OK, hear me out. The Football Association Challenge Cup (or FA Cup) is the oldest association soccer tournament in the world and features everyone from England’s biggest teams like Manchester United and Chelsea, down to small town amateur squads with names that sound more suited to pub signs than soccer kits.
As the money involved in the highest levels of pro sport have spiraled to astronomical heights, the novelty of the FA Cup has reached a new level of magic. What else could describe the possibility of 11 part-timers with day-jobs beating multi-millionaires of the Premier League? Of course, it sounds like a lottery ticket. Sure, there’s a chance, but it never happens. Ah, but it does my skeptical sports friend.
Luton Town is a team that plays in the Conference National league, the fifth level of English football. On Saturday, they beat Norwich of the Premier League to reach the Sweet 16 of the FA Cup. It’s only the seventh time since 1945 that a nonleague club has advanced this far and the first time since 1989 that a club outside the four highest levels sent a top-tier team packing. The Wall Street Journal put this in appropriate context, “758 clubs from rank amateurs to Manchester United competed in the FA Cup this season, and only 18 teams are left.”
And this isn’t a one-off fluke. Premier League teams Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa have been knocked out by second-tier squads Leeds United and Millwall, while Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers were booted by third-flight Oldham Athletic and Milton Keynes Dons. Third-tier team Brentford even held Champions League trophy-holders Chelsea to a 2-2 draw and play the Blues again next month to settle the tie.
Some say all this giant-slaying simply shows the big boys are saving their energy for the more fertile (and lucrative) fields of the Premier League and top European competition, while others contend these results are rekindling the FA Cup’s glory.
Either way, I say it would be amazing to have such a competition in Canadian hockey. Sure, all the logistics will say that it’s impossible, but imagine for a minute that there was a hockey tournament of this magnitude. Where the Thetford Mines Isothermic might catch the Calgary Flames on a bad night? Or the Whitby Dunlops could take out the Toronto Maple Leafs?
ESPN columnist Chris Jones recently wrote about how this latest lock-out showed how little the NHL deserved the best trophy in sports. He also recalled that during the last lockout during the 1994/1995 season, “a group of recreational hockey players in Toronto filed a bizarre-seeming legal claim: that the Stanley Cup was not the NHL’s alone to award. It argued that Lord Stanley of Preston had given the Cup to us — to all of us, to be held in our trust, forever — to promote the game of hockey. The court agreed. Those recreational players actually won. The NHL was forced to concede that it did not own the trophy and that the Cup’s trustees could choose to ‘award the Stanley Cup to a non-NHL team in any year in which the NHL fails to organize a competition to determine a Stanley Cup winner.’ Imagine that.”
These recent FA Cup results helped me do just that.