Article written for Total Football magazine.
Romance means different things to different people. To some it means bouquets of red roses, or candlelit dinner at sunset on a deserted beach but to some it means watching Altrincham play Burton Albion in a first round replay of this season’s FA Cup.
One of these old romantics is England legend turned commentator Chris Waddle.
“I’ve always had a big romance with the FA Cup and I think it’s the best domestic cup competition in the world.
“There is something about the FA Cup, I used to love it. It was my favourite cup to play in.”
FA Cup memories
Neville Southall remembers how much Waddle enjoys the FA Cup.
In 1997 Bradford City shocked Everton by beating them 3-2 in the fourth round at Goodison Park.
The former Toffees keeper watched as a 36-year-old winger chipped him from the halfway line to score, which put Bradford 2-0 up on that January afternoon.
Waddle puts this FA Cup goal in his ‘top three’ goals he ever scored.
Within that top three, he also places the 1993 free-kick he scored for Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United.
“It was such an important goal at the Mecca of football, against your rivals in the city.
“It was kind of a dream day. It might never happen again, all of Sheffield was there and obviously we came out with the right result.”
Unfortunately Waddle never won an FA Cup winners medal. He was twice a runner-up.
He experienced cup final pain with Tottenham Hotspur in 1987 and with the Owls in 1993 after a replay defeat to Arsenal.
The former England midfielder still considers himself ‘lucky’ to have been in these finals and it hasn’t jaded his enthusiasm and love for the competition, especially the early rounds.
Spreading the wealth to lower league clubs
The ESPN co-commentator, who was speaking ahead of the channel’s first live tie this season, which was the 0-0 draw between Cambridge City and Milton Keynes Dons, believes that anyone can have their chance of glory in the FA Cup.
He said: “For big clubs the goal is to win it but for clubs like Cambridge City, it’s the first time in seven years since they’ve been in the first round proper, it’s an opportunity to put their club on the map.
“I know what it was like when I was at Tow Law Town. It’s a chance for younger players to judge themselves against those in the league.”
For Altrincham, the chance of an upset is on the cards after they drew 3-3 at the Pirelli Stadium with League Two side Burton Albion on Sunday.
Altrincham currently play their football in the Conference North division, the sixth tier of English football and having given a great account in the first match, must believe they can pull off an upset.
If they do, they will repeat Dorchester’s feat, after they dumped out local rivals Plymouth Argyle in the first round on Sunday afternoon, a match also televised by ESPN.
Waddle thinks that television and the FA Cup can play its part in spreading the wealth to lower league clubs.
“Some clubs say we’re focused on the league we don’t want an FA Cup run which I don’t believe because FA Cup runs are financially very good for football clubs.
“I’ve been to Droylsden, I’ve been to Ebbsfleet and Bath with ESPN. I go to these grounds and see the real people who avoid the professional game to go and watch this and I thinks it’s absolutely fantastic.”
The first round of the FA Cup provided plenty of upsets with Hereford United dispensing of local rivals Shrewsbury, Harrogate Town winning at Torquay United and Macclesfield Town getting the better of Swindon Town.
With the likes of Cambridge City, Lincoln City and Altrincham getting creditable replays, the first round continues in a week’s time and the underdog should never be underestimated, especially if they are televised on ESPN.