Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Cinderella Readies for the Ball

Every dog has its day, and that day has arrived for lowely Exeter City in England’s FA Cup, arguably the "world's oldest and most famous domestic cup competition."

11 days ago, the “Grecians” emerged from Manchester United’s Field of Dreams with an unlikely 0-0 draw before 67,500 fans, setting the stage for a home-match tonight that will decide who moves on to the final 32 of the competition. Fox Sports notes that Exeter falls a full 98 places below the most famous football team in the world, and claims a loss by United would rank as THE biggest upset in the Cup's 133 year history. Consider: there are 20 teams in the Premiership, followed by 24 in the Championship Conference, followed by 24 in League One, followed by 24 in League Two... and THEN we come to Exeter City, currently 7th in the Non-League "Nationwide Conference", behind such giants as Aldershot, Halifax (!), and Accrington Stanley. Exeter City is struggling to survive. Manchester United just announced an upcoming Asian tour through Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo.

Yet that's what makes it so compelling, of course. Cinderella stories rarely arrive to the Ball dressed in fancier shoes.

According to the BBC's key match stats, "this is the first time the Red Devils have met non-League opposition in the FA Cup since Walthamstow Avenue in the fourth round in 1953, when they were held 1-1 at Old Trafford and won the replay, staged at Highbury, 2-5." In the previous match, Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a line-up composed mainly of substitutes in the embarrassing draw. For tonight's replay, the 9,500 fans of Exeter lucky enough to score tickets to St. James Park can expect to see the likes of Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, and Ryan Giggs gunning for goal in a much more serious attack. So the odds of a shocking result are bleak, at the very best. And yet...

Call it David vs. several Goliaths. But nevertheless, I'll be watching BBC1 tonight at 7:45 for further proof of the miraculous. Can you believe that the Exeter City supporters have a chant in which they simply yell "Cider, Cider" to the tune of Amazing Grace? Oh my.

It doesn't cost anything to dream.


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