English football has had one of its better weeks. Yes, a footballer kicked a ball boy.
No-one was injured, despite the ball boy’s protestations, and it was ultimately a silly 30 second fight between two immature youngsters. They’ll both be punished, one more publicly than the other, as his public profile demands.
Yet English football’s lower league sides have been slaying Premier League clubs throughout the last week. It is hard to remember a week quite like the last one. Bradford City first beat Aston Villa to reach the final of the League Cup, the first fourth tier team to achieve that particular feat for over 50 years. That was the most incredible of triumphs as it was the culmination of three giant killings. Not only did they beat Wigan, but then Arsenal, and then Aston Villa. And Villa were beaten over 180 minutes of football. This was no fluke. Bradford energised the underdogs of a nation in which the also rans have been cast aside in the pursuit of money and glory overseas.
This weekend saw more slaying of giants. Aston Villa were again victims, beaten by Millwall in the first of the FA Cup shocks. It was perhaps the least shocking of the various upsets. Villa are struggling, going from crisis to crisis with confidence low, and were ripe for an upset against a physical and direct team like Millwall, especially with the Londoners playing at home.
But Paul Lambert was at least spared the ignominy of having to deal with the harsh spotlight of such upsets alone. On Saturday Queens Park Rangers were easily dispatched by MK Dons from League One, two divisions below. They had the temerity to go 4-0 up at Loftus Road in a remarkable performance as the Premier League side were swept aside with ease. A late fightback was not enough for the home team who lost 4-2 in the end.
QPR down, next was Norwich. And what a shock that was. Not since Sutton United beat then holders Coventry City in 1989 had a non league team beaten a top flight side. Never in the Premier League era had one of the league’s teams been beaten. So for it to happen at home was a huge upset. Luton were more than a match for their opponents at Carrow Road and a breakaway goal late on gave them a deserved and famous win to put them into round five of the FA Cup. It was truly remarkable stuff for the non league side. A game at home to Millwall in the next round could see them book a place in the last eight. Now that would be something else entirely.
Norwich down, that was Saturday dealt with. Arsenal came through a banana skin at Brighton and onto Sunday we went. Brentford v Chelsea, Leeds v Tottenham and Oldham v Liverpool. Spurs had a tricky game but you would have been hard pressed to find a sane football fan who seriously thought that less than two of the three Premier League sides would be in the hat for the draw after the conclusion of the three games.
Yet there is just one. And even Chelsea aren’t guaranteed their place in the fifth round, as they have to negotiate a replay with Brentford after being second best for long spells of their game at their local rivals from two divisions below. Tottenham’s defeat was a bit more predictable, but they should have had the quality to win. And then Oldham’s victory over Liverpool was absolutely remarkable given that the club were struggling against the drop from the third tier.
All of it means that English football has had a great jolt in the arm after a remarkable week. The upsets of the last week have reinvigorated competitions which had been relegated to secondary importance in English football.