The FA Cup 4th Round takes place this weekend. For the first time in all the years that my wife and I have been together neither of us is interested. Her team (Arsenal) and mine (Leeds United) were both knocked out three weekends ago in the 3rd Round, by teams from lower leagues (Nottingham Forest and Newport County respectively). I am much more familiar with this feeling than she is. Our 11-year-old daughter is also an Arsenal fan and this is the first time that she has experienced her team being knocked out by a lower division side at the first opportunity. She has, at least, had the more enjoyable experience of seeing her team win three FA Cup Finals in four years (2014, 2015 and 2017). Leeds also reached three finals in four years (between 1970 and 1973) but won only one of them (1972, against Arsenal) and have not managed it in all the years since then. The last time it happened I was younger than my daughter is now.
For football fans the weekend that your team exits the FA Cup is never fun. It is usually the time that any hope of winning a trophy that season is killed off. It’s certainly true for Leeds. The team might still return to the Top 6 and win promotion back to the Premier League for the first time since 2004 but there’s no hope of winning anything. Arsenal fans can look forward to a Wembley final next month (the Carabao Cup, as the League Cup is being called this year) and their team is still in Europe, in the last 32 of the Europa League.
For me, that defeat against Newport County three Sundays ago will take its place alongside last season’s loss to non-league Sutton United and countless other defeats to lower placed teams over the last 45 seasons. What comes to mind? 1997 (Portsmouth at home, 5th Round), Wolves (1998, 6th Round). I was at both games, and the latter was as close as Leeds have got to an FA Cup Final in the last 30 years. I wasn’t at the semi-final against Coventry in 1987, but they were a division higher than Leeds at the time. Histon, in the 2nd Round of the 2008-09 season, was probably the worst result of all. These are the thoughts you have when your team gets knocked out of the FA Cup.