I admit it: I enjoy the early rounds of the FA Cup. I think it's the intimacy. I love seeing the second, third and fourth tiers of English football, the smaller clubs with their grittier stadiums, replete with gas and coal advertisements on the sidelines, the warmth of incandescent building lights outside the stadium contrasting with the darkening late afternoon English sky above it, and the stands filled with real fans -- fans who live and die with the fortune of their local boys. Sure, I'm also excited about today's big game, pitting the two Manchester giants against each other, one versus two, but it won't be the same: however exciting the game may turn out to be, it'll be lacking that special magic. The magic that means anything's possible, that for just that split second any club in the tournament can win the thing. You only get that feeling in a game that includes a team that's not in the Premier League or the Championship -- you need a true underdog to really capture the magic of the Cup.
The closest sporting event that I can compare it to here in the States is the "Big Dance," the NCAA basketball tournament, on the opening Thursday or Friday, when the dream is still alive for everyone, that moment when Princeton and Penn still believe they can compete with the likes of North Carolina and Kansas. That dream often vanishes with the first run, the first defensive stand, the first dunk, the first avalanche of baskets, but it's there at the tip-off. It's there, and no one can take the dream away from the players or the fans who've come to watch it, who've come to live it. Their dream is alive. I didn't have a ton of time to watch football yesterday -- the weather was too nice, the ocean too calm, the sky too blue -- an achingly beautiful shade of blue -- to do anything but go to the beach and dig my toes in the sand. But I did manage to catch some action from two Cup games, and I enjoyed seeing Blackpool travel up the coast to play Fleetwood. I also saw a bit of bottom-of-the-Premier-League-barrel Bolton play Macclesfield Town, but the less I say about that game the better. It may have ended with some late drama, but the moments leading up to that were atrocious -- Bolton looks a cinch for relegation.
It was great to see Blackpool and Ian Hollloway back on American television. I've missed the Tangerines' free-flowing movement and artful passing game. So, too, apparently have they -- with the departures of Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell among others, Blackpool's mired in 8th place in the Championship. But the swagger was back yesterday, at least for a bit, as the Tangerines smashed Fleetwood 5-1, in a game filled with some of the nicest looking goals I've seen in quite a while. For all the results that Swansea and Norwich City have been able to carve out, they haven't captured my imagination the way the Seasiders did last season. Maybe winning isn't everything, and there's something to the argument that winning pretty IS more fun....
I've also missed Ian Holloway's press conferences. The Premier League needs more people like Holloway -- instead, the biggest managerial story this season has revolved around Steve Kean and the abuse he's suffering at the hands of Blackburn fans. Not nearly as fun as watching Ian, and not quite as uplifting, either.
Get on it, Ian. The League needs you and your boys back.