LONDON: The continuing status of the FA Cup is not only about its history as the oldest competition in football; it is also about the ‘giant-killing’ triumphs of minnows over mammoths. This is the reason tomorrow’s visit of Manchester United to Cambridge United has aroused such intrigue.
United are one of the world’s greatest and richest and most successful clubs; Cambridge almost went bankrupt in 2005, sit 12th in the 24-team fourth division and are the lowest-ranked club left in the FA Cup fourth round.
In the third round Louis Van Gaal’s United needed second-half goals from Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria to edge out third division Yeovil. Their visit to the Abbey Stadium, with its 9,000 capacity and where cows graze in a field nearby, will not be any easier.
Former Liverpool and Fulham midfielder Richard Money is the manager of Cambridge whom he led back into Football League last year. He said: “Drawing against United is icing on the cake for us and we’d like the cake to keep growing.”
His key players include veteran central defender Josh Coulson and, in midfield, former Newcastle youth product Ryan Donaldson and ex-United reserve Luke Chadwick. The 34-year-old played for United against FC Bayern in the 2001 Champions League semi-final.
The financial chasm between the two clubs is vast. Cambridge’s annual Cambridge’s annual wages bill is £1.2m whereas United, 11-times FA Cup winners, budget for £215m. Wayne Rooney earns around £300,000 per week. The highest-paid Cambridge players around £800.
Hence Cambridge intend to cash in however they can to top up their guaranteed £234,000 from TV fees and Cup prize-money.
Not that this has been universally popular. Club chairman Dave Doggett has insisted that even club staff must pay this time. Several of the turnstiles staff, who have worked at each home game for £10 and a free match ticket, quit in protest.
Lowest-priced ticket is £20 with a variety of semi-season-ticket packages attached. However Doggett has insisted he is being fair to everyone and is having to pay for his own ticket, too.
Cambridge’s only professional appearances against United came over a two-legged League Cup tie in the 1991-92 season. They lost 5-2 on aggregate. But that did not stop BBC Television deciding that they wanted this game on a Friday night to broadcast live across the nation.
Dion Dublin, who played for both clubs during his career, said: “Manchester fans will expect to get through but stranger things have happened at the Abbey. We’ve beaten some big teams there . . .”