Lee Dixon: Night of non-League action reminded me that magic of the Cup is alive and kicking - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Lee Dixon: Night of non-League action reminded me that magic of the Cup is alive and kicking

The Weekend Dossier

I have seen both sides of the FA Cup – winning the trophy three times with Arsenal but also losing in the third round to Wrexham in 1992.

I can remember that day so well. We were the league champions and they were bottom of the old Fourth Division. We took the lead just before half-time and were all over them. It was just a case of how many we were going to score in the second half. I thought maybe the gaffer, George Graham, would take a couple of us off in the second period to give us a rest.

But 45 minutes later it was a completely quiet dressing room. We'd lost 2-1 and I remember George just standing there completely silent staring at us all. You could see in his eyes the sort of things he was calling us.

Usually he did all the press work after a game – he didn't like us talking to the newspapers. But at Wrexham he said he wanted every one of us to go out and explain ourselves to the journalists, how we had let the club down.

It was really weird because I remember being in the dressing room and having a huge smile on my face. I had never felt like it before. I just couldn't stop laughing. I guess I was in shock. It was a good job George didn't see me.

I have always had the FA Cup in my blood and although the competition has lost some of its shine, it still has plenty of magic.

I will be at Arsenal for the game with Leeds for 5Live today, and on Monday I'm going to watch Crawley take on Derby. I'm not working there but I'm going with a friend who is a big Crawley fan. I have just got the FA Cup bug, and it's because I went down to film a feature on Dover Athletic this week for today's Football Focus.

Dover are managed by my old Arsenal team-mate Martin Hayes and they play Huddersfield today. So I went with a film crew down to watch them play at Thurrock on Monday night.

I hadn't watched any non-League football for some time but it was great. It was like stepping back in time, to when I first started out in the game. In my job as a TV pundit, I get fed a diet of Premier League and there is a danger of becoming quite elitist, of falling into the trap of believing the Premier League is all that matters. We all get brainwashed into thinking like that.

But Monday's trip to Ship Lane has changed my perception. It was like a breath of fresh air after watching so many Premier League games. It was refreshing to see the number of 50-50 challenges there were, and I don't think anyone got booked. It wasn't a dirty game but if tackles had been flying around like that in the Premier League a couple of players would have been sent off and seven or eight would have been booked.

The referee wasn't surrounded by players or managers moaning about a decision. And when a player was injured, he tried to get up and play as quickly as possible. I even heard one player tell the physio: "It's OK, I'll run it off." It was proper old-school football.

There was a great buzz about the game. I went behind one of the goals to speak to some fans of Dover, who won a brilliant game 7-2, and we talked about Adam Birchall, a former Arsenal trainee who scored four times and was very impressive. It turned out I was talking to one of his best mates. That doesn't happen at a Premier League game.

It was so good that I am now going to watch Crawley against Derby on Monday. I'm not saying I will now go to non-League games every week but it was a great antidote to some of the things we see every week in the Premier League.

Good luck to Martin and his Dover team at Huddersfield today. I hope you enjoy it. And thanks for reminding me that football is not only about the Premier League.

Five Asides

1. Fans should remember that Hodgson inherited Benitez's problems

The big problem for Roy Hodgson is that he doesn't have a Champions League winner's medal to wave at the Kop. Rafa Benitez was given plenty of time, probably too much, because of his 2005 win in Istanbul. Now the fans are turning on Roy as results worsen to a point where he is hanging on for his life. Appointing Kenny Dalglish to replace him might help in the short term, as the fans will give him greater support and that will take some of the pressure off the team. But some of Roy's problems are ones that he inherited. And people need to show him some respect.

2. Chelsea's woes start on the substitutes' bench

Carlo Ancelotti was asked this week what has gone wrong at Chelsea, and his left eyebrow almost hit the roof. Everything is going wrong, and I don't think anyone really knows the full reason. Their big problem is their bench. It really doesn't look strong enough – as their recent run of injuries to key players has proved.

3. Albion are my tip to beat the drop...

The fight against relegation from the Premier League will go all the way, but I back West Bromwich to be one team to pull clear. They are on a terrible run but I fancy their chances to turn it around.

4...while West Ham look in deep trouble again

It looked like West Ham had improved, only for them to crash 5-0 at Newcastle. That display was dreadful, and they are now back to the bad old days again.

5. Why did Ipswich sack Keane before cup ties?

Ipswich sacked Roy Keane as manager days before playing Chelsea and Arsenal in the cups. Was it something he said?

The pick of this weekend's FA Cup Third Round

Arsenal vs Leeds United

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (ITV1; Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 2004 Third round, Leeds Utd 1-4 Arsenal

Arsenal

Five year record: 2006 4th round; 2007 5th round; 2008 5th round; 2009 Semi-final; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Winners, 10 times

Current league position: 3rd (Prem)

Leading scorer: S Nasri 13

Leeds United

Five year record: 2006 3rd round; 2007 3rd round; 2008 1st round; 2009 2nd round; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Winners, 1972

League position: 4th (Championship)

Leading scorer: L Becchio 13

Millwall vs Birmingham City

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1957 Fifth round, Millwall 1-4 Birmingham City

Millwall

Five year record: 2006 3rd round; 2007 3rd round; 2008 4th round; 2009 4th round; 2010 3rd round.

