The Frankly Atrocious Cup Record

By The Way - Weekly Columns


By Roddy Graham Growing up I absolutely loved the FA Cup. In fact, if I was to pick any trophy for us to win, I'd probably choose that, even above the Premier League or a European cup. It might be because of the history and tradition that went with the competition. The mystique of the third round draw where a non-league side could face a trip to Old Trafford or Anfield. The romance of an upset at a ground where the pitch resembled something out of Saving Private Ryan. The belief held by many that cup final day was the greatest day in the football calendar. I think part of this viewpoint when I was young was also down to the fact my parents didn't have Sky. This meant I grew up in a position where I couldn't watch my team live on tv in the Premier League. There might be the odd game where we watched at a neighbour's or down the local pub. Radio 5 Live, Final Score or Teletext were the main sources of following Newcastle United between during my primary school days. But there were the odd games that I could sit down in front of the telly and support my team. The FA Cup was shown on BBC and ITV during the 90s and I remember fondly watching with glee, games that warmed the heart. A quarter final game at home to Barnsley in 1998 when Ketsbaia, Speed and Batty fired past David Watson to send us into the semis. The following season at the same stage, a 4-1 rout of Everton when Ketsbaia yet again found the net (twice!) to seal another trip to Old Trafford in the final four. The 1999 semi against Spurs when Shearer bagged two in extra time to send us for the second consecutive final at Wembley. Matches when both teams played their strongest starting 11. Games that brought fans together. Memories that would last a lifetime. Since our last FA Cup final at the old Wembley for the loss to Alex Ferguson's treble-winning Man Utd side, we've reached the quarter finals on four occasions and made it through to a couple of semi-finals too. Then Mike Ashley took over the club. Since then it has been nothing but abject misery in the FA Cup. We have never gone beyond the fourth round. We have never played a game in the FA Cup in February. We have lost to sides like Hull City, Cardiff City, Watford, Oxford and Stevenage. We have witnessed teams like Coventry City, Notts County, Leyton Orient, Crawley Town, Oldham Athletic, MK Dons, Luton Town, Bradford City, Shrewsbury Town, Sutton United and Lincoln City going beyond round four in the time Ashley has owned our club. We have treated the competition with utter disregard. Now we are not the only club to put the Premier League (or the Championship, since we've played there twice under Ashley) to the fore. It'd probably be fair to say that every club outwith the top 6 would rather have a positive end to their league campaign over a run to a trophy. But at least most of those clubs have had some form of success in the competition since 2008. In fact, the only current Premier League teams who haven't reached a quarter-final in the FA Cup since Ashley bought our club are Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, Huddersfield Town, Southampton and Swansea City - and the last two have at least managed to reach (and in Swansea's case, win) the League Cup final in that time. As a fanbase, we have been starved of any sort of success for too long. It'd be brilliant if someone in the dressing room was to come out and say "we want to win the FA Cup this season" rather than just rolling over and let our tummies get tickled once again. The club owner has, on the record, said that remaining in the Premier League comes above anything else. He has only ever talked about going far in the cup IF we are comfortably safe in the league. However, with his lack of investment, that position is merely a pipe dream. I'd love for us to give a cup a real go. Just imagining the scene across the city if we won a trophy is enough to give me goosebumps. The entire place would be decorated from top to bottom in black and white. Statues would be erected for the winning manager, captain and goal scorer. That is probably not even an over-exaggeration either. It's been 63 years since we last lifted a trophy at Wembley. My old man turned 65 last year. He, clearly, has no memory of that day in 1955 when we swept aside Man City 3-1. I'd love to share a day with him when we can both witness our team lift a cup. If it doesn't happen soon, I fear it never will.