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Butler: Wedding bells sound as football romance returns

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Noel Butler
1/4/2013 12:45:16 PM
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They say much of the romanticism has gone out of football - replaced by big money and overindulged players.

That all changes this weekend as the FA Cup's third round provides the type of football romance that according to the Smiths even 'Caligulia would have blushed.'

The oldest knockout competition in all of world team sport has been providing thrills and spills aplenty since 1871's inaugural tournament. There's nothing quite like it in world football as minnows from the amateur ranks get their chance of fame and fortune.

It is at this third round stage when the big clubs enter the competition and the football form book takes its annual leave of absence. Giant-killing enters the lexicon and mindset of a football nation as it wills on its football underclass.

Cinderella resplendent with her banana skin that has previously had the names of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United on it has provided the type of moments that have passed down to the next generations as it pushes into the spotlight part time players from an assortment of blue collar households.

Camouflaged Bentleys not included.

The most iconic third round moment occurred in 1972 when non-league Hereford United slayed the might of Newcastle United - who at the time were one of England's grandest clubs and recent UEFA Fairs Cup winners.

It still hurts the Geordies. So much so, the club still has not fully recovered psychologically and in the midst of a major trophy drought that has now prolonged itself well over four decades.

The Hollywood scriptwriters should be all over one particular tie this soon to be infamous FA Cup's third round weekend. That as part of the weekend build up includes a wedding.

It doesn't get more blue collar than Mansfield a closely knit mining town on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest - the place likely where Robin Hood honed his football skills alongside Maid Marion and Friar Tuck. 

Following relegation from the professional ranks, Mansfield Town - a club founded in 1897 - currently toils in the mid table obscurity of the Conference League.

Paying them a visit Sunday is five-time European Champions - and pride of Merseyside – Liverpool (Who themselves are in the midst of their own trophy drought that goes back to 2006's FA Cup win on penalties).

Back in mid-November, after Mansfield had successfully navigated their way into the second round and knowing they were within 90 minutes of a possible date with a Premier League giant, head coach Paul Cox provided his players with the perfect motivation.

He promised if they won, he would get married. A man of his word, Cox will tie the knot 24 hours ahead of the biggest match in the club's history. No ordinary venue either, as he will do so at the club's training complex. No word on if Luis Suarez has agreed to be Best Man.

Surely this has to be the very first time one of world football's biggest clubs has pulled into town on the team bus and as part of the weekend long pre-match festivities have been invited to the wedding of their opponent's manager. What pray would Bill Shankly be thinking?

One player that won't be on that Liverpool team bus is Joe Cole - the latest player in the decades long line of highly talented Englishmen who never came close to fulfilling their youthful promise. Whose career now is about to come full circle.

Following a quite diabolical two-plus seasons at Anfield, Cole is on his way back within the bosom of Upton Park (Where he made his professional debut 14 years ago as 17-year old in this very same competition and could make his West Ham debut version 2.0 Saturday lunchtime when Birthday Boy Sir Alex Ferguson's star studded caravan  rolls into East London).

Ferguson led the queue of admirers who marveled at Cole in the world famous West Ham Academy a football finishing ground that single handedly groomed the major contributors to England's lone 1966 World Cup triumph.

The Knight of the Realm used to call the then West Ham manager Harry Redknapp every single week asking the Cockney Cumodgeon if he'd deal the teenaged Cole to Old Trafford.

Incredibly wheeler dealer Harry refused to budge.  Cole eventually left Upton Park for Chelsea in summer 2003.

The Crafty Cockney now has opportunity to mirror Paolo Di Canio the maverick Italian who called the bluff of French world cup winner and Manchester United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez back in 2001 when the two storied clubs meet for an East End knees up Saturday lunchtime.

One of four all BPL match ups it has all the ingredients. Fat Sam squaring off with his old pal Ferguson as this particular hallowed part of East London gets set to welcome home one of its most famous footballing sons (Who once scored seven goals in a match against Spain when playing for England's youth team).

West Ham won't need reminding what happened the last time the two teams met in the competition almost exactly a decade ago.

Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs both featured in United's starting line up with Cole in that famous claret and blue. Giggs accounted for a brace as United went on to thrash West Ham 6-0. You can be absolutely sure the same won't occur Saturday.

Ferguson will likely rest his festive season weary and give fringe players an opportunity. Allardyce will go for the jugular - the Northerner fully aware the major artery of West Ham's legacy goes right through the heart and soul of the FA Cup.

Back in mid-summer when qualifying for the competition kicked off close to 800 clubs stood chance to create the latest edition of third round fairytales.  With nothing guaranteed you can be assured of at least one thing.

Of the 32 teams that will live to fight on some will herald from  towns and villages where the club owner still is the local butcher, baker or candlestick maker.

West Ham United v Manchester United live from Upton Park airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks this Saturday, with coverage kicking off at 12:15pm et/9:15am pt.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel

Paul Cox (Photo: Pete Norton/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Pete Norton/Getty Images)
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