I don’t actually like football

But I do love the FA Cup.

An excruciating few seconds as the technology calculated whether it had crossed the line. Then – finally – a whistle and a raised arm. And then pandemonium. Improbably, impossibly, little Lincoln – small in status but enormous where it counted – had won the day. The last eight of the FA Cup will have its first non-League representatives since 1914.

For those who don’t know what makes it great is that pretty much every football club that is organised enough to be a football club has the right of entry. 750 of them or so is the usual entry in recent years. There’s no seeding (although the big clubs enter later in the competition). No round robins, no group stages, just simple knock out matches all the way up. The first matches are in August, leading to the final the next May.

So, for example, Anstey Nomads FC, down at Level 10 of English football, with a ground capacity of 1,000, and quite possibly not in fact paying their players at all, is in competition with Manchester United here.

OK, so what you might think, but I think that makes it great. Because while the way to bet is that the race is to the swift etc, on the day it’s possible for the good little ‘un to beat the good big ‘un.

33 thoughts on “I don’t actually like football”

  1. dearieme: yes, I enjoyed that J L Carr very much. ‘A Month in the Country’ is another of his and well worth reading as well if you haven’t already read it.

  2. I recall seeing Anstey Nomads play Imperial Typewriters around 1950, that team are now long gone as well as typewriters. There is hope yet for Anstey if I win the Euromillions.

  3. One sad part is how much the top clubs don’t care about it now. They field crappy teams because they don’t mind getting kicked out, which is one reason why so many minnows are doing well now. It’s lowered the value of it. They’re focussed on the league and Europe.

    And it’s a shame, and ultimately, bad for the sport. Because it’s the “romantic” competition. The one in people’s hearts precisely because scrappy little Wimbledon can beat the titans of Liverpool, or 4th division Northampton can host 1st division Coventry and beat them. It’s what draws in new crowds, connects the sport beyond the normal fans.

  4. And because it’s a knockout competition, it means that Lincoln has beaten everybody all the way along to get to where it is.

  5. Watched the second half of that match yesterday morning over coffee. Glorious, and better than anything either the NFL or the NBA could ever hope to produce.

    I don’t have much in the way of praise for the English, but I have to give them credit where credit is due: They do soccer and museums better than anyone else on the planet.

  6. Someone’s going to need to explain this to an American.

    I do know how the league system works. I did not know there are 10 levels. I see on Wikipedia that promotion and relegation work all the way down.

    So, Lincoln City is the best team in Level 5? And Burnley is an average team in Level 1?

    Do the FA Cup games count in the league tables? If they don’t count, what incentive does a club like Burnley have to play (aren’t they more likely to get knocked off by a Level 2 team in the FA than actually win the whole thing)?

    What happens to each team if they draw in the FA Cup?

    Did Lincoln City start out at the beginning, or did they have byes through the first few rounds too?

  7. Dave,

    about 20 teams in a division(level), Burnley ranked about 10, Lincoln about 80.

    FA Cup is a standalone competition, all teams in the Football Association can enter, results don’t count towards league position.

    Prestige, it is the oldest existing football competition in the world, the first final was in 1872.
    The winner also qualifies for the Europa League competition, win that and you are in the Champions League.

    Draws are resolved by a mixture of extra time, replays or penalties depending on which stage of the competition.

    This explains the structure

  8. Cup games have no effect on the league, other than the effect on the players. There are a number of incentives for a team like Lincoln; there’s the glory, income from bigger crowds than they’d get in the league that comes from playing higher tier opponents, the glory, prize money for each game won, the glory, potential for better sponsorship from the higher profile and the glory.

    Drawn games before the 1/4 finals are replayed; drawn replays or games from the 1/4 finals onward go to extra time and, if that is also drawn, a penalty shoot out.

    Lincoln joined the competition in the last round of the qualifying rounds for teams below the Football League, called the fourth round but actually the sixth if you count the preliminary and extra-preliminary rounds: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/FA_Cup#Schedule

  9. They field crappy teams because they don’t mind getting kicked out, which is one reason why so many minnows are doing well now.

    I think that ended a few years ago. As of right now, Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, and Man City are all still in, and each taking it seriously.

  10. @Dave Tufte

    Also below level 5 the league becomes more of a pyramid with north and south at level 6 and regional below that. If a team at the very bottom kept winning they would eventually end up in the premier league. Although there are stadium requirements.

    Also it is not soccer. Football fans here get cross if you call it that. Not that it bothers me as I follow Rugby Football.

  11. Actually, “soccer” is the English name for Association Football.

    In recent years, English football fans have become weirdly hostile to the term, and like to pretend that it’s not only an Americanism (forsooth!), but a sign of total ignorance on the subject. Which must baffle Brazilians, Germans and the rest.

    Proper, old-school English snobbery survives on the terraces.

  12. In short, “it’s not soccer!” is an accusation of ignorance that confirms ignorance in the accuser.

    There ought to be a Spud scale to measure this sort of thing.

  13. At some point where the number of teams has reduced to a manageable level, popular newspapers publish pull-out binary charts where you can fill in winning teams and track them through the competition.

  14. ‘Actually, “soccer” is the English name for Association Football.’

    this differentiates it from other types of football that vary in the amount of foot/ball interaction during a game.

    Association Football – only the goal keepers are allowed to handle the ball during normal play (and only in their own goal area), other players cannot use their hands.

    Rugby Football – players mostly use their hands to throw the ball backwards and only occasionally use their feet to kick the ball.

    American Football – players rarely use their feet to kick the ball, mostly they throw the ball forwards (if the ball was round it would be called basketball)

    Australian Rules Football – the ball plays a minor part in what appears to be a mass brawl, the winner is determined by the last player standing who can hold the ball up.

