the real fa cup

New York, London, Paris, Torquay …

Saturday, January 29, 2011 FA Cup 4th round day, Manhattan, New York City, NY

I was looking forward to Saturday. As soon as I checked the fixtures showing in my usual mecca for all things football-on-TV-related, Nevada Smiths, and spotted who they were showing I knew it was going to be a good morning (for football on TV in the US is always a morning into fuzzy early afternoon activity).

DSC_0036.JPG We, meaning myself and two of my football, nee soccer, sympathetic work team members Zack and Mack, discussed the fixtures and the enticing pyramid nature of the “The Cup”. In a faux Irish bar on the Friday night before the day before, there was certainly some mirth surrounding the size and location of a certain Torquay. After much banter, it was decided Torquay was comparable in size and seaside location to a certain Daytona Beach, Florida. That Torquay were on the box and in the 4th tier of the pyramid piqued Zack and Mack’s interest. That tomorrow, Saturday, was a day that pitched some haves against some have-not’s meant I was likely to have some companions in Nevada’s the next morning. I left the bar, with the habitual green neon shamrock flashing outside, with a little spring in my step.

A little of the FA Cup 4th Round was coming to Manhattan courtesy of the 3pm GMT games being televised. I was subsequently only a little late for dinner with my wife, who only glazed over a little at my tales of our FA Cup discussion and my mission to go and watch and, I announced proudly, report back to @TheRealFACup.

I stirred. I was somewhat expectant. I was also missing some of the Everton-Chelsea match on Fox Soccer Channel but I was buoyed by the morning ahead. I knew people back home were making their way to grounds, and soon I would be making my way to mine.

photo.JPG 9:15 am EST: ensconced in an iconic yellow New York cab, we raced across town to my East Village soccer mecca destination. My phone rang. It was fellow Devonian Moose (I was actually born in Hampshire, but schooling in Brixham from the age of 11 meant I had adopted Brixham, Torbay (the “English Riveria”) and the Gulls as my own). I had taunted Moose the day before to fly over to New York to watch an FA Cup that was being played back in the country – albeit not on terrestrial TV – of his departure. Not even finance guru Moose could have negotiated that with his wife. His Saturday game called off, he informed me he was going to find an internet feed. It would not be the last time that day internet feeds were of relevance.

The cab pulled up outside of Nevada Smiths.

As you can see from the picture this is an unassuming “pub” in the East Village. Home to many an expat fan club, Nevada’s prides itself on showing a huge number of European games every weekend, starting at 7am and going through domestic 3 pm games in the Premiership, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, and when the season is on, the MLS. I urge anyone to see the fixture poster and not get dizzy. “Hmm, no Torquay”  I pondered.

photo(2).JPG I was surprised when I walked in at 9:50 am EST that the bar was quiet. The recent snow storm and weather might have put pay to the usual hordes of Chelsea fans. Inside the dark soccer haven, the bar was cozy and had a small throng of Germans watching three screens that were showing different Bundesliga games.

Not often the commentary over the loudspeakers is in German. I ordered a beer. As the chirpy Irish barman set down my Newcastle Brown Ale, I felt it necessary to ask the barman a rather unlikely question:

“What screen is the Torquay match going to be on?”

Now why is it that in a pub that focuses on European soccer should have a rather wiry, rather inebriated expat propping up the bar? And one that wants to talk to everyone. “I’ve been to Torquay” he regaled me. Small world. Turns out our expat friend had been to Torquay in 1977. I smiled, and ended our not going anywhere at all conversation, and found a seat looking at what I was told would be the Torquay game screen.

Nevada’s has 12 different screens on the ground floor alone. I started to get worried when the screen kept flashing between browsers and links to the usual dodgy internet stream sites. The Torquay game, it suddenly appeared, was not actually on TV – as in Fox Soccer Channel or ESPN – rather it was going to be shown on a TV with an internet stream. Great. And what’s more – as the Asian Cup Final and the Birmingham-Coventry game burnt an HD image in the reflection on my TV screen  – the barman, operating the industrial equipment in the little cubby hole at the end of the bar, was struggling to find the Torquay feed.

