Supporting the underdog – for better or worse


Keith Houchen scores for Coventry in the 1987 FA Cup final

I’ve got to admit that, at around this time every year, I only give a fleeting interest to English football’s showpiece knock-out tournament.

This isn’t because I dislike the FA Cup – far from it, in fact, as I believe that it still offers some of the most exciting matches you’re likely to see in any sporting tournament in the world. As far as I’m concerned, the Super Bowl, Ashes and – in recent years, at least – the World Cup have failed to match the humble FA Cup for heart-in-mouth excitement.

Rather, the reason why I try not to pay it too much attention is for the very petty reason that my own team Coventry City usually fail in some spectacular fashion to reach the latter rounds of the tournament.

I’m sure this is a scenario that countless football fans across the country have found themselves in and, no doubt, it leads many an armchair pundits to harp on about how you should always dream of glory and that, at the end of the day, it’s a game of two halves and anything can happen when Saturday comes. The kind of cliche-driven rubbish that only exists so that die-hard fans can cling onto a shred of hope that their misfiring team of misfits may someday lift a piece of silverware.

In some ways, it makes it worse when you’ve actually seen your small club miraculously win a major trophy, like mine did in 1987, as it gives you false hope that they can somehow repeat the feat. I was seven when Coventry beat Spurs in the FA Cup final – barely old enough to even remember it – yet there’s always been a glimmering hope that I’ll see it happen again.

However, in the 22 years that have preceeded that glorious day, there’s been absolutely nothing to suggest that the mighty Sky Blues will ever be in a position to challenge for any prestigious trophy ever again. Every single year, the fates conspire to ensure that my beloved club spectacularly and monumentally cock it up and become a laughing stock.

But somehow, this year has been different. Somewhat surprisingly, the boys have done well and I now face the prospect of Saturday lunch-time and a live, televised quarter-final clash against the multi-millionaires of Chelsea. A team bankrolled by a Russian billionaire oil tycoon and probably worth in wages alone what you could quite feasibly pay to buy half of the city of Coventry itself.

My head tells me that this will be the sporting equivalent of watching the Christians being mauled to death by a pack of ravenous lions in the Colosseum, yet somewhere, somehow, there’s a tiny seed of hope waiting to burst out. The one in a million chance that a small team of Championship chancers can put one over the Premiership big boys.

I doubt it will happen, but for once I’m happy to be caught up in the so-called “magic of the cup”. After all, it’ll probably be another 22 years before I’m in the same position to care about it again…

Coventry win the FA Cup