Keegan keeps Cup spark alive

Manchester City's comeback at Tottenham this week was not just one of the ultimate jewels in the battered but not quite time-expired crown of the FA Cup. It was also a magnificent, adrenaline-charged rebuke to the entire English football establishment.

Underpinning the great achievement, with delicious irony, was the fact that 10-man City, 3-0 down at half-time and with their manager Kevin Keegan displaying the body language of Death Row, won the reward of a fifth-round tie with Manchester United. This, of course, would not have been possible four years ago when United, who should have been defending the venerable trophy along with the European Cup and the Premiership title, were in South America playing a rag-bag of non-entities purporting to be contenders for something described as the World Club Championship.

That chintzy prize was christened "Blatter's Baby" after its creator, the Fifa president Sepp Blatter. It was more like Rosemary's in the Polanski horror movie.

No one came out of the dismal affair with any credit, and least of all those in the football-writing fraternity who wrote how Blatter's Baby was going to grow into a vital element on the calendar of world football, and that if it meant the downgrading of the FA Cup, well, too bad.

The FA's role was beyond conscience. They meekly complied with Blatter's demands, and the urgings of that most hapless sports minister of them all, Tony Banks, who suggested that compliance with Blatter, and the wrecking of a great tradition in English football, might just win us a few brownie points in the dim-witted attempt to land the 2006 World Cup. This naïve notion was promptly blasted out of the murky water by Fifa's spokesman Keith Cooper, who, had he wanted to go the full candid distance, might have added that Germany 2006 was the done deal agreed upon by the FA's Sir Bert Millichip several years earlier.

But the greatest shame belonged to City's fifth-round opponents. Trumpetings about United's "treble" could still be heard around the time they agreed to turn their back on a tournament which was so much a part of their history.

They first became a great club in 1948, when the team of Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley and Charlie Mitten caught the imagination of the nation with a superb performance against Blackpool. On that high ground grew the legendary Busby Babes and all else that followed.

So why did United turn away from the old glory? Because they were told by the FA and a government minister that it would help England's World Cup bid? No, of course not. Money was involved. TV money. The money that a few years ago persuaded Arsène Wenger that finishing fourth in the Premiership was more important than winning the World Cup - and the money which no doubt provoked Sam Allardyce of Bolton and David Jones of Wolverhampton Wanderers to deliver fresh insults to the most romantic club knock-out competition the game has ever known.

Allardyce picked a weakened team against Tranmere, then celebrated Bolton's elimination. Jones played a makeshift Wolves team against, for heaven's sake, Kidderminster Harriers.

Of course, Allardyce sings a rather different tune about the League Cup, another competition that was inspired by the need to drum up extra cash. Bolton are in the final of this poor relation of big-time English football. So, according Allardyce, naturally it is a great bonus for the fans who are otherwise condemned to an eternal battle for nothing more uplifting than membership of the Premiership and its big bucks.

No doubt Manchester City fans would appreciate a little more certainty about their chances of survival in the top flight - and it is no doubt true that Keegan's job safety may require more than an epic second half at White Hart Lane.

Even so, there was something strangely apt about his part in one of the great FA Cup stories. Of all the current top managers, he is perhaps most in tune with the romance of the game. He made it from a factory team, through Scunthorpe to the great stadiums of the world with Liverpool, Hamburg and England. He invests in attacking players. He believes that somewhere in their jaded, over-rewarded natures there is a spark and, at least last Wednesday night, he found one.

Who knows, it may not do him a whole lot of good, but there is no question about the most striking benefit. It was the reminder that the FA Cup still has a unique quality, and should never be swept aside by the roaring impulses of football greed.

Talking of that, the World Club Championship, which four years ago we were told would be by now an integral part of the big-time football programme, may be revived next year.

If it happens, though, it will be in the summer and staged in the football wilderness of Concacaf, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. That's a properly modest start for a money-grabbing idea which one day might have the weight and meaning of the FA Cup. But we should probably give it at least a hundred years.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own