Growing up I was always told the FA Cup was some magical competition where third division underdogs can beat Premier League superstars and heroes are born. It didn’t take very long as a Charlton fan to have this optimism about the competition beaten out of me! Even when we were in the top flight we managed to whimper out of the tournament at the first or second hurdle.
I have a couple of memories of this competition that have scarred me and if I’m honest normally I’d be happy if we didn’t even enter the bloody thing! The one time we did actually stumble into the quarter finals we played Middlesbrough – a rubbish Boro as well! Despite realising we were awful at the time I somehow convinced myself we might actually win. Having drawn the original tie 0-0 in what was the worst game of all time, we were taken to a replay up north. The fact we actually had Tony Christie out on the pitch prior to kick off to ‘gee everyone up’ is still the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen.
So tickets go on sale for the cup replay and the club decide to name it ‘Operation Riverside’ and we take about 7000. What can go wrong? Well after an 8 hour coach journey with the biggest bunch of morons I’ve ever come across, we arrive in Middlesbrough. Now I only saw the ground and surrounding area but it will take a lot of convincing that this place isn’t hell on earth. Charlton then proceeded to completely bottle it and lose 4-2 and at no point even looked like getting close to them! That’s depressing enough but to then have to get a coach home overnight almost sent me over the edge and this is where my cynicism for this cup began.
Skip forward a few years and we are struggling in League One so you’d think a cup run would be a nice distraction. At this stage we were going to be underdogs and get drawn against one of the ‘big teams’. So who did we get? Arsenal? United? Liverpool? Nope, Northwich Victoria away. Fantastic! And to make things worse they only went and put it on TV. The whole country decides to tune in and support the non-league side that possessed a player who ‘loved a tackle’. In real life that means they had some thug who ran round fouling all our players but it’s ok because it was his big day. We lose 1-0 and I can genuinely say that is the worst I have ever felt about my club. From that point on I vowed never to care about the FA Cup again.
It’s been five years since that game and true to form we have been woeful ever since. However, this season its March and I’m four days away from another quarter final tie. This time away to third tier Sheffield United. Any other club would be nailed on favourites to win and book themselves a day out at Wembley. Between them Charlton and the FA Cup have mugged me over too many times to think we will stroll through this game but even I can’t deny we should be winning this one. I am absolutely buzzing for this game and it’s weird. I’ve spent years convincing myself this competition is a joke but if we win on Sunday it’s going to be unreal!