Success without Victory - the glory of cup runs.
The very notion of a cup run excites fans and players of every team from the amateur to professional game. Even getting to the latter stages in Championship Manager feels special. While we live in a time of weakened line ups and diminished love for the FA Cup, knockout cup competitions still offer something that league football can’t. When defeat means elimination, every game has a little more edge. As teams progress through rounds, every game takes on greater significance as the dream of a final comes into sharper focus. There is no playing for draws, no bouncing back next week. Even a boring nil-nil will lead to the drama of extra-time or a penalty shootout, even the most out of form team can hope to spring a surprise in the cup. Away from league pressure where every point might be worth gold, smaller clubs can afford to be a little more adventurous, which might explain the propensity for giant killing as well as any romantic notion of ‘magic.’ No matter what level, the opportunity to take part in a cup final is rare and appreciation for our cup competitions needs to be rekindled. Anybody who has ever woken on the morning of a cup final can attest. Anybody who was in Wigan after their 2013 triumph, or Edinburgh after Hibs ended their 114 year barren run in the Scottish Cup, will have witnessed what a cup win can do to a city.
Hibernian were guided by this week's podcast guest Alan Stubbs as they ended 114 years of hurt by beating Rangers 3-2 in the 2016 Scottish Cup Final.
We’ll be talking about famous cup runs and moments a lot at WDM13 this week, and here are five famous runs worth remembering.
Wycombe Wanderers 2000/2001 – FA CUP – Semi-Final
Second division Wycombe’s cup run was the stuff of comic books. A run so unlikely even the most shameless Hollywood writer wouldn’t have pitched the script. What began in round one in November with a 3-0 win against Harrow Borough, ended in the semi-final at Villa Park in April, against eventual winners Liverpool. The fifth-round tie against Wimbledon served up two enthralling 2-2 draws, before Wycombe eventually won 8-7 on penalties, with manager Lawrie Sanchez defeating his former club, where he had famously won the cup as a player. In the thrilling replay, Wycombe were reduced to ten men after a harsh red card for Michael Simpson, Wimbledon missed a stoppage time penalty with an opportunity to level, only to equalise 34 seconds later. It took twenty penalties to separate the sides, and after Mark Williams skied his sides tenth kick, Wycombe were drawn against Premier League side Leicester in the quarter-final. Facing an injury crisis, Sanchez put an ad on teletext seeking a fit striker who wasn’t cup-tied. Step forward Roy Essandoh, who responded to the ad, signed a two-week contract, and in a tale only the Gods of football would allow, came of the bench to head a stoppage time winner at Filbert Street. Many can recall the footage of a rain-soaked Sanchez watching in the dressing room after being sent off by referee Steve Bennett. Wycombe eventually succumbed to Liverpool, who scored two late goals at Villa Park to end the giant-killing run. Fittingly, Wycombe had the final say, with Keith Ryan pulling one back in the 88thminute, allowing the Wycombe faithful 2 final minutes to dream.
WATCH: Cult Hero: Roy Essandoh
Les Herbiers 2017/2018 – Coupe de France – Runners Up
Third division Les Herbiers had to win ten games to reach the 2018 Coupe de France Final, where they met PSG in what was probably the greatest mismatch ever in a professional football final. PSG had just won their fifth title in six years and were looking to win the cup for the fourth year running. Les Herbiers’ annual budget of 2 million euros would have paid just over two weeks of Neymar’s wages. Neymar’s transfer fee would have guaranteed the minnows remained financially operational for 110 years. They sold as many tickets for the final as there are people who live in the tiny town. Young manager Stephane Masala was in his first ever head coach role and bookmakers were offering 1/100 on a PSG victory. As is almost always the case, the bookies were correct as PSG won 2-0 with goals from Giovani Lo Celso and Edinson Cavani. As almost all of France watched, supporting the club who had knocked out Auxerre and Lens on their way to the final, PSG invited captain Sebastian Flochon on stage to lift the trophy with them. What many saw as a moving tribute to the achievements of Les Herbiers, could also be viewed as a frustrating example of how unregulated and unchecked spending of clubs like PSG and Man City can be. If PSG hadn’t had a side so overflowing with expensive international talent, would we have seen the greatest success in French football history? It is a high sacrifice to make for just another cup on the PSG shelf.
