Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cupset

My team of the week award goes to Havant & Waterlooville F.C., a small English soccer club from Havant. H&W (not to be confused with A&W F.C., who defeated Real Wendy's in last week's Fast Food Cup) play in the Football Conference South, which is the seventh overall tier of the English soccer table, with the Premiership obviously standing at the top of the pyramid. The Conference South and the EPL aren't usually mentioned in the same breath, but that will all change two weekends from now when the Hawks from Havant play Liverpool in the fourth round proper of the FA Cup. Reason #5450 of why I love England is the fact that it's not just the fourth round of the FA Cup --- it's the fourth round 'proper.' Brilliant. [/Gervais]

A little background for non-soccer fans. The FA Cup is the yearly knockout tournament that is open to literally every team in English soccer, provided they have a suitable grounds to hold a match. 731 teams entered this year's competition since just about every bloody little town in England has their hometown club. I can't blame them. Remember during the NHL strike a few years back when a few crackpot hockey writers proposed returning the Stanley Cup to its roots and opening it up as a challenge event to teams across Canada? The FA Cup is sort of like that, and it happens every year. Teams are drawn against each other at random, though the upper-tier teams get byes until later in the competition (League One and League Two won't enter until the first round proper, and Championship and Premiership teams not until the third round), and it's basically a one-and-done format until it comes down to two teams who square off in May at Wembley Stadium. The beauty is that the draw is totally up in the air. You could conceivably have the likes of Manchester United traveling down to some fifth-tier team's soggy small-time pitch. FA Cup history is full of Cinderella stories like these, but Havant has one of the all-time best runs going right now. H&W are officially the lowest-ranked team to ever reach the final 32 after they knocked off Championship (second-tier) side Swansea earlier today.

Now the Hawks will travel to Liverpool to face one of the true giants of British (and world) soccer. To put it into perspective, this is like Samantha Stanky getting into the final 32 of a Favourite Simpsons Character tournament and facing Mr. Burns. This is Barf's Burgers from You Can't Do That On Television facing A&W F.C. in the Fast Food Cup. This is Cypher from the X-Men getting ready to take on the Hulk. Man, Cypher was a lame character. You know what his mutant ability was? He could instantly translate any sort of language, be it verbal, physical or technical. That's just super. So if you're trapped under a car and Cypher is on the scene, don't worry. He'll be able to translate your dying screams to any passersby who don't speak English.

But Havant is no Cypher. They actually deserve their spot in the big dance. So good for you, little H&W. There is a very good chance you'll be destroyed by Liverpool (or, more accurately, the Liverpool reserve squad), but hey, you never know. I know I'll be rooting for you, if for no other reason than I want to hear my Liverpool fan friend Kat screaming in horror from across the Atlantic.

2 comments:

Kyle Wasko said...

Excellent post.

Staying up way too late tonight watching Federer struggle, which is just so unusual that it's unbelievably compelling...

...anyway, have just gotten back from Ireland--where soccer is pretty much the only game in town and the thing you have to follow if you're going to follow sports at all--I'm actually starting to get in to English soccer for the first time in nearly a decade. (Case in point: I just rented Winning Eleven tonight for the PS2).

Annnyway...Round 3 of the FA Cup was going on when I was there and, for some reason, I was under the notion that it was very much like the UEFA Cup (ie. teams from all over Europe competing). Carrie's oldest brother disabused me of this notion (telling me it was only English teams), at which point I asked: "well, why bother then? You might as well just let the Premiership duke it out, since they're bound to win." Three weeks later--and not to undermine your argument at all, but...--I kind of stand by that assertion. Havant is an undeniably cool story, my cursory look at the history of the cup reveals that only eight times in, like, 135 years has the winner come from outside the top division (the last time being West Ham, back in 1980 when they were still in the Second Division). So it really seems like it's more about the illusion of small clubs "really having a chance" then them, you know, "actually having a chance." That said, I love how winning (or even drawing) a 3rd round match is enough to financially sustain some of these lesser clubs for a full year. Good times.

(Btw, my favorite part about soccer in Ireland is that absolutely everyone is mad about one particular team, yet there's rarely any overlap. I got to know for guys really well and they rooted for, respectively: Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Leeds (poor bastard) and each, to a man, made a face like they'd tasted something extremely sour when I mentioned one of the other four teams.

In the time I composed this, Federer dropped the 3rd set. Maybe I shouldn't count the underdog out after all...

Mark P said...

Well, look at it this way.....the big seeds or big programs win March Madness every year, but the beauty of the tournament is that a Cinderella team can get on its horse and make a wild run in any given year.