Mike Rowbottom: Campbell's elbow rekindles instinct to back FA Cup underdog

Wednesday 20 November 2013 03:56

I don't know why, and this was well before Sol Campbell got himself sent off and banned from the FA Cup final (assuming he doesn't win an appeal on the grounds that although he stuck out his elbow and whacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the face it didn't count because it wasn't the sort of thing he did). As I say, I don't know why, but I fancied Southampton to beat Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium.

And, entering an old loop I had gone through before the 1988 FA Cup final between Liverpool and Wimbledon, I fancied it would be 1-0, with the goal coming from an unusual Southampton scorer. That is, not James Beattie.

The old loop. It had taken me to my local bookies, Joe Jennings, and even as I brushed aside the beaded strands at the doorway I felt illicit. What happened thereafter did nothing to diminish my feelings of criminality. Money for old rope.

I didn't even have a point of view as I stood uneasily among the establishment's habitués, all smoking like beagles and moving with world-weary deliberation. They looked as if they had been there for a hundred years. It was only at this point that I considered the question of which team to back. And as Liverpool were the best team in the country and Wimbledon had only recently hauled themselves up from the Southern League, there was only one appealing option.

So it would be Wimbledon to win. 1-0. And who would be the scorer?

Upsets from Cup finals past often seemed to have been brought about by unlikely scorers. Ian Porterfield, whose shot earned Second Division Sunderland victory over almighty Leeds in 1973. Bobby Stokes, who directed the Cup to Southampton in 1976 with the late effort that took Alex Stepney and Manchester United by surprise. And, two years later, Roger Osborne, who was so shocked by his winner against Arsenal for Ipswich that he swooned.

Lawrie Sanchez. Wimbledon's non free-scoring midfielder, habitually overshadowed by John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise. Yes. Sanchez was the man.

I was able to back Wimbledon to win 1-0, with Sanchez as the first scorer. And when Wimbledon won 1-0, thanks to a Sanchez goal, I was naturally delighted to accept well over £100 for my £10 stake. Topping sport!

Betting now seemed a hugely acceptable activity, and I could quite understand why people chose to spend centuries in those small, smoky rooms. My only regret was that I hadn't turned my preternatural gift to advantage at an earlier stage. Picking out Aldaniti in the office sweep for the 1981 Grand National didn't count, I felt.

So before long, when I got that little hunchy feeling, that heady glimpse of things to come, I put £20 on West Ham to win the League Cup. And it came to pass that they were beaten by Norwich City in the semi-final.

There, happily, I left my discredited gift. Until the other day, when that little nagging voice began to speak to me about Southampton after their semi-final win over Watford.

Had Watford won, I would probably have put something on them to take the Cup just for old time's sake, having experienced the excitement of their FA Cup run of 1969-70 at first hand as a 12-year-old.

Why our teacher, Mr Thompson, decided to take all interested parties to see the quarter-final against Liverpool at Vicarage Road I have no idea. He didn't seem a mad keen football follower. He was a history teacher with a questionable taste in jackets. Perhaps he saw it as an exercise in social history.

Anyway, we cheered ourselves hoarse and Barry Endean scored the goal which confounded Bill Shankly, Ron Yeats, Chris Lawler et al and sent Watford through to a semi-final where they were drubbed 5-1 by the eventual winners, Chelsea.

I digress, I know. But that was a wonderful evening.

The beads were missing from the entrance when I returned to Joe Jennings this week. More disappointingly I was only able to get outright odds on Southampton at 15-8. (Not a regular punter. I did say.)

So, having ventured a tenner, I will have to wait until FA Cup final week to bet on a 1-0 Southampton win through a goal by Chris Marsden. I couldn't tell you why – it just seems likely.

Of course, it will probably be 2-0 to the Arsenal.

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