From Grecian the Lion to the trophy’s bodyguard: stories behind the FA Cup third round | Football

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From Grecian the Lion to the trophy’s bodyguard: stories behind the FA Cup third round | Football
From Grecian the Lion to the trophy’s bodyguard: stories behind the FA Cup third round | Football


Jonathan Jackson
Wigan’s chief executive now and when they won the FA Cup in 2013

In 2013 Bournemouth were in League One and we were the Premier League side but we were very fortunate to earn a replay in the third round, even though we were playing at home. Bournemouth must have fancied their chances in the second game because Roberto Martínez always rotated his squad for Cup matches and, when I saw our teamsheet on a freezing night on the south coast, I thought all the ingredients were in place for an upset. But a great goal from Mauro Boselli earned us a trip to non-league Macclesfield in the next round. I thought that gave us a good opportunity of reaching the fifth round, but that was as far ahead as I was looking. Boselli cost £6m from Estudiantes and never scored another for us but, without his goal at Bournemouth, who knows?

The final went by in a flash but I do remember the celebrations on the pitch to the Northern Soul music we had asked to be played, and the incredulous faces of the many older Latics fans who had been on supporter journeys similar to my own and never expected this sort of happy ending.

Sadly we were relegated that season and, when it came, it was strange because the club and the town were still celebrating winning the Cup. As chief executive I knew that going out of the Premier League would have a massive financial impact and that was compounded by losing our manager to Everton a few weeks later. While Wembley memories are still as vivid as yesterday, in another sense it seems a long time ago with all that has happened to the club since. But the FA Cup will always be special to us, especially when the third round comes around. Because you just never know, do you?” Interview by Paul Wilson (Bournemouth v Wigan Saturday, 3pm)

Grecian the Lion
(real name Chris Sumner)

Eleven years ago Exeter were looking for somebody to be the mascot and a lot of my friends were trying to talk me into applying. One night after a few drinks I decided to go for it. I was about 18 at the time and now I’m 30, so I’ve spent nearly half my life doing it. There’s been some great moments, including three play-off finals at Wembley. When we played Liverpool in the Cup a couple of years ago there were lots of pictures of me shaking hands with Jürgen Klopp.

I don’t really get nervous, even before a big match. As a person I suffer from nerves in some situations but as Grecian I never do. It just comes so naturally to me. Normally I come out pre-match, at half-time and at the end of the game. In between I’ll get changed and go up to my seat in the stands. Sometimes, if we’ve got a big game and tickets are sold out, I’ll have to stay out. It’s really hard work in the suit for the whole game, which is why I don’t do it very often. On a cold winter’s day it’s amazing because you’re the warmest person in the ground but in the summer it can be very difficult.

Exeter City fans look on in jubilant mood during the FA Cup third round match against Manchester United in 2005



Exeter City fans look on in jubilant mood during the FA Cup third round match against Manchester United in 2005. Photograph: Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

It’s amazing to be able to give something back to the club I love. I think over the years I’ve grown into the role and learned how to do my bit and to entertain the fans. I always watch out for other mascots and, if there’s something I think I can learn from them, I’ll try to put it into my matchday repertoire. I follow a few on Facebook and Twitter and see what they’re up to. There’s a few I’ve built up decent relations with. It’s a nice, close-knit little mascot family. Interview by Simon Burnton (Exeter City v West Brom Saturday, 3pm)

Robert Sutherland

Crystal Palace fan, Five Year Plan online editor

The recent league game between Brighton and Palace was described as a “return to the dark days of football” by Sussex police’s chief inspector Simon Nelson. This was not the only assertion made by Sussex police after the game, with a statement released soon afterwards indicating that fans had attempted to enter the stadium with pyrotechnics, knives and knuckledusters. While regrettably a number of fans did enter the ground with pyrotechnics, the assertion that significant numbers of Palace fans were carrying deadly weapons gave the incident a sinister twist that we at Five Year Plan felt needed to be challenged.

Sussex police subsequently apologised for the falsehood in their statement, indicating that the reference to weapons was based on information that had been provided to them in good faith. However, we feel that the apology does not go far enough in explaining how the information that the police received about weapons was documented, whether it was verified and how it was acted upon (if at all) at the time of it being reported to them.

We also fail to understand how, without proper validation, the falsehood was published in a statement that most media organisations printed in good faith. We have, as a result, submitted a freedom of information request seeking a detailed understanding of the circumstances around the tie, which we have yet to receive a response to.