  15. I missed out Gaelic Football which is basically the same as Australian Rules Football but the players are armed with big sticks.

    There is also a version called the ‘Local Derby’, this is played by the whole town and edged weapons are encouraged.

  16. Soccer is not the English name for football. Football is. It was the name that the other (later) codes gave it. I have no problem calling it soccer when speaking to foreigners or U.K. followers of other codes (who are massively outnumbered). I doubt I have ever been amongst a group of football supporters and heard anyone describe it as soccer.

  17. John,
    “Soccer” was the English name (a very English shortening of “Association”).

    It’s true that the term is now outlawed among English fans, and most will shudder if they hear it. But you don’t have to go back very far to find it in match reports and what have you.

    I assume it’s because it’s been deemed to be an Americanism, but the South Americans use it as well.


  18. Of course soccer’s an English term; it originated amongst varsity players in the late 1800s to distinguish the game from proper football, viz rugger.

    Incidentally, all prayers to the sporting God should be in hope of a Sutton victory over Arsenal in the Cup tonight.

  19. Sure, “soccer” was an English term.

    But it’s not just the fans, no one uses it in Britain any more. Language evolves.

  20. PF,
    Yes, I know language evolves.

    The hostility to the term just strikes me as odd. Ignorant obviously, but it’s more the oddness.

  21. Not sure why it is considered that we football supporters are particularly hostile to the term soccer. It is used by loads of people around the world to describe our game. It is simply not used by football supporters in England. Football was football before those other codes existed and so there was no need to distinguish it from anything else. That usage has continued to this day. As I say I am happy for rugby supporters and foreigners to use it – and indeed often use it myself in conversation with such people.

  22. Football was football before those other codes existed

    Again, not so.

    Football covered a number of similar games with various rules. Formalising the rules led to a split between those clubs that wanted to allow ball in hand, and those that didn’t. This in turn led to Association (“Soccer”) and Rugby variants.

    The RFU was formed a few years after the FA, but it could easily have been the other way around. Several clubs were involved in forming both. Blackheath was instrumental in both, and Richmond played in the first ever soccer match.

  23. Actually, two things I didn’t know:

    1) BOTH clubs that played the first ever soccer match now play rugby.

    2) Blackheath are just Blackheath FC

  24. My memory of English usage of “soccer” chimes with Jack C’s – although I expect younger generations of English fans were turned off the word through exposure to Fuck Sucker and the apparent inanities of US commentators clearly more used to the terminology of hand-egg and other American sports…

  25. Jack C

    I don’t know where you were hearing “soccer” in England in the 70s and 80s. In the 70s and 80s (and indeed the 60s) I was a regular attender at football matches (and istill am) and I never heard the word used. My father was a regular attended going back decades before that. I am pretty sure that I never heard him use the word once.

    Football is, and always has been, the game enjoyed by the majority of English people. There has never been a reason to use a description of it being “Association” football (aka soccer). It is for the same reason that most Americans would refer to their game as football – when talking amongst themselves they don’t need to distinguish it.

    The minority who follow other codes in the U.K. use soccer because they regard their codes as football codes. However even for them if they hear the word football they would immmediately think of the majority game rather than their code.

    I have heard the argument before that we hate the term soccer. I guess some might identify it with the US and the increased commercialisation of the game. For my sins I travel the country following my club and the world following my country. I genuinely can’t think of anyone who has ever expressed an opinion on the matter.

  26. Thanks for all the details folks. I always wonder why open tournaments like this are not more popular than they are. High school basketball used to be that way in Indiana, but no more.

    Yes, I know the difference (or lack thereof) between soccer and football. I probably would have written football (out of politeness) if it had crossed my mind. It didn’t. Sorry about that.

    I’m an American that’s actually attended a few games: one at Highbury, and another at some tiny ground within a long walk from the Kentish Town tube stop. Not even sure what 3 of the 4 teams were any more though.

  27. Fans like Cup competitions because of the drama, a lot can happen in 90 minutes and sometimes the minnow beats the shark.
    Clubs tend to favour the league (divided into divisions), each week you play a side whose facilities and crowd size will match your own.
    Managers also prefer the league because it shows their talents in creating a great team that can perform consistently, week in week out.

    The first thing about football is it only requires a ball to have a kick about, all the other games require some kind of kit/organisation.
    The second thing about football is that it is a game.
    No one wants to see 19-0, that’s not a game, 2-1 is a game, 3-2 is better, 6-5 is phenomenal.
    Two evenly matched teams battling it out with skill and passion, that’s football that is.

    You’ve probably heard of Jose Mourino (the special one), he’s not a patch on this guy

    I once went to the City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest when Cloughie was in charge, about seven minutes after kickoff there was a quiet chant started, ‘Brian Cloughs Red Army, boom boom boom’, pause, ‘Brian Cloughs Red Army, boom boom boom’, pause, this was repeated, each time getting louder and louder and louder and louder, it was deafening by the in the 43rd minute when Forest scored.
    The fans started again immediately after half-time and continued until they scored again when they started to sing at full tilt ‘we hate Derby County’ (tune of Land of Hope and Glory).
    (last 15 seconds of this podcast will give you a feel of the noise)
    (the whole thing is worth listening to for the accents)

    The atmosphere was awesome (better than the Kop at Anfield).

    You might be an American but it’s not your fault (I blame the parents), get yourself a soccer ball, a jacket and a sweater and get down your local park and start yourselves a kickabout, kick the ball to passers by and encourage them to kick it back, everybody loves kicking a ball (it’s like jumping in muddy puddles).
    Before you know it you’ve got a game on, and that is when the fun starts.

    That’s football that is.

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