A look at my Sky Sports iPhone app (I have been toying with the idea of removing this post Keys-Gray, but frankly it won’t make any difference, I like the app, and Jeff Stelling never hurt anyone) confirmed the Gulls game had kicked off late – surely not crowd trouble at Plainmoor, a ground with a 6,000 capacity – and therefore the streams had not yet picked up the game. At 10:15 am EST the yellow shirts of the Gulls, and the red shirts of Crawley, flickered into view. At the same time, our friendly Thai beach stained expat friend shouted out: “He’s not very Japanese looking” as Alberto Zaccheroni, the Japan manager, was framed on another screen from his bench at the Asian Cup Final.

photo(3).JPG Shortly after, our wandering expat staggered out into the cool Manhattan air. Another alcoholic establishment would no doubt be enjoying his insights within the hour.

Watching an OK-ish internet stream I could have watched at home, I settled in. I felt a little guilty: I had asked Zack and Mack to join me, and of course I had promised @theRealFACup a report of watching an FA Cup game, featuring a medium sized South Devon town, and Crawley (what is famous about Crawley I wondered, loading up my iPhone Wikipedia app) and here I was the sole person watching an internet stream as others cheered on Bayern Munich, Birmingham and Japan. Japan. In the Asian Cup Final versus Australia.

On the screen next to mine. I looked on, jealously, at the HD picture. Crawley looked good. In fact they looked more positive than the Gulls from the whistle, and looked like the home side. I had read, and been informed by Stuart of @theballisround blogging royalty only a couple of weeks earlier on a trip to the UK that Crawley had spent disproportionate amounts of money for a club in the 5th tier of the English pyramid. As Moose had informed on me on our earlier call, only 13 places separated Torquay – 13th in League Two and Crawley – 2nd in the Blue Square Premier. I would go so far to say the Gulls looked nervous. Our forward Elliot Benyon, with his broken nose and huge bandage, looked more nervous than most.

Crawley scored on the 39th minute, and no Gulls fan had anything to complain about on balance. I had only a few minutes before tweeted about the availability of any lower league players called ‘Crockett’? That Crawley’s Tubbs scored did nothing to dampen my plan to have a Crockett and Tubbs play in the same team. I informed Mack and he shrugged. He was born after Miami Vice was big on TV. We were 0-1 down.

Somewhere during the half time break our position under the sole TV showing a Devonian FA Cup tie was surrounded by some 20 or so Japanese tourists. Not concerned that they had missed the first half of the Asian Cup Final, they circled our position with their enthusiasm and glasses of water.

In the second half, we saved two penalties, or “PK’s” as my American friends like to call them. Bevan was a hero saving both penalties. But therein lies the tale – you can save penalties all day, but if you fail to score when 0-1 down you are going to lose the game. Mack told me so. PK saves were worth nothing he implored me. Good to see a yank getting into a grainy FA Cup game.

photo(4).JPG The Japanese left it late. I know this because as Torquay were making heavy weather of their six minutes of injury time, the Japanese scored in the second period of extra time against the Aussies. The bar erupted. Well, water was thrown, and I was asked to take lots of photos. Lots of photos. Those Japanese tourists know how to party.

After the Gulls went out of the Cup, normal service was resumed. Manchester United loomed into view, Warren Barton, anchor on Fox Soccer Channel, waxed lyrical about the 1976 FA Cup Final, Southampton’s year etc etc etc.

Torquay had lost. But Mack, Zack and I had discussed the romance of the “English pyramid”, compared it to the power sharing in the NFL and enjoyed a few pints. I would like to think both of them had enjoyed the internet stream, the Japanese fans, the procession that was a predictable Utd comeback against Southampton, and an all round fun morning/early afternoon in the company of soccer fans in a darkened bar in the East Village.

Who have Crawley got in the 5th round? What would I give for a tie at Old Trafford, as consolation for the Gulls losing? I’d have to find a US town to compare to Crawley. And no doubt another fun morning will be had digesting a team from a town with one hundred thousand residents playing against their more illustrious higher placed opponents.

The FA Cup. It still has some magic and romance. Just ask Mack and Zack.

Cheers to Luge for our first match report of the weekend. I hope this as an ongoing theme, FA Cup match reports viewed in unlikely settings. Follow Luge on Twitter at @lugepravda

More on … CRAWLEY – ‘Crawley 2 Derby 1’

More on … CRAWLEY – ‘Wombling Along’ – AFC Wimbledon 3 Crawley 1 – Oct 2009

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