The FA Cup is the greatest football tournament on Earth, no other competition comes remotely close. The history, drama, spectacle and passion of the FA Cup is unsurpassed and despite attempts to portray other tournaments as equal to it, they will always be a poor second.
Whether you’re involved in it as a player or spectator be it in the early qualifying rounds watched by a handful of people or, in the Wembley Final in front of a worldwide audience of millions, the magic of the FA Cup often throws up some classic games and the opportunity for the smaller clubs to cause an upset.
After successfully navigating past Hampton & Richmond and Maidstone in the first two rounds, Oldham finds themselves in the 3rd round for the first time in five years. I can say with absolute confidence though that as the day of the draw got closer, the growing list of teams who Latics fans hoped we’d be pitched against did not include Fulham!
I have no wish to paint Fulham as the poor relations of the Premier League but they are currently in the relegation places and Craven Cottage is hardly the Nou Camp. However, this can work in Oldham’s favour if past experience is anything to go by. The cost to a club of dropping out of the Premier League is dramatic, to say the least, and it will not have escaped the notice of everyone associated with the London club that the FA Cup is at present something of an unwanted distraction.
Most clubs in the top two divisions make wholesale changes to their first eleven when faced with a game against a side which are 60+ places below them. It is a natural move and gives fringe players the chance to show their worth and enables regular first teamers to get a rest. However, this has backfired on clubs with regularity and cooked up some classic encounters.
Oldham have benefitted on several occasions at this stage in the competition from team selection ‘tinkering’ and it will be interesting to see if the Fulham side resembles the one that was beaten by Arsenal on New Years Day.
In comparison Latics seemingly have everything going for them. Two victories in a row, a stand-in manager in Pete Wild following the sacking of Frankie Bunn who has been virtually plucked from the terraces and has hit the ground running. The signing till the end of the season of Callum Lang and the secret weapon of two youngsters who Wild knows well, Harry Robinson and 15 years old Jack Williams just waiting to step up for their share of FA Cup glory.
A 2pm kick off in the capital on a Sunday might well have kept the travelling supporters down to the bare minimum of die hards but this game appears to have captured the imagination of the fans and there will be just short of 4000 Latics fans at the game hoping for an upset.