Bradford City- 2012/2013 - League Cup – Runners Up
The tragedy of great cup runs is that they end. Pretty much every memorable run that comes up in discussion in the topic recalls a heartbreaking defeat or an anti-climactic loss at the hands of superior opposition. Bradford’s heroic achievement in reaching the League Cup final in 2013, didn’t deserve the ending it got. A 5-0 thumping at the hands of Michael Laudrup’s Swansea is probably the reason why it’s been unfairly consigned to the darker reaches of most memories outside Wales. Bradford made it all the way to Wembley from England’s fourth tier, defeating Arsenal along the way, before a two-legged victory over Aston Villa in the semi-final. The win over Arsenal in front of a packed home crowd was arguably the high point, with 65 places separating the teams in the league standings, but the 3-1 win over Villa was their best performance and the stuff of Valley Parade legend. Their opponents in the final, Swansea, were having an incredible season in their own right. What most fans recall as ‘The Year of Michu’, and they brushed Phil Parkinson’s team aside at Wembley. One can only hope that time has healed those wounds and Bradford supporters can find some comfort in the magic memories earned on the road to Wembley.
Lincoln City – 2016/2017 – FA Cup – Quarter Final
Lincoln City travelled to The Emirates to face Arsenal in the 2017 quarter final as the first non-league side in 104 years to reach the last eight. Brothers Danny and Nicky Cowley took their side from the fifth tier of English football to pit themselves against the mighty Arsene Wenger. Non-league had the opportunity to test themselves against Cech, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud and Ramsey. Just like Bradford in 2013, Lincoln’s run ended with a harsh dose of reality against Premier League opposition. The Imps made history with a last-minute winner away at Burnley in the fifth round, Sean Raggett knocking in a back-post header before being buried beneath a crush of teammates while the travelling fans celebrated wildly in the corner of a stunned Turf Moor. For 45 minutes of the quarter final, they frustrated Arsenal. Theo Walcott’s goal just before half time broke their resolve and Arsenal eventually pulled away and won 5-0. Wenger entertained the brothers in his office for a couple of hours post-match before they realised they hadn’t arranged transport from the stadium. The pair headed for the tube before thinking better of it and thumbed a taxi not far from the Emirates. They took club advice to stay at The Landmark in Marylebone. The next morning, while accepting that their dream run was over, they were left to face reality. And the 700-pound bill.
WATCH: Every goal scored by Lincoln City in their famous cup run to the FA Cup Quarter-Finals in 2016/2017.
Wigan 2012/2013- FA Cup – Winners
After reading of so many heartbreaks and near misses, it’s appropriate to finish with a success story. Although Wigan didn’t have the most difficult run to the FA Cup Final, their triumph came in the midst of a disastrous league season, from which the club has never recovered. The trip to Wembley to face reigning champions and free-spending Man City was a dreamlike distraction from the nightmare of relegation. The question has been raised many times, particularly during the Latics current downwards spiral – would they have swapped the cup win for survival? The pragmatist might say yes, but anybody in Wembley to see Ben Watson come off the bench to head a stoppage time winner might argue otherwise. Another interesting question would be this: for all of their recent Dubai fuelled success and the ease at which Man City’s fans have found themselves dismissing cups and booing the Champions League music, can any City fan truly have felt what the Wigan fans did that day? The club’s only major trophy in 88 years. It might be 88 years before they win another. Achieved with the help of nothing but hard work, luck and some cup magic. The current plight of Wigan emphasises just how difficult it is for any smaller club to realistically compete with the likes of City in the league. 7 years after their win, Wigan face oblivion, while City have spent 1 billion on their way to continued success. Cups are the only competitions where fans can dream about lifting the trophy. Where they can topple the giants. Their significance shouldn’t be taken for granted.
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