There has been plenty of comment in many different places on the subject of Havant & Waterlooville’s FA Cup run, and their performance on Saturday. There are many people more closely involved in what has been going on than I am, but I thought that I would take opportunity to add some final, personal thoughts on the subject before laying it to rest for the time being. As I mentioned on here earlier, we heard a lot of cliche over the weekend, but it continues to delight me that, in such a cynical age as this, we haven’t forgotten our capacity to be delighted by football, and by minor acts of heroism. The last few days have been a time to forget about the harsh realities of the modern game, with its nepotism, closed shops and spirit-sapping commercialism. It has been a time to revel in the sort of shared experience that I had been starting to think was dead in modern football.
It is worth reminding everyone reading this that, for a club of the size of Havant & Waterlooville, this truly is a “once in a lifetime” experience. For Havant (and they are by no means the smallest club to enter into the FA Cup), it took them eight matches to get this far, against stronger and stronger opposition. They started, in the Second Qualifying round, with an away match against Bognor Regis Town, who are in the same division as them. They had to beat three teams that play at a higher level than them. In the First Round, they beat York City (one division above them) away from home. In the Second Round, they beat Notts County (two divisions above them). In the Third Round, they beat Swansea City (top of League One – three divisions above them). Merely to get to Anfield in the first place was an achievement of Herculean proportions – to make a game of it and give the club that called themselves the champions of Europe not so long ago the fright of their lives is icing on the cake. We don’t know how long we’ll have to wait for a team to repeat it. It might be next year, it could be a decade.
They have been handsomely rewarded for their endeavour. The FA Cup divides gate receipts equally between the two competing clubs, so 50% of the money that people paid at Anfield on Saturday will have gone to Havant & Waterlooville, as well as 50% of the gate receipts for their earlier matches. The prize money (they have bagged nearly £100,000 for winning all of the matches that they have won this season) is a significant amount for a club of their size. There’s every chance that they have made £1m from their adventure. An astronomical amount for a club of their size. One will have to hope that they choose to spend this money wisely, as a safeguard for the club’s future. Time will tell on whether they do this, or whether they get carried away with their wealth and throw it all away into the unquenchable bonfire that is the world of footballers’ wages. It may prove to be a difficult temptation to resist.
For now, though, the FA Cup has been given a massive breath of fresh air, and that is enough. The clubs that have treated it with disdain have been laughed out of court. It feels as if we’ve all remembered how much fun cup football can be, and with only six Premier League clubs left in the competition (one of whom, Manchester United or Arsenal, no less, is guaranteed to be knocked out in the Fifth Round, and two of whom, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth, have tricky away ties at Sheffield United and Preston North End respectively), it could well get even more interesting yet.