There is no seeding, no protection as the big boys enter the fray. The draw for the third round always throws up a series of fascinating pairings which is immediately followed by a feeding frenzy for the TV executives, combing the landscape for matchups which fit neatly into the ‘David Versus Goliath’ pigeon hole.
There is no rhyme or reason. No one can explain how or why, but everyone acknowledges somewhere, somehow a "Cupset" will occur. Unlikely, unheralded heroes emerge as the mighty are humbled, and there is none mightier than Manchester United.
Inexplicably, incredibly, they are the 2010 FA Cup goats.
Thirty years ago and as recently as a decade ago a game between the United’s of Manchester and Leeds was a genuine heavyweight contest.
It was soccer’s equivalent of the Wars of the Roses and the players treated it as such. Every match was eagerly anticipated and physically fought accompanied by an intense Trans-Pennine rivalry.
Glory days past for men in white
For Leeds, the last champions before the launch of the Premier League in 1992, the glory days are long gone.
Fiscal irresponsibility preceded the meltdown which now sees the former pride of Yorkshire plying its trade in the lowly third tier of English soccer for the first time in its 90-year history.
Despite its status, Leeds is no small town team. It remains an oversized fish in a very small pond and still draws regular crowds well in excess of 20,000 even though the opposition features such soccer minnows as Yeovil Town, Stockport County and Milton Keynes Dons.
After years in the wilderness the club is beginning to show the green shoots of revival. The appointment of former defender Simon Grayson as manager just over a year ago has been a resounding success and, if present form is maintained, promotion to the League Championship will be a formality in the spring.
His team has lost just one league game all season and gave Liverpool a run for its money, losing by a single goal, before nearly 40,000 fans in the third round of the Carling Cup last September.
Leeds may only get to play the big guns in cup competitions these days but the return of Premier League soccer to Elland Road is surely not far away.
Theatre of Dreams, indeed
Close on 10,000 fans made the journey across the bleak winter moors and were rewarded in spades.
It has been nearly 30 years since Leeds last won at the Theatre of Dreams, so fantasy moments like these are rare nuggets to be savoured and cherished until they pass into fans’ folklore.
The prize for pulling off the Cupset of 2010 is another money-spinning tie at Tottenham and the irony will not be lost on those who recall the previous Cup campaign.
Thirteen months ago Leeds itself was the shell-shocked victim, losing to Histon’s part-timers, for whom a postman delivered (pun intended) the knockout blow.
In the south coast resort of Bournemouth they still talk about the day they knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup. Twenty-six years ago I was in the crowd at Dean Court when The Cherries shocked the Cup holders in January of 1984. It was the last time United lost to lower league opponents before Leeds came calling.
Sir Alex Ferguson, once he’d continued his one-man campaign to have time keeping duties removed from match officials for adding a mere five minutes of stoppage time, accepted Leeds “deserved to win.” He has much bigger fish to fry – retaining the EPL title and regaining the Champions League trophy to name but two.
There is no denying, however, this hurts. While the rest of the soccer loving world celebrates another incomprehensible triumph of the underdog, Ferguson, his players and legions of United fans must brush off the embarrassment and move on in the knowledge no team is exempt from FA Cup-sets.
As for me and my time keeping, it needs attention. I managed to convince myself the game kicked off at 10 a.m. ET and thus only managed to witness Mr. Foy’s five additional minutes as Leeds kept United’s kitchen sink at bay. That was all the time I needed, however, to get caught up once again in the magic of the FA Cup.
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