Football: FA Cup shock: romance is dying
David Randall discovers that, despite Swansea's exploits, the giant-killer is now a rare breed
"Day of shocks" was the great, and true, cliche, as every third or fourth round a couple of Bournemouths or Colchesters or even Sutton Uniteds, rose insolently above their station to tweak a famous nose. And when it came to the final, the double hardly ever occurred. The winners were invariably sides that scuffed around the middle of the table all season and then brought their year to a sudden and glorious conclusion one sunlit Saturday in May. For years, it seemed, the best way to win the Cup was to finish eighth or 14th in the First Division. And in the 1970s, sixth in the Second Division even had a vogue. Actually winning the league, or finishing second, was a virtual guarantee that you would not be at football's end-of-season party.
But recently we've had the feeling that shocks are not what they used to be; that the comforting notion of the Cup as "the great leveller" was taking on a decided sepia tinge. More specifically, we sensed that along with TV revenues and the players they could buy, the Premiership was bringing a harsh new loading of the cup dice in favour of the top sides.
The chief statistician at the FA, David Barber, shared our theory. Never ones to rely on hunch when statistics are available, we dusted off the record books, donned spectacles and anorak, and decided to build our own Shockometer. Armed with our definition of a shock (defeat of a top- flight side by one from at least two divisions below or a non-league one) and assorted other yardsticks, we set to work. This, given in detail in our graphic above, is what we found:
The Twenties and Thirties were the Cup at its most democratic. Shocks came at nearly two a year, up popped the first Third Division semi-finalists (Millwall in 1937), there were 16 different winners in 20 years and not one of them champions or runners-up. Indeed, it took 15 years for a side finishing higher than sixth to win the Cup; and, by some mysterious coincidence, the side finishing 14th in Division One won the cup five times in nine years.
By the Fifties this weird phenomenon disappeared, but shocks rose again and there were no fewer than three Third Division semi-finalists.
Then came the Sixties, a period when the ecology of the game was changed forever by the ending of the maximum wage and the advent of European football for the top clubs.
It was a decade which began with an amateur captain lifting the cup and ended with the dominance of Leeds United and all that they represented. (No Corinthians they.) The number of shocks receded, but there were 16 different finalists, the most ever.
The Seventies and Eighties saw shocks rising again, to a rate of two a year in the latter decade. Non-league clubs (their names - Stafford, Leatherhead, Blyth, Harlow, Telford and Kettering - like halts on a tour of stopping-train Britain) hit their modern-era peak, including notorious away wins by Wimbledon and Altrincham against First Division Burnley and Birmingham. And in these two decades there were three Second Division Cup winners, three times as many as in the previous 50 years. Today every single yardstick of romance is in retreat. Specifically, our findings show that:
l Shocks are now at their lowest level ever.
l In the last four years they have been coming at only half the rate of the 1980s.
l There have been no shocks at all in three of the seven seasons since the Premiership started - that has only happened three other times in the last 30 years.
l Only one side from the bottom league (Swansea, 1-0 replay victors against West Ham on Wednesday) has ever beaten a Premiership team. Shocks like this used to occur every other season. No non-league side has beaten a top-flight club since Sutton saw off Coventry 10 years ago.
l Non-league success is half what it was in the 1980s.
But it is in the nature of the sides reaching the final, and winning it, where change is most palpable. After the First World War it took 16 years for a side finishing in the first three to win the Cup, 34 for the runners-up to win, and 42 for the champions to do so. In the 1920s, the average position of the Cup winners was 11th; in the 1950s, nine of the 10 winners came from outside the top three.
How very different it is today. Since the Premiership started, the average league position of the winners has been cut to sixth, half the finals have been won by the champions, and no side from outside the top flight has reached the final. In the 1980s, five sides played in their first final; since the Premiership, none has done so.
Romance may not quite be dead but, as our survey shows, if the FA tried to sell serial rights in the Cup, it is unlikely Mills and Boon would be among the bidders. There will still be the odd shock, but the modern FA Cup seems a cut-throat competition where only the wealthiest survive.
