Aaahh, the Cup. Don’t you just love it? That time of the year when the minnows pit their wits against the big fish, the saplings take on the mighty oaks, the Dairylea portions take on the, er, big cheeses. Having said that, it’s also not uncommon to see a dolphin challenging a tuna fish or a haddock squaring up to a ray. Strange days indeed, [most peculiar, mamma]
In addition to this mayhem, its also the time of the year when small football clubs are paired with larger football clubs. And when the smaller club wins, draws or loses 5-0, this is called “The Magic of the Cup.”
It all starts when the names are called out of a hat. Strictly speaking, of course, it’s not a hat at all, more of a large black bag. You’d certainly get some strange looks wearing one of those on your head, although they are currently the height of fashion in some fundamentalist Muslim countries.
Two minor celebrities then pull their balls alternately out of the hat/bag. To their consternation, each ball has a different number on it. Confused, the celebrity calls out the number on the ball.
A suspicious-looking character with a bald head then deciphers the code. Each number corresponds to a certain football club and he performs the translation instantaneously. Although, occasionally, mistakes do occur. I remember a few years ago Finn Harps travelling around the country for weeks trying to find “Number Fourteen” when the translator forgot the code.
Why, I hear you yell rather rudely, do the balls not contain the names of the football clubs themselves, rather than such a cunning code? There are two main reasons.
Security. During the war, German intelligence agents infiltrated the English FA Cup draw. Huddersfield Town, though somewhat bemused at being drawn away to Kaiserslautern, duly turned up for the tie and were promptly incarcerated for the duration. Since then, this coding system became widespread.
The other reason is that it is “The Magic of the Cup.”
Once the draw has been made, there then follows the ritual of the interview with the manager. Contrary to popular belief, managers don’t actually enunciate their true opinions on these occasions, but are obliged to trot out certain stock phrases which translate in football-speak to something completely different.
For example, “They deserve our respect” translates as “Well actually they’re shite but if I appear too confident and the unthinkable happens, then my arse is in the bacon-slicer”
“Our lads are going to go out there and enjoy themselves” really means, “We’re going to get hammered”
“We’ll let them know they’ve been in a match” becomes “They are skilfully superior to us so we’re going to knock lumps out of them to try and achieve a bit of parity”
During this interview session, the phrase “David and Goliath” will invariably come up. It has done already in regard to the Shels v Rockmount tie, although the way our defence is leaking goals at the moment, “David and David’s slightly older brother” would seem to be more appropriate. The phrase is a biblical reference and should not be taken literally, so don’t expect the Rockmount lads to come out twirling rock-laden underpants around their heads.
There was a rather amusing incident in the Welsh FA Cup a few years ago, when St.David’s, the cup holders, were drawn against Goliath Athletic from Sheepshaggers Division 4A, although in retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t particularly amusing after all.
Come the day of the Cup and there’s a magic in the air. Every fan dreams of Cup glory, although I prefer to dream about a Swedish air-hostess and a pair of handcuffs. Very often the entire population of a small town will go to a game, which swells the coffers of the FAI and also the local burglars. Strange things happen. Coachloads of rosette-bedecked males can be seen urinating in front of puzzled cattle all the way along the N7. Chants which haven’t been heard since the sixties – “Na,na,na,na. Na,na,na,na, Hey-ey-ey, Sligo Rovers” – are resurrected to the amusement of more seasoned soccer fans. Clubs like Fairview Rangers can suddenly find, to their consternation, that they are near neighbours of Shelbourne and are drawn to play a derby match against Dublin City. Bizarre? No, that’s just the magic of the Cup.