A fourth tier team takes on a club from the second tier. They take them to a replay after an away draw. This is classic FA Cup stuff, and in the past our performance against Charlton would have been applauded. So why was it all so underwhelming?
We’d only have one film and we only had one Saturday night, so before I was dispatched to our cupboard sized Blockbuster, we agreed a brief for what we would watch. Four hour historical epics about raping slaves always felt pretty heavy going for a Saturday night, so we’d invariably go for a comedy. That brief would eventually get refined further; belly laughs were unpredictable and used up too much energy, edgy comedy too hit or miss, dark comedy too subtle. We’d eventually settle on a RomCom.
And, for a period, that was all we’d ever watch. It offended no one; we were never particularly happy with it, but similarly never wholly disappointed. There was a familiar story arc that would rarely offend. But, by excluding all other genres, we were no longer film watchers; because we were watching one very specific type of film, we were RomCom watchers, and they're just not the same thing at all.
I think that’s the point I’ve got to with Oxford; everyone who knows me would say I was interested in football, but I'm not so sure that I am. I'm interested in Oxford United, but I'm not sure that necessarily has much to do with the broader game.
When I was a child, football was the FA Cup – and I loved the FA Cup. The last day of the season, the only live game on TV, Wembley, the hallowed turf, extra time, rolled down socks, cramp, the spectacularly callous nature of semi-finals.
But, Oxford have never had much of a pedigree in the FA Cup. I remember us beating Brighton in 1981, and went to the 5th round game where we were beaten 4-0 at Coventry. But, a 1-0 win over Swindon in 2002 aside, we’ve never really had much to get excited about. Even in our all-conquering glory days, unlike the League Cup, we tended to surrender meekly to superior opponents.
So, I loved the FA Cup, in spite of the Oxford, not because of it. As a result I wasn't expecting much from Tuesday's game because I've never really associated us with that competition. The FA Cup is football and Oxford United is Oxford United. It's the same subtle difference between watching RomComs and watching films.
The problem is that my interest in the cup has withered in recent years. I can’t justify a whole day in front of the TV for the final, semi-finals at Wembley almost make the competition too easy, ITV’s coverage is risible and disinterested. Above all, there’s football everywhere, so even the most mundane Premier League fixture gets more hyperbole than the FA Cup finals of the past.
I can’t keep up with the modern football, I'm not against it per se, in terms of a pure breed strand of entertainment it's much better than it used to be. But, I genuinely can't keep pace with the latest player Chelsea and Manchester City have casually signed for £32 million. Players I’ve vaguely heard of and appear only bit-part players at their clubs suddenly rack up 30+ caps for England. Then there’s the international dimension; suddenly we’re expected to know how Wolfsburg’s left-back is against pace because Norwich are interested in him. Because I can't process this volume of content, I'm very passive and superficial in the way I consume the broader game nowadays.
As a result the competition we're playing in and the opponents we're up against is largely irrelevant. I'm interested in Oxford, but the FA Cup doesn't interest me like it used to. It's been 15 years since we went further, but this year never felt particularly thrilling. The first two rounds, against non-league opposition was about avoiding embarrassment. The postponements because Charlton haven’t upgraded their drainage system for 17 years – despite years swimming in Premier League millions – was like seeing how a magician does his tricks. How are we supposed to believe in the magic of the cup, when the drains are broken? Going 2-0 up in the first game was a moment of surprise, drawing was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders. The ticket prices for the replay were demoralising – could they not have at least pro-rataed the price for season ticket holders?
By the time I walked through the turnstile on Tuesday, there was no buzz of a giant killing in the air. We're too overwhelmed with football and just how BRILLIANT. EVERYTHING. IS. ALWAYS. Charlton Athletic just weren't sexy enough. I don't think any team outside the top half of the Premier League would have been sexy enough to increase the pulse. The crowd size and the attitude of the team suggests I wasn't alone in feeling underwhelmed by it all.
I only really have the bandwidth to process the comings and goings of one club, the rest of the game I can only really embrace superficially. As a result, the FA Cup has become just another game, which is a very very sad state of affairs.