CAPE TOWN - The romance of knockout football is not so much about a minnow mixing it with a more illustrious top-flight counterpart, it’s about the underdog discovering the emotional strength and deep-rooted tenacity inside the dog.
It’s David v Goliath football at its best - and, as the Nedbank Cup gets under way this week, there are four lower division Cape clubs keen to make an impact. Based on the popular English FA Cup, this is an opportunity for Ubuntu Cape Town, Cape Town All Stars, Stellenbosch FC and Steenberg United to grab some much-needed exposure for their clubs.
There have, of course, been some resounding upsets in this cup competition over the years - FC Cape Town defeating Kaizer Chiefs 2-0 in 2010 and Maluti FET College brushing aside Orlando Pirates 4-1 in 2013 - but my very first memory of the special allure of cup football, and its concomitant penchant to surprise, takes me way, way back to 1988.
Lifelong, long-suffering Liverpool fan that I am, the FA Cup final of that year was between my Anfield heroes and the “Crazy Gang” of Wimbledon: for me, there could only be one winner. Wimbledon, really? Come on, man. But football is not as simple as that - it’s not always about talent and class and superiority, most of the time, it’s about good, old fashioned values like work ethic, belief, commitment, unity and team spirit.
In an afternoon in which a gutsy, ballsy Wimbledon scrounged, scraped and struggled for everything, they managed to, against all odds, defeat the mighty Liverpool 1-0, thanks to a headed goal by Lawrie Sanchez. But, as our Cape minnows prepare for the Nedbank this week, this memory is not so much about my beloved Liverpool, this is about what can be learnt from the Wimbledon success on that day.
With players like John Fashanu, mad man Vinnie Jones and the artful dodger Dennis Wise, what they did wasn’t always in the football “entertainment manual”, but what they did have was desire, personality, commitment and, above all, that team character and togetherness that screamed “one for all and all for one”. They never shirked a challenge, they played to their strengths and they were never over-awed, irrespective of who the opponents were.
Many would say the game has moved on since 1988. The fundamentals of the sport are still same: team spirit, camaraderie, discipline and hard work are still the ingredients to success.
And so, as the PSL’s Goliath dons its armour and takes up its spear, and the lower tier David prepares the staff and sling, there is hope of overcoming the giant. Because football’s capacity to enrapture and surprise, remains as large as ever. To return to that famous Wimbledon win of 1988, Jones, who has gone on to become a Hollywood star, sums up playing for the “Crazy Gang” : “You either grew a backbone quickly or you dissolved as a man.” For Ubuntu, All Stars, Stellenbosch and Steenberg, what it’s to be?