Regular shocks are becoming part of the event's nostalgic imagery - along with rattles, rosettes and tales of crude provincials being fleeced in the capital's fleshpots when they were "Oop for t'Cup".
If the present trends continue, Cup fairy-tales will be as much a faded memory as that little man in the white jacket bustling out to the rostrum in the centre circle to lead the community singing. "All those from Lancashire, please wave your programmes!" he would cry. Lancashire indeed! There hasn't been a Blackburn, Preston, Burnley, Blackpool or Bolton victory for 41 years. Increasingly it looks like few clubs outside the elite of Manchester, Merseyside or London will get a look-in.
UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SHOCKOMETER: DECADE-BY-DECADE GUIDE TO THE GIANT-KILLERS
Wolves 1 Cardiff (NL) 2, 1920
Sheff Wed 0 Darlington (NL) 2, 1920
QPR (Div 3) 2 Arsenal 0, 1921
Crystal Palace (Div 3) 2 Man City 0, 1921
Brighton (Div 3) 4 Oldham 1, 1921
Bradford PA (Div 3N) 1 Everton 0, 1923
Brighton (Div 3S) 5 Everton 2, 1924
Corinthians (NL) 1 Blackburn 0, 1924
Southport (Div 3N) 2 Blackburn 0, 1927
Brentford (Div 3S) 2 West Ham 0, 1927
Derby 0 Millwall (Div 3S) 2, 1927
Millwall (Div 3S) 3 Huddersfield 1, 1927
Swindon (Div 3S) 3 Burnley 2, 1929
Swindon (Div 3S) 2 Newcastle 0, 1929
Two clubs in 4th rd: *Corinthians (three times), Mansfield
*Had bye to 3rd rd
10: *Huddersfield (1920); Cardiff, *Wolves (1921); Notts Co (1922); *West Ham, Derby (1923),
Southampton (1925); Swansea (1926); Southampton, Reading (1927)
Man Utd 0 Swindon (Div 3S) 2, 1930
Exeter (Div 3S) 3 Derby 2, 1931
Exeter (Div 3S) 3 Leeds 1, 1931
Southport (Div 3N) 2 Blackpool 1, 1931
Walsall (Div 3N) 2 Arsenal 0, 1933
Brighton (Div 3S) 2 Chelsea 1, 1933
Huddersfield 0 Northampton (Div 3S) 2, 1934
Millwall (Div 3S) 3 Chelsea 0, 1937
Millwall (Div 3S) 2 Man City 0, 1937
York (Div 3N) 1 Middlesborough 0, 1938
Two clubs in 4th rd: Workington, Chelmsford
10: Hull (1930); **West Brom,
Everton (1931); West Ham (1931); Bolton, Burnley (1935); Fulham, *Sheff Utd (1936); Millwall (Div 3, 1937); Aston Villa (1938)
Norwich (Div 3S) 3 Liverpool 0, 1951
Huddersfield 1 Tranmere (Div 3N) 2, 1952
Bristol R (Div 3S) 2 Preston 0, 1952
Halifax (Div 3N) 1 Stoke 0, 1953
Gateshead (Div 3N) 1 Liverpool 0, 1953
Blackpool 0 York (Div 3N) 2, 1955
Wolves 0 Bournemouth (Div 3S) 1, 1957
Bournemouth (3S) 3 Tottenham 1, 1957
Northampton (Div 3S) 3 Arsenal 1, 1958
Scunthorpe (Div 3N) 3 Newcastle 1, 1958
York (Div 3N) 3 Birmingham 0, 1958
Darlington (Div 3N) 4 Chelsea 1, 1958
Norwich (Div 3) 3 Man Utd 0, 1959
Norwich (Div 3) 1 Tottenham 0, 1959
Seven clubs in 4th rd: Walthamstow (1953), Headington Utd (1954), Bishop Auckland (1955), Rhyl, New Brighton, Peterborough (1957), Worcester (1959)
