Monday 19 March 2018

If Lincoln and Millwall left you cold, you probably shouldn't be watching sport

Lincoln's Sean Raggett Picture: Reuters
Lincoln's Sean Raggett Picture: Reuters
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

On Saturday morning, Barney Ronay tweeted a picture of a letter he had received from an 85-year-old congratulating the Guardian journalist on his work in highlighting the local council's efforts to force Millwall out of The Den.

The man had "been a Lions supporter since football was resumed after the Second World War" and signed off his letter with sadly under-used phrase "more power to your elbow".

Anybody who read the letter before Millwall's home game against Leicester on Saturday must have hoped the man who had been following them for 72 years was at the ground, cheering wildly as Shaun Cummings' last-minute winner put them into the last eight.

It would surely have made him feel like the 13-year-old he was when he started supporting them.

The romance of the FA Cup might have become the copyright of whatever television company holds the broadcast rights but at a Den full of even more defiance than usual, this was a moment that will never be forgotten regardless of what the future holds.

Earlier, Lincoln City beat Burnley in a game that was much about fight as football but while Sean Raggett's late header didn't have the muddy pitch, ill-fitting shirt or pitch invasion scene, this was a modern-day Ronnie Radford moment. For good measure, Raggett spent yesterday at the club's academy getting his photograph taken with the U-9s.

From Sincil Bank, Lincoln's home ground, a video emerged of hundreds of fans watching the match on a big screen which appeared to have been erected on top of a van and Raggett's goal sparked bedlam.

By the end of the year, Lincoln will have become a tricky question in the annual Sports Quiz but, for all the cynicism and irritation which the FA Cup now carries, anybody who didn't crack a smile in the moments following Raggett's winner shouldn't be watching sport.

This is what the FA Cup is now and, frankly, what it always has been. It's a chance for certain teams to make memories for their supporters that will last a lifetime and put themselves, even briefly, into the conscience of the football world. And it's a mystery why so many teams starved of glory decide to ignore it.

There must have been several Brighton fans looking on enviously at Lincoln's joy given they made nine changes before losing to them in the last round.

Promotion is Brighton's main aim but given that they have dropped seven points from 15 since the Lincoln defeat, the prospect of a big FA Cup game might have provided a welcome distraction to ease some of the pressure.

The quarter-final draw means the last four will probably boil down to Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal and either Chelsea or Manchester United which should give the competition the best of both worlds; memorable results to start, and some high-quality games to finish.

It's a competition that, until the semi-finals at least, isn't a priority of the bigger teams but so what? It's never going to be the Champions League or Premier League but, much as it might not seem that way sometimes, there's life, and mostly misery, away from the Premier League's top four.

In an era when there's wailing and gnashing of teeth when certain teams 'only' finish in the top half of the Premier League or moan about not getting beyond the Champions League last 16, it's something of a tonic where a last-minute winner for a small club can remind you why you started watching football in the first place.

Irish Independent

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