There have been tears and tantrums on Twitter, fury and furor on Facebook and nothing of interest on Snapchat following the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup on Monday, for Manchester City have, for the umpteenth season running, been awarded what some call an easy tie.
Yes, after beating Birmingham City 3-0 on Sunday, City have been drawn way at Cheltenham Town in fourth round, much to the derision of other supporters, who claim the draw was rigged, City have been banding ‘brown envelopes’ about and generally making sure they get to the final.
A lot of the criticism has come from supporters of the ‘big’ clubs, following United’s home game to Championship side Watford, Liverpool’s match at Aston Villa’s under 5’s team and Spurs daunting trip to eighth tier Marine, where the most dangerous aspect for the visitors was the potential for Gareth Bale to call at number 21 to ask for the ball back.
But as United and Liverpool are set to clash at Old Trafford, Spurs get ready to travel to bottom-of-the-championship Wycombe and Arsenal face a trip to Southampton or Shrewsbury after beating Newcastle at home, it’s City who get the ‘easy’ trip to Cheltenham - a team with history of being knocked out of the competition to lower league sides against the League Two promotion chasers.
The blues and ‘easy’ teams - and for the record I have such disdain when the term easy is used against any team in cup competitions – have a turbulent record. Why do you think we are called Typical City?
In 1983, tenth placed City travelled south to face a Brighton side deep in trouble at the wrong end of the table and were thumped 4-0. The following year, the blues went to fourth division Blackpool and lost 2-1. In 1987, we travelled the short distance for an ‘easy’ match at Old Trafford and lost 1-0, while in 1989, City visited third division Brentford and lost 3-1. 1990 we lost 3-1 at Millwall, 1991, 1-0 defeat at Notts County, 2-1 loss at Middlesbrough in 1992 and a 1-0 defeat at Cardiff in 1994. Apart from Millwall, all the rest were lower league opposition at the time. And we haven’t even mentioned Forest, Middlesbrough (again), Sheffield United, Wigan, Oldham, Wigan, Wigan, bloody Wigan!!!!!
But that’s enough of that, let’s have a look at some of the times where we’ve been drawn against higher opposition, you know when teams look at us as the ‘easy’ draw. In the last 20 years, City have exited the cup to Liverpool (2), Newcastle, United, West Ham, Blackburn, Stoke, Manchester United (2), Chelsea, Arsenal (2), all Premier League teams at the time. And when City won the cup in 2011, the blues played Villa, United and Stoke to lift the trophy, hardly easy games.
But the way fans have reacted to City’s draw shows just how short their memories are. Yes, City have had some favourable ties over the last few years, but if we look at the other so called ‘big clubs,’ they too have benefitted from ties that would also be considered easy.
United’s journey to the final in 2007 saw them play Portsmouth, Forest, Reading, Middlesbrough, Watford, all lower league clubs, while a year later, Liverpool drew Luton and Havant & Waterlooville. In 2012, Spurs drew Cheltenham and Stevenage, and in 2017, Arsenal reached the final by beating Preston, Southampton, Sutton Utd Lincoln, the latter two being from tier 5!
And a year later, United reached the final by beating Derby, Yeovil and Huddersfield amongst others, while Spurs faced AFC Wimbledon, Newport and Rochdale. Going further back, Liverpool reached the 2001 final, beating Rotherham, Leeds, Tranmere and Wycombe Wanderers, with City the only Premier League team they faced.
City have faced many top flight teams over the years, but the fact is, the FA Cup is what it is. It’s not the Champions League where bigger teams are kept separate – that’s what makes the FA Cup so special, and it’s ties like City’s at Cheltenham, Spurs at Marine etc that these clubs look forward to. Not only that, cast your mind back to Sutton United beating Coventry in 1989, Wrexham knocking Arsenal out in 1992, Bradford winning 4-2 at Chelsea, Oldham 3-2 Liverpool. These are the kind of results that we want to see (unless it’s your team getting beat) and matches like City’s means so much to clubs like Cheltenham.
It’s what also keeps the FA Cup alive.