Friday, 25 April 2008

A team of (mostly) strikers

Jack Pitcher (Gloucester City), Matt Townley (Team Bath), Andy Forbes (Eastleigh), Craig Farrell (York City), Stuart Beavon (Weymouth), Craig Mackail-Smith (Peterborough United), Michael Mifsud (Coventry City), Alfie Potter (Havant & Waterlooville, on loan from Peterborough United), Luke Steele (Barnsley, on loan from West Bromwich Albion), Kayode Odejayi (Barnsley) and Joe Ledley (Cardiff City).

What do these eleven footballers have in common?

The answer? They will all be at Wembley for the FA Cup Final on May 17th. They are the Football Association's "Team of the FA Cup" for 2007/08. Each player was voted as "Player of the Round" by fans and receive a pair of VIP tickets for the final, a trophy and £500 worth of football equipment for a local school of their choice.

The thing that strikes me about that list of names is that it does not include a single Premiership player. In previous seasons the team of the FA Cup has included the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Shay Given, Luis Garcia, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Jamie Carragher. But not one "big name" this time around which must be quite unique. That fact alone goes some way to illustrating what an exceptional competition it has been this season.

Most of the names will be unfamiliar to many. Jack Pitcher (pictured above) won the award for his First Qualifying Round performance; he scored all five goals in their 5-1 victory over Yate Town. The twenty four year old striker won 58% of the votes following the game in which he only had five chances, but netted them all.

It appears that if you had your scoring boots on in this season's FA Cup you had a better than most chance of picking up a "Player of the Round" award. Matt Townley scored a six-minute hat-trick for Team Bath in the 8-1 demolition of Moneyfields (yes, there really is a team called that). Andy Forbes scored three in Eastleigh's 5-0 win over Clevedon. York City's Craig Farrell scored an eight-minute hat-trick towards the end of their 6-0 victory over Rushall Olympic. Stuart Beavon scored a seven-minute hat-trick for Weymouth at Eastbourne Borough, a game attended by yours truly as part of this FA Cup venture.

Spot a trend? There's more. Peterborough United striker Craig Mackail-Smith claimed four goals in the 5-0 routing of Staines Town. Michael Mifsud netted a brace in Coventry City's excellent 4-1 victory at Blackburn in the Third Round and Alfie Potter (left) scored for Havant & Waterlooville up at Liverpool. Potter is the only one to receive the award whilst playing for a team that exited in that round. Luke Steele in the Fifth Round is the only non-goalscorer after his brilliant performance between the sticks that helped Barnsley triumph at Liverpool. Goalscorers Kayode Odejayi (Barnsley) and Joe Ledley (Cardiff City) complete the line up. Bag a few goals and win a trip to Wembley.

No defenders or midfielders in the team and only one player who did not score a goal. As it is the fans who ultimately decide on the best player from each round, it shows what the fans value most and that is the ball thudding against the back of the onion bag. No surprise there then. What that list also shows is what an inclusive competition the FA Cup is. Already recognised as an extraordinary FA Cup season - what odds at the start of the season for a Barnsley v Cardiff City final? - the football clubs represented in the team of the tournament are scattered throughout all levels of the football pyramid. And all the players selected have another thing in common; they have all gone on record as saying that they "love the FA Cup". Are you listening Dave Kitson?

What's more, I'm sure they'll love it even more once they are at the final to witness the lifting of the famous old trophy. I doubt if Jack Pitcher, as he ran out for Gloucester City back in September last year, could have imagined in his wildest dreams that his season would have ended at Wembley.

One question remains though; as Cardiff City's Joe Ledley will actually be playing on the big day, I wonder what will happen to his VIP tickets? I might give Joe a call...

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