The Magic Still Remains

Monday night saw Plymouth Argyle come out the hat as ball number one as they drew Premier League opponents Sheffield United. The Greens managed to reach the fourth round for the first time since being a Championship club in 2008, after a largely convincing 3-2 victory away to a young Huddersfield side last Saturday.

This is the thing: the words ‘A young side’ for an FA Cup fixture is used far too much now for my liking, with the opponents from a higher league often fielding a heavily rotated side in order to deal with the modern day demands of fixture pileup.

Whilst that can lead to great spectacles admittedly – See Argyle’s 0-0 draw at Anfield in 2017 for reference, it is this that has led many in recent years to discredit the competition as a Premier League version of the Papa John’s Trophy – Games that very few care about, not played with the same intensity and not interesting enough to create the same feeling as a league match until the final rounds.

I have always enjoyed the FA Cup, because who doesn’t enjoy seeing multi title winning and one of the greatest managers of all time, Jose Mourinho turn up outside someone’s back garden in Liverpool, whilst his Spurs side worth hundreds of millions and with a plethora of experience on the international stage, take on people who like to play football as a hobby?

But even me, a lover of the sport can’t ‘get up for the cup’ in the way so many say often enough, because how can you when you too frequently see the big clubs not treat the oldest cup competition in the world (and widely considered best) with the respect it deserves.

Going to Anfield and witnessing the result in 2017, seeing the seconds tick down on the clock and the feeling when the ball was cleared out of the box for the final time was one of my top 3 experiences supporting Argyle and easily finds a space in my top ten as a football fan.

However, in my relatively short time supporting the club the negative experiences largely out way the positives in the competition.

Losses to non league to Dorchester and Stourbridge respectively in respective years remain vivid in my mind to this day and signify some of the darkest days in this clubs history.

The run up to the semi final against Watford in 1984 is way before my time and I am just about too young to remember the run up to the quarter final against the same side in 2007.

My only real positive experience of the cup from an Argyle perspective excluding that day at Anfield and Graham Carey’s penalty against Newport that took us there, is forcing a replay against League One Port Vale when Argyle were the division below in January 2014, although we did lose the third round return fixture at Home Park by three goals to two.

But now here we are, a combination of good performances and rotation from other sides has seen Argyle earn a fixture away to Sheffield United later this month, and whilst it might’ve not been the mouthwatering, money making that we would’ve preferred, it is a chance for Argyle to test themselves against Premier League opposition, and they can go into the game knowing that they stand a chance against a team horribly out of form and with the possibility to rotate with the Covid induced schedule putting huge pressure on many teams’ squads.

I think we can all agree that football isn’t the same without fans, and back to back trips to Yorkshire, would’ve had potential to live long in the memory for those that went. But the camaraderie, that a run like this can create between players and fans will only help Argyle be better placed, succeed further in seasons to come.

For the first time, on Monday I felt truly up for the cup, and if Argyle can go to Bramall Lane and force a result, they will be just Bristol City or Millwall away from the Quarter Final for as a third division club.

These are eventualities that in usual circumstances people might laugh at  but after the year we have all been through and the ‘Magic of the FA Cup’ that is begging to feel tangible inside us, why not dare to dream?