@Mark_Jones86: Cup semi-finalists deserve more credit
This year has seen one of the better FA Cup competitions in recent memory.
The high-profile shocks have never been too far away, with Liverpool losing to Oldham, Arsenal bowing out at home to Blackburn and Brentford taking Chelsea to a replay.
It can be too easy to focus on the top sides and their efforts in the competition though.
Chelsea’s remarkable FA Cup run has continued with a run to yet another semi-final, with last year’s Cup winners now holding an astonishing record which has seen them unbeaten in 90 minutes in the competition since a loss to Barnsley in 2008.
They’ll face the 2011 Cup winners Manchester City in Sunday’s semi-final in a tie which brings together the winners of the last four FA Cups. It is also a tie which will have an air of a final about it, given the fact that there would have to be a huge shock in May’s showpiece event if whichever of the duo who wins on Sunday doesn’t end up holding the Cup aloft.
That’s because the line-up in the other semi-final would have been impossible to predict.
No-one would have envisaged seeing Wigan Athletic and Millwall walk out side-by-side early on Saturday evening, and perhaps most tellingly not many people would have wanted to.
We’ve spoken on how Wigan don’t get enough credit for their remarkable, logic-defying stay in the top-flight before, and that lack of respect can be traced in the reaction to their Cup run too.
Within minutes of their superb quarter-final demolition of Everton at Goodison Park – as good a performance as you could wish to see against one of the better teams in the division this season – the old cracks about Wigan supporters not filling Wembley were evident.
Yet the club are no stranger to the big events.
It was only 2006 when they reached the League Cup final against Manchester United in Cardiff, whilst they have been routinely performing well at the big Premier League grounds for the past few years.
As ever, an obsession with just how many fans are there to watch the team play is likely to be seen again over the weekend, but Wigan is a small place to begin with, and they have been competing with big boys such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City on their doorstep all their lives. A second major final inside a decade awaits them on Saturday. To date, Everton and City have only reached one.
In the other corner, reasons for a dislike of Millwall are a little more sinister, but a win for the 2004 FA Cup finalists would also see them be able to boast about two final appearances in a decade.
However for years the club have been a byword for supporter behaviour that can be regarded as less than welcoming.
As football fans we have a tendency to group our opinions on fellow supporters by whichever team they follow – “all Arsenal fans think like this, all Ayr United fans think like that” etc – but is it too far-fetched to look little deeper?
Speaking from personal experience as someone who has moved from the north to live in a heartland of Millwall supporters, the vast majority I’ve met are just football fans like you or I. Of course there are those who you’d steer clear of, but that’s part of life and not just football.
Mud sticks though, and so there will be many who don’t want either team to win on Saturday because of circumstances beyond the actual football clubs’ control.
But both Roberto Martinez and Kenny Jackett have done excellent jobs at their respective clubs, the players from both sides have excelled in reaching Wembley and the fans deserve their day out and the prospect of another one in May.
After all, these two clubs are one of the main reasons why this year’s FA Cup has rediscovered a bit of its magic.