Newcastle Fans
Wikimedia Commons/ Steve Gardner

Away support, the real ‘magic of the cup’?

Jubilation or heartbreak? For football fans, away days often dictate these emotions. Seeing your team score a late winner away from home is an emotion like no other. Watching your team get demolished, while surrounded by jubilant home support, can be almost soul-destroying.

If I was asked to describe what makes English football what it is, the answer for me is simple. It is the away support that teams throughout the country, right through the pyramid gather, irrespective of the length and difficulty of the journey.

Last Tuesday evening, Newcastle found themselves away at Southampton, a 12-hour round-trip, but as ever with Newcastle, their away end was sold out. When Joelinton gave them the lead after 70 minutes, the Geordie reaction highlighted the passion synonymous with the Northeast. For the last 20 minutes, they belted songs out about a date with Wembley while swinging their black-and-white shirts around their heads.

Not all away support needs to involve swinging your top around your head, with temperatures below freezing, but in England, travelling in numbers, with volume is taken for granted. Both the League Cup and FA Cup offer opportunities for lower-division sides to take significant numbers of away fans.

League One, Charlton Athletic, a club with a troubled relationship with their ownership, recently visited Manchester United in the League Cup. Despite trailing for much of the game, going on to lose 3-0, they were vocal throughout, frequently questioning the home fans as to whether they were visiting a silent study area.

A significant benefit of English cup ties is the increased away allocation which is given to the visitors, compared to the league fixtures. FA Cup rules allow an allocation of 15%, compared to 10% in the Premier League. The consequence, without fail, is a better atmosphere.

No other countries have such a football culture, with such committed followings

The ‘magic of the cup’ has become an overused cliché within the press. The number of genuine cup shocks seems to decrease each year, but the ‘magic of the cup’ is more about the atmosphere and belief.

Chesterfield Town, a side which is third in the National League, found themselves in a third-round replay at the Hawthorns following an entertaining 3-3 draw in the original fixture. Despite a 4-0 defeat in the replay, the ‘magic of the cup’ is about teams such as Chesterfield visiting the famous English grounds.

Rarely do these lower-division teams knock England’s biggest sides out in their own backyard, but it does happen. It did in 2015, as Bradford and Middlesborough dumped out Chelsea and Manchester City in the fourth round of the FA Cup, but shocks of such magnitude are rare.

Despite their rarity, it does not stop the murmurs throughout the away end of “if we get the first goal”, “just stay in the game”, and “keep it solid and we have a chance”.

No other countries have such a football culture, with such committed followings that a non-league side could sell out several thousand away tickets to a team hours away. But I guess, that’s just the ‘magic of the cup’.


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