For Christmas in 2011, I bought the video game FIFA 12 “for my son.” We had a lot of fun playing virtual soccer with avatars of the players and sides we were just getting to know. While my son created a player (the improbably named Tenfifths Strood) and then guided Strood from playing football in the streets of Brussels to being the player / manager of Barcelona FC, I thought it would be fun to manage a team of my own for a season. We’d just come back from a vacation in England and Wales, so I decided to take one of the Welsh Championship sides and see if I couldn’t earn promotion to the Premier League. Quite randomly I picked Cardiff City. Well not so randomly. We spent two nights in Cardiff and I feel like I know the town well from watching the TV shows produced by BBC Wales (Doctor Who, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures) all of which feature images of Cardiff.
My son is much better at controlling the little football avatars than I am, so I deputized him to play along with me “as Cardiff City.” (BTW, my FIFA 12 personal is a player / manager known as “Bob Marley” a good Welsh name don’t you think?) And not only did we make Cardiff City into the strongest Championship side, we won the FA Cup and earned promotion to the Premier League. So when I saw that Cardiff City, the real Cardiff City, was playing in an FA Cup match over the weekend… you’ll have to excuse my excitement, I just had to watch.
Cardiff City took the field against Macclesfield Town, a lower (fifth?) division side with a 139 year history. Cardiff City (presently) are sitting comfortably atop the Championship (2nd division in British football) with 56 points. And Malky Mackay, the Cardiff City manager, decided to field a side of teenagers against Macclesfield, feeling, I guess, that (a) his side could win without the regular starters, or (b) advancing in the FA Cup isn’t important since promotion to the Premier League is the club’s primary focus this year. (The commentators did allude to FA Cup ties as a possible cause for Cardiff City not earning automatic promotion last year.) So I only recognized two of the players from the FIFA 12 side that my son and I led to Premiership promotion. And the real players did bare an uncanny resemblance to their FIFA 12 avatars.
I’m a fickle fan. Or perhaps it’s like Franz said, “You respect the game too much.” My intention was to root for Cardiff City. But I found my sympathies resting with Macclesfield Town (the underdog?). Objectively, Macclesfield Town were the better side that day. And with a little help from the referee (gifting them a PK in the final minutes) Macclesfield Town eliminated Cardiff City from this season’s FA Cup. While the result felt engineered by the officiating, it still felt like the correct result based on Macclesfield Town’s performance.
Unfortunately, the officiating turned out to a major deciding factor in another FA Cup tie, this one played on Sunday between Liverpool and Mansfield Town. I was quite keen on watching this match since it featured the debut for Liverpool of the newly acquired Daniel Sturridge who scored in the 7th minute to put Liverpool up 1-nil. And that’s where the scored stayed until nearly the 60th minute when Luis Suárez came on for Sturridge (who’d just earned a questionable yellow card). Suárez wasn’t on the field for more than a few minutes when he handled the ball into the Mansfield net. Everyone in the stadium saw Suárez’s handball, except for the officials. The handball spoiled the match for me. And when Mansfield Town did finally manage to score, I thought, if it wasn’t for the handball goal, the match would be 1-1 which seemed a just score given that Mansfield Town had played well. They deserved the draw, I thought. Especially since the replay would be hosted by Liverpool at Anfield and it was bound to represent a record windfall in split gate receipts for the lower division side.