FA Cup best: Finalists, 2004

League position: 9th (Championhip)

Leading scorer: S Morison 11

Birmingham City

Five year record: 2006 6th round; 2007 4th round; 2008 3rd round; 2009 3rd round; 2010 6th round.

FA Cup best: Finalists, 1931, 56

League position: 15th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorer: C Gardner 5

Bolton Wanderers vs York City

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1971 Third round, York City 2-0 Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Wanderers

Five year record 2006 5th round; 2007 4th round; 2008 3rd round; 2009 3rd round; 2010 5th round.

FA Cup best: Winners 1923, 26, 29, 58

League position: 7th (Prem)

Leading scorer: J Elmander 9

York City

Five year record: 2006 1st round; 2007 1st round; 2008 1st round; 2009 4th q. round; 2010 3rd round.

FA Cup best: Semi-finalists, 1955

League position: 14th (Blue Sq Prem)

Leading scorer: M Rankine 10

Doncaster Rovers vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: Never previously met in the competition

Doncaster Rovers

Five year record: 2006 3rd round; 2007 3rd round; 2008 1st round; 2009 4th round; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Fifth round, four times

League position: 14th (Champ)

Leading scorer: B Sharp 10

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Five year record: 2006 4th round; 2007 4th round; 2008 5th round; 2009 4th round; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Winners, four times

League position: 17th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorer: S Fletcher 5

Huddersfield Town vs Dover Athletic

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: Never previously met in the competition

Huddersfield Town

Five year record: 2006 3rd round; 2007 1st round; 2008 5th round; 2009 1st round; 2010 3rd round.

FA Cup best: Winners, 1922

League position: 4th (Lg One)

Leading scorer: J Rhodes 10

Dover Athletic

Five year record: 2006 2nd q round; 2007 4th q round; 2008 2nd q round; 2009 3rd q round; 2010 4th q round.

FA Cup best: Third round, 2011

League position: 5th (Blue Sq Prem)

Leading scorer: A Birchall 29

Scunthorpe United vs Everton

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: Never previously met in the competition

Scunthorpe United

Five year record: 2006 3rd round; 2007 2nd round; 2008 3rd round; 2009 3rd round; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Fifth round, 1958, 1970

League position: 23rd (Championship)

Leading scorer: M Woolford 7

Everton

Five year record: 2006 4th round; 2007 3rd round; 2008 3rd round; 2009 Final; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Winners five times

League position: 11th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorer: T Cahill 9

Sheffield United vs Aston Villa

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 2005 Third round, Sheffield United 3-1 Aston Villa

Sheffield United

Five year record: 2006 3rd round; 2007 3rd round; 2008 5th round; 2009 5th round; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Winners, four times

League position: 21st (Champ)

Leading scorer: C Evans 7

Aston Villa

Five year record: 2006 5th round; 2007 3rd round; 2008 3rd round; 2009 5th round; 2010 Semi-finals.

FA Cup best: Winners, seven times

League position: 18th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorers: S Downing, E Heskey 6

Southampton vs Blackpool

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1976 Fourth round, Southampton 3-1 Blackpool

Southampton

Five year record: 2006 5th round; 2007 4th round; 2008 5th round; 2009 3rd round; 2010 5th round.

FA Cup best: Winners, 1976

League position: 2nd (League One)

Leading scorer: A Lallana 8

Blackpool

Five year record: 2006 1st round; 2007 4th round; 2008 3rd round; 2009 3rd round; 2010 3rd round.

FA Cup best: Winners, 1953

League position: 13th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorer: DJ Campbell 6

Stevenage Borough vs Newcastle United

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV1, 10pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1998 Fourth round replay, Newcastle United 2-1 Stevenage Borough

Stevenage Borough

Five year record: 2006 2nd round; 2007 1st round; 2008 1st round; 2009 1st round; 2010 1st round.

FA Cup best: Fourth round, 1998

League position: 13th (League Two)

Leading scorer: C Holroyd 6

Newcastle United

Five year record: 2006 Quarter-final; 2007 3rd round; 2008 4th round; 2009 3rd round; 2010 4th round.

FA Cup best: Winners, six times

League position: 8th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorer: A Carroll 11

Manchester United vs Liverpool

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (ITV1; Highlights ITV1, 11pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 2006 Fifth round, Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United

Manchester United

Five year record 2006 5th round; 2007 Final; 2008 Quarter-final; 2009 Semi-final; 2010 3rd round.

FA Cup best: Winners 11 times

League position: 1st (Prem)

Leading scorer: D Berbatov 15

Liverpool

Five year record: 2006 Winners; 2007 3rd round; 2008 5th round; 2009 4th round; 2010 3rd round.

FA Cup best: Winners 7 times

League position: 12th (Premier Lg)

Leading scorers: S Gerrard, D Ngog 8

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