways though…
As previously mentioned, when Newcastle turned up at London Road (which was an absolute quagmire of a pitch, by the way) and all of a sudden you’re rubbing shoulders with the likes of Shearer and Bellamy, it really does feel like you were part of a special competition – we knew we were mixing it with the big boys!
I fancied seeing how I’d get on against big Alan Shearer, so I ran into him in the middle of the park and he ABSOLUTELY BULLDOZED ME!
He was 16 stone of muscle against 10 stone of a soaking wet Bulldog, leaving me with my face in a puddle of mud while he went off with the ball!! I just remember thinking… “I need to get down the gym here – he’s an absolute beast!”
After that I saw Bellamy on the pitch who was closer to my weight division, so I thought I’d back myself against him when it came to speed, especially on the pitch at London Road which didn’t have a blade of grass on it – the game nearly got called off!
Anyway, we’ve come together in the middle of the park and I’ve never seen anything like it: he was like a speed boat cruising through a swamp!
I was sat there thinking “Shearer’s just dumped me in the mud and Bellerz has burned me off like I wasn’t there”.
I probably picked the worst two people to try and mix it with but the FA Cup gives you that opportunity to have it with the best and motivates you to get to the very top.
There have been fans at a few clubs in the Premier League complaining that their sides aren’t ambitious enough and that it’s the same old thing every year: mid-table, safe from relegation but not competing for Europe…
The FA Cup is the perfect opportunity for the likes of Stoke, West Brom, West Ham etc, to give their fans something to cheer about!!
All you have to do is look at Bristol City in the League Cup when they knocked out United – why can’t the sides lower down in the Premier League set a solid FA Cup run as a realistic target at the start of the year?! Even if you pull one of the big sides out of the draw, there’s a chance they could take a liberty and put a weakened side out.
The FA Cup is famous for the David vs Goliath story and all the punters out there will be looking for their value bets this weekend. What I’ll say is that you’ve got to be looking out for teams who are smashing it in their respective leagues.
I’ve had a butchers at the fixtures and I’ve circled Wigan, one of my former teams, who could cause an upset against Bournemouth. Wigan are rocking at the top of League One and unbeaten in their last ten games. Ok, they’re playing a Premier League side – but this is Bournemouth, not Manchester City.
The confidence they’ll have coming into this is unquestionable. When you combine the underdog belief and the current league form that Wigan are in, I can guarantee you that those players will fancy themselves against Bournemouth this weekend. If you’re looking for an upset-bet then get on Wigan, who are 7/2 with BetBright.
If you’re a fan of attractive football, then you need to get yourself down to Craven Cottage this weekend, where Fulham, another of my old clubs host Southampton – two sides who really try and play football the right way.
This is another game where I could quite easily see an upset happening. Fulham have got some decent players, including Ryan Sessegnon who has even been linked with PSG in the week. They are unbeaten in their last four, so Southampton need to be careful, I’m telling you, a draw at 5/2 wouldn’t be a bad bet at all!
If you’re after an FA Cup bet this weekend, then have a few quid on this 11/1 Acca I’ve rustled up!
Aston Villa – 8/11
Cardiff City – 4/7
Wolves – 7/10
Chelsea – 4/9
Leeds – 17/20
The FA Cup is a competition we should be so proud of in England and I can’t wait for a full weekend of drama, upsets and hopefully a few winning bets!
Have a good one everyone!
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.