Midweek Muse – Why Wycombe’s fourth round FA Cup draw is not so magical

The viral video which showed the Wycombe Wanderers squad celebrate after the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup handed them a trip to White Hart Lane became the big story of the draw. For Tom Simmonds, the focus on it was another sign of how the cup is lacking in the attributes which broadcasters are desperately trying to ascribe to it. Go back 16 years in Wycombe’s timeline, and you will find all the inspiration you need.

Firstly, it should be said that sneering at the Wycombe players for celebrating like they did will not do. The chance that the FA Cup gives some lower league players to play at big grounds is one of the last vestiges of ‘magic’ that the Cup can cling to. However, it was the way in which the conversation immediately turned to how much money Wycombe would make out of the tie which provoked a familiar groan from football fans.

We cannot pretend that small clubs securing big paydays is also not a part of the FA Cup’s fabled ‘magic’, though it was never their primary preoccupation in the way it is now. The likelihood that Tottenham will make big changes to their side for the game will rob Wycombe’s players and fans of playing against and seeing the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris in the flesh.

Another reason why Wycombe’s older fans might be slightly underwhelmed by this draw is that they are a club who have had a taste of the cup’s real magic. Their run to the semi-finals in the 2000-01 competition, where they narrowly lost 2-1 to Liverpool – who had just played Barcelona in the UEFA Cup and who were on their way to a cup treble – was the kind of fairy tale those invested in the FA Cup hope happens again.

After overcoming Harrow Borough 3-0 in the first round, a 2-1 replay win over Millwall in the second earned Wycombe a less than glamorous home tie against Grimsby Town at Adams Park, which they came through by virtue of winning another replay 3-1 after the first game ended 1-1. It was from round four that the magic really started to happen for Wycombe, as goals from Andy Rammell and Sam Parkin secured a 2-1 win over Wolves in front of a record Adams Park crowd.

The fifth round saw Championship opposition pitch up again, as the husk of the dying club that was still just about Wimbledon (a team containing current Chairboys boss Gareth Ainsworth) raged against the dying of the light by taking a 2-0 half time lead. Wycombe roared back through Michael Simpson and Steve Brown to force a replay that Wycombe dragged to penalties through Paul McCarthy’s last gasp equaliser. An epic shootout saw both goalkeepers score and ended 8-7 to Wycombe, after the Dons’ Mark Williams put his penalty into the Holmesdale Road end.

The most surreal turn of all was saved for the quarter final, one of the last cup ties to be played at Leicester’s old Filbert Street ground. Another late goal won the game for Wycombe but it was the scorer who was the real story. Roy Essandoh, a journeyman striker who answered a plea in the media for a fit and available body from boss Lawrie Sanchez, was thrown in for his debut. He sparked delirium among the travellers from Buckinghamshire by planting a bullet header past Simon Royce to set up that encounter with Liverpool.

None of this is meant to devalue the experience that Wycombe’s young fans who weren’t around in 2001 will have at White Hart Lane but it serves as a chilling reminder of the low baseline for what passes as ‘magic’ or ‘adventure’ in today’s FA Cup. Wycombe’s run in 2000 (or those of Tranmere in 2000 or Millwall in 2004) feel like a lifetime ago. The fear is that another draw which has, again, disproportionately drawn big clubs at home to lower league teams will usher in another Cup weekend of stultifying predictability and an inexorable march towards the match-up of the mega club’s reserve teams in future rounds that the broadcasters doubtless want.

Follow Tom on Twitter @TallulahOnEarth

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