Shocking Uncertainty The words of 'thecupfootballblogger'
Tavistock FC v Shaftesbury FC
THE WHOLE POINT of the existence of this blog is for me to indulge my love of cup football and to persuade others that it is the most beautiful form of the most beautiful game.
I love its excitement, its winner-takes-all mentality, its urgency, its joy, its despair, its nature as a welcome break from the week-in, week-out slog of league football. Don’t get me wrong, I love football in all its forms, but it is the knockout version of the sport which really sets my sporting heart a-flutter. It is the purest form of the game.
And the one thing everyone loves about cup football is the possibility of proper shock results, of a team from a lower league beating a side from a higher level, of stirring up the established order so that Goliath does not always beat David. Think of the FA Cup and fans of my vintage remember moments like Ronnie Radford’s thunderbolt which saw non-league Hereford humble top-flight Newcastle United; we remember Ian Porterfield’s hooked Wembley winner as Sunderland defied the odds to beat all-conquering Leeds United in the 1973 Cup Final.
Teams like Yeovil, Blyth Spartans, Wrexham, even my own beloved Millwall, have made magnificent memories in the biggest cup competition of them all. And for those fans of a much younger vintage, you only have to think back to last season and the exploits of Lincoln City and Sutton United to know that those magic moments are still capable of happening – and they are still magic.
Yes, a giant-killing is a thing of footballing beauty (unless you are the gaint-killee, or course) and, as a neutral observer, it’s something you really look forward to seeing.
The problem I had on Saturday as I headed to Langsford Park for the FA Cup Preliminary Round tie between Devon side Tavistock and their Dorset visitors Shaftesbury was what would constitute a shock in this game?
On the face of it, a home win would be the cup upset. Tavistock play at Step 6 in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division while Shaftesbury are at Step 5 in the Wessex League Premier Division. But it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
The Lambs – probably the least frightening nickname in football – won the SWPL championship last season and have started their defence of the title this season by winning their opening two games 7-0 and 11-0. Yes, seven and eleven. They had also thumped Step 5 Shepton Mallet 4-1, away from home, in the Extra Preliminary Round.
If they had taken promotion from the SWPL they would now be plying their trade at Step 5 in the Western League. The whole issue of clubs in the South West not progressing higher up the pyramid is a can of footballing worms which I am not going to open here, but suffice it to say that Tavistock and their set-up as more than a whiff of Step 5 about it.
Two seasons ago, Shaftesbury were playing at Step 7 but two successive promotions have taken them to Step 5. They have started their Wessex Premier season in steady style, with four points from three games, but, in the previous round of the FA Cup, they needed a replay to get past Exmouth Town. Exmouth are in the same division as Tavvy and have lost two of their first three games.
So, if that’s not a confused form guide, then I don’t know what is.
I also need to declare an interest, here. Although I try my best to be neutral when watching these games, I do have a bit of history with Tavistock. When I used to live in Devon, they were one of the closest teams with floodlights to my home and so many a midweek evening was spent at Langsford Park, enjoying the football.
They didn’t seem to have a pump that worked properly though. Every game we went to, there seemed to be a problem with flat balls (insert own joke here) and frantic activity on the touchline to try to provide enough footballs to finish the game. It became something I used to look forward to in the end, something I could tut about and take the mickey. Lovely.
I went there for one midweek game because it had a 7.30pm kick-off and I could be back well in time for a good night’s sleep before a particularly early start at work the next day. Two broken legs and two ambulance delays later, the game didn’t finish until gone 10pm and the next day passed in a sleepy blur.
And one night I went there with my Dad for a big league game which attracted a much larger crowd than usual. We paid at the gate while still in our car and then were directed to a parking area so far away that we had to climb over the fence to get back in!
That was a few seasons back and Langsford Park has now improved beyond all recognition. It is a very neat and tidy non-league ground with a lovely backdrop of rolling Devon countryside. In the sunshine on Saturday, it looked in absolutely pristine condition but – by kick-off – I was still no nearer resolving my cup shock conundrum.
Twenty-seven minutes later, it seemed that any doubt about who would actually win the tie had already been brushed aside. Step 6 Tavvy were 2-0 up against Step 5 Shaftesbury and were in dominant form. The home side had more chances to increase their lead and never looked in any trouble until they dropped off for the final 15 minutes of the half and allowed the visitors back into the game. The Dorset side had two good chances to pull a goal back but missed both of them.
The Lambs were again in total control for the first 20 minutes of the second half but missed at least three glorious chances to put the tie to bed. Then, of course, the inevitable happened. A reckless challenge on the edge of the Tavistock box handed Shaftesbury a free-kick and the ball was soon nestling in the back of the home net. Out of nothing, we had a proper cup tie on our hands.
Then something else inevitable happened. Almost every game I have watched at Langsford Park over the years has included at least one red card. I had just mentioned this to anyone around me willing to listen when a Shaftesbury tackle seemed to be followed by a retaliatory stamp and just about every player on the pitch became involved in a melee by the touchline. Surprisingly, the referee – who I thought had a decent game, an opinion somewhat at odds with many of those around me – only produced one card as a result of the contretemps, sending off a Tavvy defender.
Cue a final 20 minutes of a barrage on the home goal as the visitors suddenly believed they could get something from the game. In the end, they couldn’t. Tavistock dug in, Shaftesbury didn’t have enough guile to conjure an equaliser and, after a tense denouement, this FA Cup tale had seen Step 6 beat Step 5.
So, would it go down as a cup upset? In the end, I decided that it would. I decided that it was shock – but not a surprise!
THE STATISTICS BIT
Tavistock FC 2 Shaftesbury FC 1
At Langsford Park, Tavistock, on Saturday, August 19, 2017
Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round
Matches watched this season: 3
Home wins: 1
Away wins: 0
Number of competitions watched: 2
Home goals: 6
Away goals: 5
Number of shocks: 1
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A few more pictures from Tavistock (red shirts) v Shaftesbury in the FA Cup.