Terri Westgate: The one way to restore the magic of the cup this season
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
FA Cup third round day is one of the events in the footballing calendar which is spoken about with warm nostalgia.
The sight of big teams and star players attempting their slick style of the beautiful game on a non-league pitch consisting of divots and mud baths, whilst being unceremoniously upended by a part-time postman and a carpentry apprentice has delighted us for decades.
However, what made the spectacle really special was the crowd. Those compact football grounds would be packed to the rafters with fans wearing bobble hats and scarves in the colours of their team. There would always be the obligatory trophy held aloft made Blue Peter style from a cardboard box, kitchen foil and some sticky back plastic.
This January it was never going to be the same. The death of the world’s oldest knockout competition has been heralded for years; ever since Man United withdrew from the tournament back in 1999 to take part in the FIFA Club World Championship. This was seen as the first downgrading of the once revered contest. Though it could be argued that it was the formation of the Premier League and the influx of money that brought which ultimately started the decline.
But even without all this recent history, the magic of the FA cup was always going to be hard to find this week. There were still the mismatched ties with the chance of a David versus Goliath upset, but what was missing is the key element – the fans.
The FA Cup is played in the country which currently has the highest COVID-19 infection. This was highlighted when over 100 players tested positive for the virus last week, and both Aston Villa and Derby had to field a team of youngsters as their entire squads went into isolation. Even our beloved Canaries have not escaped, with reigning player of the season Tim Krul being struck down with the disease, along with Adam Idah and a member of the backroom staff.
There have been many arguments made as to why football should continue throughout the pandemic, the main one being that it gives fans some much needed escapism.
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When your team is winning every week it certainly helps to lift your spirits. Although personally I found our race to the top of the Championship this season much more uplifting than our damp squib of a relegation last year.
When talking up this weekend’s FA Cup fixtures, several Norwich fans mentioned that night in Tottenham last March, just days before we first went into lockdown and everything stopped. Yes, that was a wonderful evening that will live long in the memory. But what about the following tie, the delayed quarter-final against Man United played behind closed doors. How much of that occasion can City fans recall? With supporters locked out the atmosphere had disappeared, and the contrast was harsh. Was there any magic that day?
Despite the circumstances Canary fans still had much to enjoy about the win over Coventry on Saturday. The return to the starting line up of Bali Mumba, Przemyslaw Płacheta and Xavi Quintillà, plus Onel Hernandez on the bench were all promising developments.
Despite several changes to the team we looked confident from the start. The early goals took the wind out of Coventry’s sails, our young goalkeeper Daniel Barden put in a man of the match performance, as we secured our place into the draw for the fourth round with ease.
Yet it feels like the edge has also been taken off the draw itself. There is no joy at getting a non-league team or top flight side if the match will be played behind closed doors. I just hope that the team can progress, and that the situation has improved by the time we reach the latter stages of the competition.
If there is any justice Norwich will again make it to the quarter-finals, but this time we will be there in person to cheer the team on. That really would magical.