The FA Cup still has the magic that makes lower league football fans fall in love with the FA Cup. Being drawn against one of the ‘big boys’ at home and welcoming them into a ground where the ‘superstars’ will be out of their comfort zone when they come to visit. Packed stadiums which are usually half empty who are there hoping they can see the under dog pull off an upset.
Some of my fondest memories of being a Rochdale fan have come in the FA Cup. Although some of the lowest moments have come in this competition.
Perhaps the worst of these upsets was back in 2010, when we were drawn at home in the first round to FC United. The Evo-Stik Premier Division side had reached the first round for the first time and with the game being televised they were really looking to boost an already growing reputation. The FC United fans turned up in numbers and sold out the away allocation and created an intense atmosphere at Spotland. FC United ended up stealing a 3-2 win with a 94th minute goal to condemn Rochdale to one of the biggest shocks of the round.
A close second on the scale of cup shocks at Dale in my lifetime was a humbling 2-0 away defeat to Forest Green. It is never easy going to a non-league side away in the cup and this proved to be the case as the Dale couldn’t match Forest Green’s desire.
My earliest memory of being captivated by the magic of the FA Cup was back in the 2002/03 season when Rochdale reached the 5th Round. I remember going to Preston away in the 3rd round with my dad and a family friend not really expecting much but we pulled of a big upset by winning 2-1. I remember the first half, Lee McEvilly with a huge run up to a free kick and it flew in to the top corner. In the 4th round we played Coventry at home, a packed house at Spotland saw Rochdale pull off another upset winning 2-0, I remember the atmosphere being electric for this one and I wish we got that kind of atmosphere every week but something about the cup brings the best out of the fans when an upset is on the cards.
Sadly, the adventure came to an end at Wolves in the 5th round. It was a brave performance from Rochdale and sadly they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat. It still gripes me to this day that their 2nd goal was a mile offside which everybody in the ground saw except for the officials.
In more recent memory, and perhaps my fondest memory of the FA Cup was back in 2014 in the 3rd Round. Rochdale were drawn at home to Leeds. A couple of close family members support Leeds so that added a bit of an extra element for me personally to what was already an interesting cup tie. Leeds, as expected sold their allocation of tickets in no time at all and the Dale fans turned out in numbers which made for a fantastic atmosphere. Many Dale fans believed an upset was possible. Leeds were struggling for consistency under Brian McDermott, and Rochdale were flying in League Two. I took my old man to this one along with my Leeds supporting uncle and cousin who ended up coming in the Rochdale end with us, as they wanted to be able to see the game live. The stadium really was packed to the rafters and it created an intense atmosphere. The game was played at a great pace and was a typical cup tie of both sides looking to attack. Scott Hogan put Rochdale 1-0 up, I remember this goal very well. Peter Vincenti put in an absolute peach of a cross and Hogan, who is not the tallest of strikers rose above everybody else to head home the opener.
Leeds didn’t really have anything in terms of clear cut opportunities and Rochdale had numerous chances to double the lead. But the Dale had to wait till the 84th minute to kill the game off. Ian Henderson scored one of the best goals I have seen at Spotland. A perfectly caught volley just in side the box just floated over into the far corner of the net to send the home crowd into raptures.
A well deserved 2-0 win saw Dale complete one of the shocks of the round, Dale ended up going out in the next round at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
There is many argument in this country now if the FA Cup has had its day. But I couldn’t disagree more. It gives the smaller clubs the chance to take on the big boys to create cup ties which are unique to English Football, the fans turn out in their droves for the cup in the hope they can see their side pull off an upset. Even though the Premier League clubs field weaker sides for some of the games it is still a trophy and a trip to Wembley on offer and this will always be the incentive for every team to take this competition seriously. The games I have mentioned above have been some of my fondest memories as a Dale fan and there is no better feeling than waiting for the draw after you’ve just pulled off a huge upset and you get the well earnt media attention.