Palace and Brighton fans share a passionate rivalry that dates back to the 1970s but it has rarely been one of major violence and has a long-standing foundation of grudging respect, too.

Since 2001 fans of both clubs have participated in events for the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund, which commemorates the Brighton fan who died in the September 11 attack. An annual charity match takes place at the Dripping Pan stadium in Lewes, with thousands of pounds raised for causes both in the UK and abroad. It’s a great example of some of the shared values that supporters of the clubs have.

Monday’s FA Cup tie is, for 99% of supporters, about winning a game of football. It isn’t about aggression or violence – and it certainly isn’t about fostering a return to the dark ages of football. Interview by Ed Aarons (Brighton v Palace Monday, 7.45pm)

Ron Henry
Stevenage player and first person to lift a trophy at new Wembley

It meant everything to play in that game [the FA Trophy final in 2007]. There were over 50,000 people there. We started quite poorly and went behind but we managed to come back to win it in the last few minutes. People still talk about me being the first person to lift a trophy there and it will live with me forever. I still have my shirt from the day and the medal we got. The shirt isn’t framed, it’s just in a cupboard; it’s easier to get to and I look at it now and again. Being the first captain to lift a trophy at the new Wembley was such a big achievement. Walking up those steps, I was completely drained because it was such a tough game, but it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

Stevenage Borough’s Ron Henry celebrates with the FA Trophy in 2007



Stevenage Borough’s Ron Henry celebrates with the FA Trophy in 2007. Photograph: The FA/Rex/Shutterstock

The win meant so much to the club too. That one put us on the map. People speak about me but they also remember that Stevenage were the first club to win a trophy there.

Today is going to be tough against a difficult Championship side but our record in the FA Cup is good. We’ve had some memorable games down the years, like beating Newcastle or drawing with Tottenham to get a replay at White Hart Lane. We’ve beaten Reading at their place before. It’s the FA Cup and anything can happen. If we play as well as we can we’ll cause them problems. Reading won’t like coming to ours. We do seem to have a habit of doing well in big games. Interview by Jacob Steinberg (Stevenage v Reading Saturday, 3pm)

John Birt
The trophy’s chief bodyguard

We use a plain, unmarked, car to transport the cup. It travels in the locked boot, inside a flight case and I polish it before appearances. There are always at least two of us in the car and one of us stays within sight of it at all times.

The FA wants the cup to be for everyone so we drive around 50,000 miles a year, going all over the country. Sometimes foreign travel’s involved too. I’ve been up Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio with Prince Harry and the cup and there have been a few trips to south-east Asia. This week we’ve been in Fleetwood and interest in the town is really growing. Particularly with lower league teams you can clearly see how local businesses – pubs, restaurants, hotels, shops, taxis – benefit from good Cup runs. In September we were in Bodmin and 90% of the town turned out to see us.

The FA Cup trophy is placed into its protective case



The FA Cup trophy is placed into its protective case. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/Corbis via Getty Images

Players and managers are definitely superstitious about not wanting to touch the cup but the public love taking selfies with it – and getting their hands on it. No one’s ever tried to steal it but we do prefer it when it’s sitting safely on its stand and in no danger of getting dropped. I’ve done this job for 30 years and I know the magic still exists. I’ll always remember going to Sunderland, meeting members of their 1973 team and realising how much their lives had been changed for the better by winning the FA Cup. Interview by Louise Taylor

Olly Lee
Luton Town player and son of former Newcastle United midfielder Rob Lee

It’s going to be brilliant to go back to St James’ Park for both me and my brother Elliot, because obviously we watched a lot of dad’s games there. It was massive seeing him walk out on to that pitch, so for me to do it will be really good.

We beat Gateshead, which is in the same part of the world, in the second round but this is a different challenge and one that we’re really going to relish. Rafael Benítez has hinted he might use some of his squad players but Newcastle are a strong team with a strong squad so, even if he puts a second XI out they’re still going to provide us with a test.

If we can go out there and sow a seed of doubt in their players’ minds early doors, then we’ll hopefully get a win, because we do think we can win this game. We’re top of League Two at the moment and getting Luton Town promoted from that division is our priority, so even when the draw came out we didn’t scream or shout with excitement, we just focused on our next game in the league. Now that the FA Cup game is upon us, we can give that our full attention and hopefully go to Newcastle and win. Doing well in League Two and getting a Premier League side in the FA Cup: you can’t really ask for much more. Interview by Barry Glendenning (Newcastle v Luton Saturday, 3pm)



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