The Madness Of Sunderland In The FA Cup

Oh, FA Cup. How we lust after you so much.

Watching Sunderland can be infuriating. I don't think that needs pointing out to anyone, as whether you're fifteen or fifty, you've experienced some peaks and troughs in following the lads.

One place however where despite the two success' of which we're all aware, is more infuriating a place to follow us more than any other, is the famous FA Cup.

We yearn for further cup success having been starved of it for so long. Here we take a look at what exactly things have been like, and point out why any 'shock defeat' at Peterborough United this coming weekend, won't be that much of a shock to any long-suffering fan...

The mentality of the Sunderland fan is a strange one. Years of marvelling aghast at the club's quite unique talents of self-implosion from positions of strength, aligned with an incredible underdog spirit at more difficult times, has rendered us some of the world's great optimists when we have no actual basis for it yet total nervous wrecks when enjoying periods of relative success. No wonder we are all going crackers.

We were all given a timely reminder of our club's flair for plucky backs-against-the-wall gallantry with last week's incredible win over Manchester City. This week, attention is turned to the greatest underdog competition of them all, the FA Cup, with Sunderland facing a very different kind of a test, and one they have historically struggled to deal with in the past - being cast in the role of favourites. In fact, historically speaking, nothing probably sums up the ridiculousness of this club more than the FA Cup. During the 9 seasons that Sunderland have been a Premier League club, only twice have they progressed beyond the 4th round, which is a pretty shameful record.

Sunderland's finest act of triumph against the odds needs no introduction, of course. The Herculean efforts of Bob Stokoe's Sunderland team of '73 are stuff of legend on Wearside and etched into folklore and even the very identity of the club. It happened well before I was born, yet before I had reached puberty I had watched the video of the game dozens of times and was more familiar with that team than I was any other I have watched in my life. There was nothing special or unique about that. It is just how children are brought up in Sunderland-supporting households.

For fans of my generation, there was the FA Cup run of 1992 to remember. Inspired by a caretaker manager and John Byrne's remarkable goalscoring exploits, Sunderland's second division strugglers got all the way to the final, disposing of three first division teams before Liverpool broke Wearside hearts at Wembley.

The club's last major assault on the competition again came as a second division club. The year was 2004 and Mick McCarthy led a cash-strapped and highly transitional Sunderland to the semi finals before bowing out at Old Trafford against a poor Millwall team to the first goal of the Tim Cahill curse. The road to Wembley that year wasn't especially brutal on Sunderland, it must be said. In fact, Steve Bruce's Birmingham City were the only top division club met along the way, and given what we now know about his cup competition ability, even that doesn't really seem much of an achievement any more. But just when Sunderland assumed the mantle of favourites to progress to the final, the wheels inexplicably came off, which was depressingly typical.

It is testament to the strange relationship Sunderland have with the FA Cup that not only did they pull off the biggest cup final shock of all time in 1973, but they were also on the wrong end of the biggest act of cup giant killing of them all. In 1949 and when just starting to embark on the kind of Manchester City-esq spending spree that would earn them the nickname 'The Bank of England Club', Sunderland travelled south for what looked like being a routine fourth round squashing of non-league Yeovil Town at the Huish.

The Sunderland team that took to the field that day contained the legendary Len Shackleton, a then British record transfer, and Johnny Mapson, but it was the Clown Prince himself who gifted Yeovil their extra time winner. Such was the delight of the home crowd that a pitch invasion ensued which threatened an abandonment, but the game was concluded and still stands to this day as perhaps the most unlikely example of a non-league team beating a top division club in the FA Cup.

We could go on all night, talking about such things like Sunderland taking Best, Charlton, Law and the rest of the great 60s Manchester United side to third replay after two colossal contests, but you can probably guess what division Sunderland were in then. Or Kevin Phillips and co lost a fourth round tie at Tranmere during which the Merseysiders sent on a substitute to replace a player who was leaving the field having been red carded.

This is the madness that is following Sunderland in the FA Cup. With a tricky looking trip to Peterborough in front of the TV cameras providing this year's third round opposition, I struggle to envisage many of us taking it lightly. In fact, we'll all likely be sat there like total nervous wrecks. All part of the fun, though, isn't it. Honest.

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