8: Birmingham (1951); Blackburn (1952); Everton (1953); Port Vale (D3, 1954); York (D3, 1955); Blackburn, Fulham (1958); Norwich (1959)
Bradford C (Div 3) 3 Everton 0, 1960
Man City 1 Southampton (Div 3) 5, 1960
Chelsea 1 Crewe (Div 4) 2, 1961
Newport Co. (Div 4) 3 Sheff Wed 2, 1964
Aldershot (Div 4) 2 Aston Villa 1, 1964
Oxford Utd (Div 4) 3 Blackburn 1, 1964
Peterborough (Div 3) 2 Arsenal 1, 1965
Hull (Div 3) 2 Nottm Forest 0, 1966
Swindon (Div 3) 3 West Ham 1, 1967
Mansfield (Div 3) 3 West Ham 0, 1969
Five clubs in 4th rd: Peterborough (1960), Weymouth (1962), Gravesend (1963), Bedford (1964 & 1966)
6: Aston Villa (1960); Sheff Utd (1961); Southampton (1963);
Swansea, *Preston (1964);
Colchester (D4) 3 Leeds 2, 1971
Rochdale (Div 3) 2 Coventry 1, 1971
Hereford (SL) 2 Newcastle 1, 1972
Hereford (Div 3) 2 West Ham 1, 1974
Burnley 0 Wimbledon (SL) 1, 1975
Norwich 1 Bradford City (D4) 2, 1976
Leeds 0 Crystal Palace (Div 3) 1, 1976
Wrexham (D3) 1 Sunderland 0, 1977
Walsall (Div 3) 1 Leicester 0, 1978
Wrexham (D4) 4 Newcastle 1, 1978
Shrewsbury (Div 3) 2 Man City 0, 1979
Eight clubs in 4th rd: Sutton Utd (1970); Hereford (1972); Wimbledon, Stafford Rangers, Leatherhead (1975); Tooting & Mitcham (1976); Northwich Victoria (1977); Blyth Spartans (5th Rnd, 1978)
7: Watford (1970); Birmingham (1972); **Sunderland (1973); Fulham (1975); Crystal Palace (D3), **Southampton (1976); Orient (1978)
Halifax (Div 4) 1 Man City 0, 1980
Exeter (Div 3) 3 Leicester 1, 1981
Bournemouth (Div 3) 2 Man Utd 0, 1984
West Brom 0 Plymouth (Div 3) 1, 1984
Chelsea 2 Millwall (Div 3) 3, 1985
York (Div 3) 1 Arsenal 0, 1985
Doncaster R (Div 3) 1 QPR 0, 1985
Birmingham 1 Altrincham (GMVC) 2, 1986
Bristol R (Div 3) 3 Leicester 1, 1986
Port Vale (Div 3) 2 Tottenham 1, 1988
Middlesbrough 1 Grimsby (Div 4) 2, 1989
Sutton Utd (GMVC) 2 Coventry 1, 1989
Seven clubs in 4th rd:
Harlow (1980); Enfield (1981); Telford (1984 & 5th Rnd in 1985); Altrincham (1986); Sutton Utd, Kettering (1989)
6: **West Ham (1980); Leicester, *QPR (1982); Sheff Wed (1983);
Plymouth (D3, 1984); Leeds (1987)
Bristol C (Div 3) 3 Chelsea 1, 1990
Northampton (Div 3) 1 Coventry 0, 1990
Wrexham (Div 4) 2 Arsenal 1, 1992
Middlesborough 1 Cardiff (Div 2) 2, 1994
Cardiff (Div 2) 1 Man City 0, 1994
Stockport (Div 3) 2 QPR 1, 1994
Port Vale (Div 3) 2 Southampton 1, 1994
Chesterfield (Div 2) 1 Nottm Forest 0, 1997
West Ham 0 Wrexham 1 (Div 2), 1997
Swansea (Div 3) 1 West Ham 0, 1999
Four clubs in 4th rd: Woking (1991); Kidderminster (5th Rnd, 1994);
Hednesford (1997); Stevenage (1998)
9: Oldham (1990); West Ham (1991); Portsmouth, *Sunderland (1992);
Luton (1994); Wolves (1995);
Chesterfield (D3, 1997); Wolves,
Sheff Utd (1998)
*Finalists (none since Premiership)
Clubs with three
or more victories
against teams in
the top flight:
Port Vale 3
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