Matthew Tipton has signed up to write a weekly column offering his views on football.
Now in his first season of management at Warrenpoint Town, Tipton’s professional playing career started with Oldham Athletic as a 17-year-old striker and included caps for Wales under 21s alongside appearances for clubs in England, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The magic of the cup is a term often used when describing upcoming fixtures in either our own Irish Cup or in England the FA Cup.
This week I’m going to look at whether that term is still prevalent or has the race for Europe or just surviving in the league for teams in the top flight of both leagues taken away from “the magic of the cup”.
In England during the last round, which was the third round and the first round that the big boys from the Premier League entered the competition, I was intrigued to see if many of them changed their lineups drastically. This of course happened as seems to be the norm now in England as the financial worth of staying in the Premier League, or competing for a spot in the Champions league, as opposed to winning the FA Cup far outweighs the glory of being a trophy winner for these clubs now.
This massively disappoints me as growing up the dream I had, as well as the majority of my friends, was to see my team playing in the Cup Final on a glorious day in May (it’s the law that it’s sunny on cup final day). As I started going down the path of making my way towards being a professional player that dream then adjusted to actually playing and winning a cup final.
I’m not sure that young players growing up have the same dreams now as the Champions League seems to be the pinnacle that everyone is striving towards.
If I compare that to the Irish league it’s like night and day. Here the magic of the cup is well and truly still alive and kicking.
The fifth round draw (the first round for Premier and Championship teams) was made at Windsor Park in December and the excitement in the room was visible with players who have played in finals talking about the great occasion that the final is, Managers talking about the dream of leading their team in the May sun on to the hallowed Windsor Park turf, and Chairman dreaming of the money that a good cup run will bring in.
Add in the supporters who make the Cup Final the spectacle it is, it all makes for a great day out and still the most important date in the Irish League calendar in my eyes.
The best and worst days I had as a player in cup competitions both involved Chelsea. The first game was in 1999 with Oldham and we played them at home at Boundary Park, and it still ranks as a great day even though we lost the game 2-0. This was Chelsea pre-Abramovich but they were still a massive club. We had drawn our second round game at home versus Brentford, so when the draw was made on the Monday we still had a replay to play away against them.
Out came the balls and we knew we had the incentive to win the game and play against Chelsea.
The game at Brentford was played live on Sky Sports with all the hype of the Chelsea game taking over. The match finished 2-2 after extra time and went to penalties. As most of you reading this will know I’m a nervous shy type so of course I had my hand up first to take a penalty and thankfully I stuck it away and we went on to win the game.
The next few weeks was all talk about the superstars of Chelsea coming to town. To play against Gianluca Vialli, who scored two, Gianfranco Zola, Marcel Dessailly, Frank Lebouef as well as a host of other stars was a brilliant experience for me as a 19-year-old. The whole way they moved about the pitch and made space for themselves struck me with awe.
At that stage of my career I thought these occasions would be a regular occurrence but alas it was eight years later before the opportunity to grace the same stage as the big boys came along again. This time I was at Macclesfield for my second spell and again we drew Chelsea in the third round, but this time it was at Stamford Bridge.
This was during Jose Mourhino’s first spell at the club and it was a very different Chelsea from the last time. Again the build up was all a buzz about us going to Stamford Bridge, but for me personally I was a lot more nervous as I was more experienced and I knew the chances of me playing against Premier League opposition after this tie was slim.
I had been in and out of the team under manager Paul Ince as we were battling for survival in the Football League so the stress of that wasn’t helping me enjoy the build up as I should have. The week before the game I played and scored against Chester City, so was now looking at playing in the game which helped the week come in a bit better.
However on the day of the game the team was named and I only made the bench. The ‘Guvnor’, as Paul Ince likes to be called, told me he needed me for the important league games coming up, but to me as a player at that stage I could only think of the current game and the opportunity to play at Stamford Bridge. We were beat 6-1 on the day, I never got onto the field and that has lived with me to this day, I’ve no good memories.
However I have used the thought of what Paul said to me after that game about the importance of picking the battles that you can win. What I took from that is that some weeks you have to pick certain teams to win certain games and there was no benefit for him to have me burning all my energy chasing after the ball all day at Stamford Bridge and not being fit for a winnable game the week after versus Barnet!
I still would have loved to have played, but at least now I can draw on my own experience of missing out on that big day and pass that knowledge onto my own players as a manager.
It would be remiss of me to not mention my own clubs cup success in the mid Ulster cup during the week. It was a brilliant night and for the neutral I’m sure a great game with all the action in injury time and extra time.
Personally I was delighted to get the first piece of silverware for the club and it’s our first success in the Mid Ulster Cup. As I said to my players in my team talk they will go down as part of history as the first Warrenpoint squad to win the trophy.
They will also be able to look back at the end of their careers and see the winners medal from Tuesday. In football there is only two things you have at the end of your playing career, medals and memories. The more medals you have the better the memories will be.
Hopefully this drives us on as a club to more success down the line.