Humility plays vital role for humblers

One of the FA Cup's attractions may be seeing an underdog bring the mighty down to earth but upstarts should retain sense of perspective
Click to follow

Something strange, and rather disturbing, happens to some of the most distinguished old pros when you let slip the word underdog.

Something strange, and rather disturbing, happens to some of the most distinguished old pros when you let slip the word underdog.

At this time of year, and with the splendid restoration of some of the old values of the FA Cup, it is especially dangerous. It can have the effect of Basil Fawlty's manic goose-stepping around the table of his German guests. The lips of the old pros purse. And their eyes grow hard.

This is particularly noticeable in the company of veterans of Don Revie's Leeds United circa 1971-73. In that time they lost two FA Cup matches, both of which are rated highly in the all-time list of "shock upsets". They lost the first to Colchester United, by 3-2, and the second, more than two years later, to Sunderland, 1-0, in the final. In between they were untouchable, beating Arsenal in the 1972 final, and after losing to Sunderland, whose goalkeeper Jim Montgomery spent almost the entire 90 minutes outside of his skin, they went 29 League games without defeat, winning the title next year in a canter.

Most of this, reckon men like Jack Charlton and John Giles, Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray, has blown away like chaff in the wind. Except of course the victories of Colchester, during which the late John Gilchrist repeatedly asked Giles if it was true Irish caps came with packets of cornflakes, and of Sunderland, whose manager Bob Stokoe performed a comic dance of triumph across Wembley. This is entirely understandable, you may say. Leeds were giants in the game, and why would they begrudge little Colchester and chronically under-achieving Sunderland their time in the sun? Because, the old pros would say, the underdogs took their triumph with an absolute minimum of grace. They gorged themselves on passing achievement. They didn't show respect for men for whom success had become a habit, and one which brought a degree of pressure.

Most irritatingly, they refused to accept that an underdog triumph should always carry at least a hint of reproach. What for? For all the days when they were earning their status. When they weren't pushing themselves that little bit harder to make it as fully fledged pros. When their talent was such a fleeting, underdeveloped asset.

An austere, élitist opinion, you might conclude, but perhaps not so emphatically after listening to the views of Tony Roberts, the heroic goalkeeper of Dagenham & Redbridge, after his team's draw against the Premiership's seventh placed, Charlton Athletic, at The Valley on Saturday.

"When their equaliser went in," Roberts said, "I just thought, you spawny, lucky bastards. Charlton may be a Premiership team but I wish we could play against them every week."

Every week? Surely not. Surely not the week when they pulled two goals back against Manchester United and drew 3-3. Or the week when went up to Manchester City, having been thrashed by West Ham a few days earlier, and won 4-1, their free-scoring striker Jonatan Johansson knocking in two before Joe Royle's men caught their breath. Dagenham & Redbridge are placed seventh in the Nationwide Conference - a commendable effort after winning promotion last season, but a level of achievement maybe modest enough to make you understand a little better the angst of the old professionals.

Three years ago Newcastle United- and particularly Alan Shearer - ran the underdog gauntlet at the hands of Stevenage Borough. Borough's striker Gary Crawshaw, who also worked as a delivery van driver, was appalled at the disparity between his wages and those of Shearer, saying: "When you consider Shearer probably makes £50,000 a week from wages and sponsorship and all that it really makes you think. Particularly when you see there was not much difference between the two sides last Sunday. It could send you crazy if you thought about it too much."

After delivering the coup de grâce at St James' Park, Shearer said: "I give those lads all credit for what they did on the park, but off it they were a bit naughty. They didn't show much respect." Translation: Little in life has given me so much raw pleasure as sticking it to those jumped-up prats.

None of this should deflect any of the credit due to the FA's chief executive, Adam Crozier, for his insistence that the FA should recover so much of the prestige ripped away by the appalling decision to encourage Manchester United, then Cup holders, to defect last season in favour of the ill-considered, money-grubbing fiasco known as the Club World Championship in Brazil.

A vital element of the Cup's appeal will of course always be the potential of a Dagenham & Redbridge to bring a hush to The Valley. Clearly, they did splendidly. Even an old pro would admit to that. But it does not mean he has to listen to the trash talk. He has earned the right, over a long course, to tune out of that.