2008 brought fun back to FA Cup betting
Who at the start of 2008 would have bet on Portsmouth winning this year’s FA Cup? Apart from Pompey fans, not many – regardless of the odds. And even fewer people would have been betting on Cardiff City being FA Cup finalists. But 2008 was the year the magic came back to the FA Cup – and made betting on it fun again.
It became clear in March that the ‘Big Four’ of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, who between them had won the last 12 FA Cups, were unlikely to provide this year’s Cup winner when Portsmouth knocked out United and Barnsley rocked the football world with a win over Chelsea.
United had already thrashed the Gunners and Barnsley had already created one huge upset with a win over Liverpool – leaving the semi-final line-up bereft of big clubs. Portsmouth alone represented the Premier League; Barnsley, Cardiff and West Bromwich Albion joined them for the world-famous FA Cup draw.
FA Cup: famous for betting upsets
The FA Cup’s fame around the world has been built on betting upsets like this. Everyone remembers the big shocks: the Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club; Bob Stokoe racing across Wembley in a flasher’s mac and red trousers; Paul Rideout sinking Man United.
But despite the best efforts of West Ham in 2006 and, to be fair, Millwall and Southampton in previous years, the Cup had become predictable and dull. Great for betting, perhaps, although the mind-numbing tedium of the 2004 final between Arsenal and Manchester United sent even the most dispassionate gamblers craving something with a bit more fun.
2008 FA Cup thrills
So the thrills of the 2008 FA Cup were just what the doctor ordered. Suddenly you could have a bet on the underdog – if there’s a better way to get through a Sunday afternoon in the company of John Motson, I’ve yet to hear it – and be in with a shout of winning.
The whole point of the FA Cup is that it should be unpredictable. The best team shouldn’t always win it; if they should, God wouldn’t have given us league competitions. They should be random affairs decided after 120 minutes of end-to-end defensive incompetence and attacking brilliance in equal measure.
Lower-league players should find reserves of skill they never knew they had. Ageing has-beens should find themselves rolling back the clock for one game only. England captains should perform feats that are repeated during dinner breaks up and down the country for weeks to come.
FA Cup throws formbook out the window
In short, the FA Cup should be, for betting purposes, a lottery. Gamblers can study the form for the rest of the year and make cold, calculated decisions based on risk and value alone; come FA Cup day they should be able to hoy the formbook out of the window and have a punt on the basis of nothing but a hunch, a wish, and the memory of a game they once saw when they were a kid. It’s the Grand National of football betting – and how much fun is the Grand National?
In 2008 that’s what FA Cup betting was all about again: fun.